06 April 2007

He Wasn't Very Good Either

The unpleasant side-effects of the abysmal and failed Bush presidency are many—too many to be analyzed here. But one that specifically intrigues me is the effort being made by conservatives to shift the historical focus from their current incompetent leader to their past inept leader…..Ronald Reagan.

Granted, conservatives do have an argument—compared to Bush, any past chief executives looks stellar. Hell, William Howard Taft seems like a veritable statesman compared to Bush. This is an opportune time to drag any pariah out of the historical ashes for rehabilitation.

But Ronald Reagan is the one that conservatives place on their political pedestal. While the right has always looked up to Reagan, Bush is now making him look much, much better to conservatives and even to moderate Republicans (if they actually exist).

Two things strike me as paradoxical here. First, if Reagan was a great president (and he wasn’t), conservatives wouldn’t need George W. Bush to draw that distinction. Reagan’s presidency should be able to stand on its own—which it can’t. And second, when Bush was riding high in the polls, the wing-nuts were calling him Reagan’s heir. What happened? It seems Bush is actually the one who has attempted to carry out the radical conservative agenda—why now separate him from their conservative hero when Bush has been doing what the wingers wanted all along?

Well, I won’t try to get into the mind of one of those right-wingers, that would be entirely too difficult and might give me some sort of brain damage. But what is going on is this—Bush’s dismal failures are forcing conservatives to find another champion by which to rally their supporters. I suppose it is a logical move for them—they need their idols and frankly, they don’t have many. Which brings up an interesting question—except for that fellow Jesus, who do the right-wingers look to for inspiration? DeLay……Cheney.....Scalia…..Newt……Mel Gibson????? It is sad isn’t it?

I digress. The point is this—Reagan was not a very good president in spite of the spin that you are going to hear from the GOP for the next few years. He was average at best, and probably a better fit in the below average category.

First, he spent the taxpayer's money like a drunken sailor and incurred huge debts that did not dissolve until Bill Clinton and those big-spending liberals took over. I know the AM talk-show crowd blames Congress for all this—but that just isn't accurate. Reagan showed no inclination to actually cut spending. All he did was talk about it.

Second, please don’t accept the simplistic crap about how Reagan single-handedly ended the Cold War. That is the kind of anti-intellectual drivel that conservatives like to propagate because their constituents need one-dimensional answers. The Cold War must be examined in its entirety, it was never simple. There were numerous factors that contributed to its demise. Americans should know that already—but unfortunately, in the “intelligent design” environment of today, they don’t.

Third—and conservatives should know this but they chose to overlook it—Reagan actually never tried to institute the radical right-wing agenda. He cared about taxes and big government, but seemed uncomfortable with some of the other hot button issues. Yes, he talked about abortion and prayer in school, but never attempted to legislate those issues. They were used basically to fire up the conservative base.

Fourth, and I think this is one of the most important issues…..Reagan made it accepted for conservatives--especially angry white males--to blame the poor and the disadvantaged for the nation's problems. He gave terribly unsophisticated speeches about a welfare queen (always a woman) driving a Cadillac and making $50,000.00 from illegal welfare checks. No one every located that “welfare mom” and it’s clear she was fabricated. But Reagan’s words and encouragement made it fashionable in the 1980s to blame the poor for everything.

Reagan also set race relation back for years. Remember that he launched his 1980 campaign with a states rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi—the place where three civil rights workers were murdered in the 1960s. He and his staff knew what they were doing—they didn’t just accidentally stop in that little town. They were sending a message to the racists on the right. Again, making it okay for conservatives to use race to divide the nation.

And his reaction to AIDS was criminal. Why worry about homosexuals—it’s their own fault anyway isn’t it? God is punishing them for their lifestyle. Besides, his constituents didn’t care. This issue alone should have shamed the administration. But once again, those blue-collar, working class “Reagan Democrats" didn’t much care for urban gays anyway—so why do anything? Disgusting.

Scandals (Iran-Contra, that's the criminal Oliver North at below right), massive budget deficits, racism, tax cuts for the rich, blame-the-poor rhetoric, homophobic public policies…..this is what the Reagan administration was all about–and don’t forget it. Just because George Bush is worse doesn’t mean Reagan should climb in the eyes of history. He was who he was—and he was a mediocre president who did great damage to many people on the margins of society. And he didn’t seem to care.

But for the pathetic Republican party, he is about the only national figure they have had in the past 60 years that holds any historical legitimacy (Ike was really the last one!). Isn't it sad being a Republican--at times, I almost feel sorry for them.

04 April 2007

What the Hell is This?

Have you folks seen this picture? The village idiot Bush is saying something inane about Iraq--but what the hell is Cheney doing lurking around in the weeds? This guy is scary isn't he? You think Bush knows he's there? I don't see his hands, maybe he's taking a piss.

In Praise of Dogs

submitted by our friend Chet Brinkley--and we all sincerely hope Danny gets well very soon!

Meaning no disrespect to Buddy, Queen Lexie, and their generous hosts, but in the interest of pet bipartisanship I think it’s about time we gave a little glory to our canine friends.

I grew up in a household with no pets other than occasional goldfish. My parents—good-hearted, practical people—had no intention of taking over the feeding and care of a pet after their children’s two days of excitement and dedication wore off. My lovely partner, however, grew up with a menagerie of cats, dogs, and horses, and so it was clear that if we were ever to wed, I was going to have to pass the “sniff test” with her pets—which fortunately I did.

When we changed domiciles eleven years ago, our cat freaked out and began turning our entire basement into a litterbox, so alas, we had to bid her a sad farewell, and haven’t had one since. So dogs rule the roost in our home.

Some of our biggest laughs and most serene moments have been brought to us by our dogs. And the amount of comfort a dog can provide in times of sorrow in many ways outstrips any human feat of word or deed—mostly because dogs know how to shut up and just be there for you.

Unfortunately, getting pets (unless you make the dubious choice of buying a bird that will live a hundred years) is a devil’s bargain. You know they’ll worm their way into your heart, you know they’ll become a part of the family, and you know the chances are extremely good that they’ll depart this mortal coil well before you do, leaving you in a crumpled, weeping mass with vet bills resembling a payment on a Mercedes Benz.

Our pal Danny (pictured above) is 12 years old. The vet says he has the constitution of a seven-year-old, but out of the blue he started having seizures. We haven’t given up just yet. We’re not going to take out a second mortgage, and we certainly don’t want our friend to suffer unnecessarily, but we hope we get some more quality time with him before that wordless communication and those soulful eyes finally make it clear to us that the devil must be given his due. And after tears are shed and precious memories are tucked away for safekeeping, we’ll enter into that bargain again, and see some of the grief assuaged by a new introduction and courtship that turns into another enchanting though all-too brief love affair with another best friend.

03 April 2007

And I Thought We Were Winning!

Okay folks, it’s now official…..the Iraq War is lost….it’s over. How do we know, because Henry Kissinger said so. But before I talk about Kissinger and Iraq, get a load of this opening paragraph from the AP article in the International Herald Tribune:

“Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who helped engineer the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, said Sunday the problems in Iraq are more complex than that conflict, and military victory is no longer possible.”

Does anyone else see some irony in this sentence? Henry Kissinger “who helped engineer the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam” Withdrawal? Withdrawal? What the hell are they talking about? It took Kissinger and Nixon five fucking years to withdraw from that quagmire. And we know that not one god-damned thing was gained from 1969 to the war's official end in 1975. Just more and more deaths—lives wasted to be exact. Nixon and Kissinger could have ended that war in 1969, but I guess they were too busy “engineering a withdrawal.”

Anyway, Kissinger is now telling us what we already know. The former Secretary of State said that:

"A 'military victory' in the sense of total control over the whole territory, imposed on the entire population, is not possible,” adding that the, “faceless, ubiquitous nature of Iraq's insurgency, as well as the religious divide between Shiite and Sunni rivals, makes negotiating peace more complex."

"It is a more complicated problem," Kissinger said. "The Vietnam War involved states, and you could negotiate with leaders who controlled a defined area."

But Dr. Kissinger couldn’t be content with a simple analysis of the dire situation in Iraq. You see, Kissinger very much likes to cavort with people in power. He fears no further calls from the White House. What if policymakers stopped seeking him out for his opinions on global affairs? What if they stopped inviting him to parties? What if Charlie Rose quit having on his talk show?

So even though Kissinger flatly stated that the war in Iraq was lost—he had to mitigate those negative sentiments with something nice for the incompetent Bush administration. Kissinger claimed that he sympathized with the troubles that Bush is facing and “warned that a sudden pullout of U.S. troops or loss of influence could unleash chaos.”

Tell me, how much more chaos can we have in Iraq? If we leave, there will be chaos????? What the fuck is happening now?

And then, in words that his hero Metternich would have enjoyed, Kissinger suggested an international conference to get the United States off the hook. Yes, that will surely work!

“Kissinger said the best way forward is to reconcile the differences between Iraq's warring sects with help from other countries. He applauded efforts to host an international conference bringing together the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Iraq's neighbors — including Iran, Washington's longtime rival in the region.”

Then, in one final shot at those dirty fucking hippies that have been dogging him for nearly 40 years—Kissinger called for an end to the partisan bickering.

"The role of America in the world cannot be defined by our internal partisan quarrels," he said. "All the leaders, both Republican and Democratic, have to remember that it will go on for several more years and find some basis for common action."

No way asshole. The partisan bickering will continue as long as the partisan pricks in the Bush administration stay in Iraq.....As long as Bush and his war criminal pals keep wasting American lives.....And as long as the administration continues spending money in Iraq instead of spending it on health care, education, poverty, or New Orleans

Thanks for telling us what we already knew Henry--we are losing in Iraq and have no chance. We appreciate your honesty. But I for one will remain a partisan bickerer, just like I was in 1972 when you were managing your own immoral war.

02 April 2007

I Shall Not Seek, and I Will Not Accept......

This past weekend (March 31 to be exact) marked the anniversary of an extremely important political event. Thirty-nine years ago, on a normal Sunday evening, millions of American sat in front of their grainy black-and-white TV screens to hear what President Lyndon B. Johnson would say about Vietnam War. The president did talk about Vietnam, but he dropped a bombshell at the end of the speech:

"I have concluded that I shall not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year."

"I do not believe I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office--the Presidency of your country."

"Therefore, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

This ambitious and powerful man, who had won a tremendous landslide just four years earlier, had become so troubled by an unpopular war—that he was ostensibly ending his long and brilliant political career.

So many things happened in 1968 that it’s difficult to select any one as critical. Many younger political junkies might not see Johnson’s decision as all that important. But if you go back and look at the political situation, this was tremendously significant event that has ramification not only in 1968—but actually sent shock-waves throughout the system for years. Let me explain.

By January 1968, Lyndon Johnson was embattled, but he remained a dominant figure. Had he sought the nomination, it would have been his. He still could have made policy adjustments in Vietnam. And while major changes were not forthcoming, short cease-fires and more peace talks were still possible.

Granted, things had been getting worse in Vietnam. In January came the Tet offensive--North Vietnamese troops attacked numerous provincial capitals and major cities in the south, including an attack on the U.S. embassy in Saigon and the presidential palace. Tet showed that the U.S. was not winning the war. And remember, this war was not censored by the government. Americans saw the body bags every evening on TV.

But even with these extreme difficulties, the Democratic Party and its leaders would have lined up behind LBJ. In 1968, the party structure was not as decentralized as it is today. The Democratic hierarchy was ruled by the president and it would have been nearly impossible to defeat him. Yes, an insurgent candidate could embarrass LBJ, or damage him for the November run…..but the way the convention votes were gathered and tallied, Johnson would have had few problems taking the nomination.

But what we were starting to see by 1968 was the deterioration of that old system. At the time, many still did not see its imminent downfall. Maybe Johnson saw it crumbling…..maybe Eugene McCarthy did too. But things were taking place that would have ramification for the future of American politics—Johnson served to exacerbate those changes when he gave that March 31 speech.

By the start of the year, most assumed the Johnson-Humphrey ticket would stand for reelection. But some of the antiwar left went looking for a challenger. At the time, this seemed more symbolic that substantive. Most saw New York senator Robert Kennedy as the clear first-choice—but he was not willing to challenge Johnson or the war….yet. Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy finally agreed to face the president. No one gave him a chance.

Then in the March 12 New Hampshire primary, Johnson beat McCarthy 49% to 42%. This shook the political world. How could this soft-spoken, antiwar senator get such support? People started to wonder a little more about the war, maybe it was time to question the politicians on this.

But the old political “machines” were also starting to collapse. If McCarthy could do it......maybe these primaries would allow the “people” to select the candidates. At the time, the primaries weren’t worth much at the convention (pols like mayor Daley still ruled), but if the grass-roots spoke, the leaders would have to listen wouldn’t they?

McCarthy had opened some eyes and people were just wondering what all of this meant. Then two days later, Robert Kennedy entered the race. RFK was the star of the party and the realistic hope of the left. He is still be criticized for waiting too long—for not being as courageous as McCarthy—but when he entered, the dynamics of the campaign changed even more.

So by the end of March, President Johnson was being challenged by two Democrats, and he still seemed flustered by the war—which was going badly. And while he controlled the party and could have garnered the nomination, he called it quits.

What were the implications here? By abandoning the race, I think that Johnson set in motion tremendous political changes. Yes, these changes would have taken place sooner or later, but without the 1968 political turmoil—probably later. By dropping out of the race, the antiwar left and the student movement saw that they could possibly change the system. If they could do this, maybe they could end the war…..maybe they could change the corrupt system itself.

LBJ had opened the door and the activist took advantage. While the 1968 election didn’t turn out the way the left wanted (Nixon v. Humphrey; Kennedy dead; the party in ruins), there was hope that manifested itself during the next 4 years.

I still believe Johnson hoped the party might still draft him at the summer convention. He was an ambitious man—and he still might have won the election. But there are times when I also think maybe Johnson knew something—maybe he had begun to understand that he was on the wrong side of history. Maybe he saw that the nation and its institutions were changing rather quickly.

Lyndon Johnson shocked the nation that Sunday evening and set in motion some important electoral changes in this nation. It now seems like it couldn't have been any other way--for 1968 turned out to be a great social, cultural, and political divide. Johnson was on the other side of that divide, he was a man of the past.