I’ve reached an age, in my 60s, when every memory is a spur to thinking about what has passed before, what no longer is the reigning shared truth, what is no more the common wisdom.
The way people are talking today on the latter day Rialto, our virtual agora meeting place not just daily but around the clock, I mean Facebook of course, those of a dependably like mind to my own are shuddering at the prospect of, say, a Jeb Bush-Hillary Clinton contest in 2016. They go through the bench gathering of would be Republican prospects, the Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Rand Paul motley band of rookies and wannabes and shudder. They look behind Hillary’s back, and see no prospects.
What I am reminded of is a similar time just eight years ago. Eight years. It used to be that whole generations would pass before someone or other, usually a self-appointed sage, would remind us of the history already forgotten and clearly about to be re-lived and dedicated to the commission of the same mistakes. It’s happening now, in a conventional way, though with a more perverse cast to it. Ted Cruz compares Iran to Hitler’s Germany of the late 1930s and Obama and his staff of negotiators to Neville Chamberlain. Cruz is, of course, too stupid as well as too young even to recall the time immediately after World War II, a likely unavoidable consequence of any position the British Prime Minister might have taken at the time, and it’s likely excusable—Cruz’s resonant solecism—because it all happened what is now nearly 77 years ago. However, as I started to point out, we are now only eight years out from our anticipation of the then upcoming Presidential nomination and election cycle that would offer the chance of true regime change, or so it seemed, after eight years of Bush and his administration (an administration that, along with their leader, have, only today, been charged by the German government with war crimes—which I note to color the context of these observations, and to help readers recall why exactly it was certain of us desperately sought relief from the burden of living in a country run by such individuals).
At that time as well, back in the early days of 2007, Hillary Clinton seemed a sure thing. Feminists preened over the prospects of seeing the first realistic possibility of electing the country’s first woman President. Common liberals, not wanting or for some reason or other not being disposed to take too close a look, rejoiced at a return to the former triumphs, or so they had so quickly come to be perceived, of the previous Clinton incumbency, riven as it was with the quizzical and inappropriate behavior of a world leader who otherwise seemed entirely to be master of his influence and power, not only in the United States, but in the world. All those looking forward to a new dynasty, with the fresh frisson of not only a passing of the baton to abler and smarter hands than someone named Bush, but of a gender never before seen wielding such influence and power. It was only seven or eight years, but many had already forgotten the extent to which the Clintons, male and female, were held in contempt by such a large segment of the public, and of course by a Congress, control of which Clinton the First had managed to help the Democrats lose through his wanton personal mischief.
Perhaps our propensity to forget sooner, and not to want to think about the consequences of what seemed already foregone if merely accepted passively, had already set in. Frankly, and I write this with an ironic smile on my face, it’s hard to recall exactly in early 2007 what the mood was, and what the disposition of mind, as evident in the outpourings of the concerned. For one, of course, we didn’t yet have Facebook. It was introduced to the public only in the Fall of the preceding year (does anyone remember that Microsoft bought a piece of Facebook in 2007, only a year after everyone who was 13 and with a valid email address could sign up, a very tiny piece, for $240 million, which validated the company and gave it a preposterous market value on paper?). But in 2007 it was still mainly teenagers who belonged, teens who have since spurned it, in part because it has become a repository among other things for the detritus of memories and recollections of at least three generations prior to theirs—generations with what I am saying are clearing failing capacities for remembering the substance of occurrences of only eight years previous.
The half-assed historian in me (the one that’s in so many of us) finds it a shame to have to work so much harder to recapture common sentiments among ordinary citizens, who mainly had email to talk amongst themselves (texting existed, but it was the iPhone and its stream of competitors that made it a standard mode of communication, and the iPhone was introduced in June of 2007, still, at this writing, three months shy of eight years ago). Putting aside the undeniable fact that Facebook is a medium for a self-selecting set of users, a fact that is mitigated by the nature of the way they use it, which is to talk to friends and those of like mind, not to have arguments with any heat or rancor (though these do occur, as it’s an open forum and anyone can tangle with anyone they choose to whom they have access), we now have a daily record of how at least some of us share sentiments and exactly what those sentiments are.
One of the members in the screen shot above opines “2016 the race where America can’t win,” or so liberals and progressives of a more advanced persuasion think. What I recall about 2007 is that Democrat voters and others sought a redress of the wrongs of the Bush administration and the Republican Party in general (another small spur to recollection is called for here: the Tea Party movement, now anathema to a majority of Americans, but with a stranglehold on the Republican Party was founded only in 2007, with Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate for 2008, one of its earliest proponents, but if you hated the Republican Party in 2007, it wasn’t likely because of its extreme members). All Republican hopefuls, from Ron Paul (another Tea Party darling, for no less a reason than that he helped get it going), to John McCain, the eventual candidate, to Mitt Romney, to Rick Perry were anathema, the “worst choices ever” (to quote another of the commentators in my screen shot of a thread, but he’s referring to the current crop, right now, in 2015), not imagining that any party could do worse than the party that produced Warren G. Harding (among others; and I won’t but barely mention some of the other candidates that project themselves for such distinction, like the criminal RIchard Nixon, and the hapless Herbert Hoover). But I also recall that, in March of 2007, just a month after announcing his candidacy, Barack Obama was a very long shot, and automatically the target of revulsion simply on the basis of the color of his skin. Hillary Clinton was simply unacceptable to a great many thoughtful voters (disclosure: myself included, opening myself to a series of non-winnable debates among my circle, mainly with women friends, simply by pronouncing my aversion to Mrs. Clinton’s politics and her cozy connections with big money and its sources), being only a classic pol, in tailored suits and flattering hairdos, much like all of her male predecessors—have we also forgotten her husband Bill Clinton, leaving Air Force One sitting on the tarmac at LA International Airport for hours, forcing the closure of two out of four runways at one of the country’s busiest airports, while he got a haircut? Where and however Mr. Clinton got his silvery locks shorn notwithstanding, without any quarter and certainly no opportunity given to clarify my position it was assumed by those feisty women friends of mine that my opposition had to derive simply out of a knee-jerk revulsion to gender, that, like all men under the skin, I was anti-women and anti-feminist. I quickly learned to give up—even feigning incredulity and indignant anger was no solution; women need no longer lead with their empathy and sensitivity, and no one gives a shit if a man, any man, is misunderstood, not after an epoch-long siege of one gender being misunderstood, and kept with their necks under someone’s boot. I hated Hillary (I didn’t; I just repudiated her politics, always did) because I hated the idea of a woman in charge (I didn’t; nothing’s better than leaving the decisions to someone else qualified and brave enough to accept the responsibility, no matter what endowment they were born with between their legs).
To many Democrats Hillary Clinton is an anomalous creature, the subject of great ambivalence. She has all the trappings, the air, of an ideal liberal candidate, but none of the solidity, none of the stuff. All veneer and no essence. She is expedient and opportunistic. Her husband, long since recognized for some of the same qualities and with undeniable charisma, with no specific facets to his character in which to anchor this elusive incorporeal quality. He has been taken to task, and by association, if not mere implication, as has Hillary, for the slippery strategy of triangulation, which, in application, seems always more tactical than the engine of a goal-driven mission. The results of triangulation seem always, in the end to be political, to achieve an actionable compromise, in order to keep the political machine moving forward. Taking any such action, the abandonment of the foundation and structure of welfare as the country had come to know it over 35 years, for example, seemed in the end, in fact, to realize the objectives of adversarial political players and an abandonment of Democrat principles. It is always adroitly papered over with the elation of a perceived victory, rather than the satisfaction of a palpable advance in the welfare (in the strictly denotative sense) of the people it means to serve—the constituency whose needs drive any political process. The real beneficiaries are the engineers of the adroit act of triangulation, the Clintons themselves. This happens over and over again when politicians actually take the reins of power and forget that the job is now to lead the team of draft horses pulling the nation along, and think their objectives are still self-advancement before all else moves forward.
On the other hand, the Republicans have of late only offered a motley band, from the brazen to the sober, and even the more distinguished of the prospects—I’ll just offer Rand Paul as a possible example—the sense is always they must struggle to keep a straight face. Realizing some of them are smart enough to know the difference, it’s nevertheless appalling that the state of the electorate is such that even more judicious and thoughtful candidates are forced, because it’s politics after all, Western style at that, and American in particular, to kowtow to the crowd mentality. Which is all to say that, as a clinician might affirm, if someone is conscious and alert, these are sure signs of the presence of a mind actively engaged in mentation, but that’s no synonym for intelligence. It just means that generally, the average voter is sufficiently aware of the real world not to step into traffic that’s moving perpendicular to his or her intended path. Especially if the light is red (though there are those who would defy such control because, well, red is the
color of Communism isn’t it?, and the last thing we need are more reds telling us what to do).
It’s always startling to hear something reasonable coming from the lips of the likes of Mitch McConnell or even John Boehner, who are so much more readily and easily characterized as the grotesque caricatures that people who lean left like to make them out to be. This is what chronic lying will do to the perception of you by those who are not disposed to swallow the particular lies you have to peddle.
However, before giving in to the temptation of getting deep in the weeds of analyzing the shortcomings of most of the current crop of politicians, the point I wish to make remains. The current crop is also a representative crop, the yield of what politics has become a long time since. Politicians the stature and bearing even of Dwight Eisenhower or John F. Kennedy, two generations ago, long since proven by the revelations of history also to have had feet of clay one way or another, nevertheless can still stand for the quality of the words they uttered about values we all look back upon as worth embracing. The great tragedy is we have forgotten, if we’ve forgotten anything worth remembering, that the values inherent in the policies they espoused publicly were for the longest time the very same values we still invoke as the principles on which the country was founded.
The manifest irony is that, at least it is true with Republican politicians, there seem to have never been more and more frequent allusions to those values, the loss of which, according to whoever utters the accounting, explains all that is “wrong” with our country. The loss is always laid at the feet of the opposing party. The remedy is a return to those values, which seems to mean, modulating according to the branch of government espousing such a return, simplifying and reducing the government and its infrastructure, that is, the very apparatus that keeps us in motion as a functioning nation, however inefficiently we may manage to function. In a complementary way, the Democrats bemoan the shortsightedness of the opposition in failing to see that those principles still prevail, are still applicable, and have been denatured and deformed by the refusal of that opposition to act in a manner consistent with those principles. What Democrats have done repeatedly, when they have wrested control of the country back into their hands, at least at the executive level, is, from nowhere seemingly, found a champion who has offered the same redemptive call to action, reducible to a single word, I mean “hope” of course—the rallying cry of both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. As if merely hoping was tantamount to affirmative acts of commission.
My peers and compatriots, perhaps not unreasonably, and certainly out of great despair, a condition that seems to set in every eight years, as I suggest, in inverse proportion to the degree to which they have forgotten their despair in the last cycle, see no hope and no chance of a reasonable choice of a hero (or heroine) who can champion that evanescent quality of aspiration, calling out the name in a rallying clarion voice. Equally deflating is the prospect of some Republican leader who, at best, will hold out the warning of the doom inherent in such empty aspirations—a negative capability, if it represents any capability whatsoever, and resonant with the doomsaying tradition that colored our earliest history as religious pilgrims and asylum seekers first sought our shores as a new venue for the freedom to save themselves, and their leaders admonished them to seek the straitened path of righteousness.
The righteous path, I’m afraid, has been trampled by too much foot traffic, mainly those seeking the right way, obliterated to the point that we are no longer aware of where it came from, where it might lead us, and the sickening possibility that we are miles away from it with night coming on. Yet we can still wring our hands in the approaching darkness, hurling imprecations and damnation into the heavens, because of the poverty of our choice of candidates for leadership. However, quickly to bring this around to where I started, and put an end to this meditation on abbreviated recollections, and the attenuated quality of memory these days, I’ll remind you all, we’re exactly where we were just eight years ago, and there is no precedent to recall in the mind of any living citizen, because the precedent was set so long ago. Whoever it was that came up with the cliché of the condemnation we suffer to relive history clearly had no knowledge of the perfidy of our own recollections and the propensity for humans quickly to forget suffering. We have an inkling at times that what appears to be a prevalent tendency of recent vintage is, in reality, the perseverance of a condition from which we still have not learned to escape.
The best we can hope for is to make the most of what we’ve got, which always seems to offer up a champion, around whom we always seem to gather, only to allow ourselves to be disappointed, because, like adolescents, we’ve not yet learned to modulate our expectations, and really to scrutinize the dress of the would-be emperor parading himself before us before we find ourselves so willing—likely out of sheer desperation—to put the mantle of leadership on him whether it suits his mode of dress or even despite his absence of undergarments. It’s eight years since the last seeming crisis of universal inertia in the body politic, and it’s time for us to recognize, for good and all, this is not a singularity, or even a perverse culmination, a descent that has taken us truly to some nadir of despondency. It is, in fact, a pattern, a matrix with a dimension that measures eight years to each side and, if we could get far enough away, if we could somehow magically spirit ourselves to a height great enough we would see it takes the pattern of a maze. The question is whether we can get the distance required, that is, some critical number of us, to see if it is, in fact, one of those Minoan mazes, seemingly inescapable, but needing a true champion to lead the way out, if only we can contrive how to persuade him or her to do so.