This post is about American politics. I have made it a practice to be well informed politically, and this has been a practice for many years.
This post – in two segments – is considerably longer than most items I write (several typewritten pages). Please don’t let that deter you. Some things cannot be summarized in a few words. (While my ‘base’ is in Minnesota – I’ve lived here for the last 45 of my 70 years – I know enough about the national scene to be aware that what is happening in my state is happening in varied ways in other places as well.)
My point of reference: since the beginning of this blog a year and a half ago, I’ve identified myself as a “moderate, pragmatic Democrat“. I’m comfortable with that label. Please don’t let that deter you. A trait I share with most liberals I know is a basic and very positive conservatism. We are not reckless. We seem more ‘conservative’ than most of those who proudly label themselves ‘conservative’. My best political friend till his passing several years ago was a retired Republican Governor of MN. Were he alive today, I’d likely be very favorable to Dwight D. Eisenhower as President. He was President in my high school and college years. I am active on the local level in the Democratic party. I care deeply about where our country is headed.
Part I: The Honeymoon Trip:
October 30, 2000, my wife Cathy and I flew to Washington D.C. to begin a short trip after our marriage.
We had planned this honeymoon trip for some time, and divided the week into two segments: the first in Washington, D.C.; the second in Concord, MA.
This happened to be a Presidential election year. A bit earlier in October I had sent my personal ‘campaign’ letter regarding the 2000 Presidential election to family, friends and colleagues. (If interested, here it is:family letter oct 2000001.)
Among our stops in Washington were tours of the White House and U.S. Capitol, as well as a few other ‘high spots’ of tourist DC.
At the Capitol, we learned that the U.S. House of Representatives was having an unexpected evening session on Halloween, October 31, so we contacted our local Congressman’s office, and got gallery tickets.
U.S. Capitol October 31, 2000
There were about a dozen of us in the gallery that evening, strangers all. It was against the rules to take photographs, so I had to leave my camera with the guards. What we witnessed ten years ago was at the same time fascinating and deeply troubling.
Down on the floor of the House, the issue was Ergonomics legislation. Congresspeople were speaking to the C-SPAN camera, while to their left and to their right were two gaggles of Representatives, with only a few people actually sitting down. The gaggles were not paying any attention to the debate, and were clearly of opposing political parties. (That evening, and for the previous five years, the U.S. House of Representatives was dominated by the radical right wing of the Republican party, as was the U.S. Senate.Congress and Presidency001).
The scene that Halloween was sufficiently odd so that a Congressman came up to the gallery to visit with us. He introduced himself as a Republican Congressman from Illinois and he was a very nice man. He was there to apologize, personally, to us for what we were witnessing below – essentially, the obvious division and lack of decorum in the House of Representatives of which he was a member.
I would give you the Congressman’s name, but I don’t recall it. Rules didn’t allow us to record the proceedings in the House. He wasn’t running for reelection, and besides, his House district was to be reconfigured as a result of the 2000 census. All I recall was that he was a very decent individual, embarrassed by the spectacle we were seeing in his and our “House”. I often wonder where he is today, and what he really thinks about today’s polarized politics.
Evening session concluded, and another day or so in Washington on vacation, and we left for Concord MA to visit our friend, Catherine. Concord is home, of course, to great names of history: Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau; Ralph Waldo Emerson; the Concord Bridge…. Historic Concord even today is a relatively small town, but a tour of the cemetery is a tour through the riches of American history from near the beginning of the United States. We saw the sites. Concord is an ancient epicenter that modern “Patriots” seem to like to imagine might be “the good old days.” We walked the Concord bridge, and we walked from downtown Concord to the famous Walden Pond.
We arrived back home in time to vote in the 2000 election. As all will still remember, the Presidency was decided that year by the U.S. Supreme Court on December 12, 2000, ‘and the rest is history’.
None of us had any way of knowing what was ahead of us then.
Now, ten years later, we have a better idea of acts and their consequences, and we’re about to cast our votes again, this time in an ‘off-year’ election for every one of our Congresspeople, many Senators and Governors, to say nothing at all about other offices. In many ways, this years election is more important than the Presidential election in 2000.
Part II: “I hope he fails.”
2010 is a year where our vote will matter and matter immensely, perhaps more so than any time in American history. We are at a fork in the national road. (Karl Rove’s bunch has chosen to call this “fork” an “American Crossroads”. They’re working for a restoration of radical control of government. There is an ideological war in progress in which we may already be victims, regardless of ‘side’. This is not about “Republican” or “conservative”. Be very careful what you hope for.
What Cathy and I witnessed on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives October 31, 2000, was juvenile and small-time compared with what is happening today, only two weeks till the 2010 election. What was in the open in 2000, is now covert and thus far more dangerous to our republic and democratic form of government.
Back in January, 2009, even before President Obama was sworn into office, Rush Limbaugh made what many thought was an outrageous statement about the incoming President: “I hope he [Obama] fails.” How could any citizen of this country want their President to fail, much less crow about it? But Limbaugh did publicly make that declaration, and in the entirety of Obama’s term, now 21 months old, and that of the Democrat Congress and Senate that came in with him, every effort has been made by the opposition to make sure essential reforms fail. “Throw it out and start over.” For them, “success” is “failure”, or as near as possible to failure. This has played out through a Republican minority in Congress and Senate that are virtually unanimous in voting against or dismissing anything, however watered down it might be, which might be considered major reform initiatives. In my state (and doubtless most others with Republican Governors and Attorneys General) there have been similar actions against “Obamacare”, economic stimulus, etc.
There is a logical piece of rationale for rejoicing over failure: if the people can be made to despise their ‘government’, then it is easier to campaign against that government, and it facilitates taking control of that very government we have learned to despise. It is counter-productive to the functioning of a free society, but it works well politically – “throw ‘em out”.
Big business is a big part of the current problem. It has had, it has been reliably reported for some months, piles of unused money, which could create tens of thousands of jobs and help with the economic recovery, but they are cynically sitting on their bankrolls. The very wealthy and the very powerful feel threatened, and use the tools at their disposal to convince the vast majority of us to give in to their demands.
President Obama and the Democrats have been blamed for the economic crisis and debt that they inherited less than two years ago, which came from eight years of spending on a national credit card between 2001 and 2009.
The facts to substantiate all of this are easily accessible to anyone who cares to look. Most do not care to look. Some celebrate the alleged failure of reform, and keep working to make sure that failure continues. Some demand instant and unqualified success, which is equally unrealistic. Those who celebrate failure are celebrating their own failure.
We are dealing, this year, with Corporations which have won the legal right to present themselves as “citizens” with full rights and privileges to spend tens to most likely hundreds of millions of dollars on well disguised attack advertising, most of which is anonymously funded and innocuously named. This is new and unique in recent U.S. history. The floodgates opened with the Citizens United case a few months ago. Major players like the big-business centered U.S. Chamber of Commerce are effectively orchestrating the campaign, largely in advertising.
We have a supposedly populist and individualistic Tea Party movement which apparently, without most of its members knowledge, was organized and is tied together with and has been largely funded by the the wealthiest among us. Wealth effectively calls the shots, stirring up anger, and really could care less about the Tea Party members populist concerns or long term interests; but cynically uses these anti-government types as its ‘base’. (The Tea Partiers do not own exclusively concerns about their national government. But overthrow is not reform.)
In my own state, the Archbishop of my own Church recently accepted an acknowledged immense contribution from an anonymous donor who may or may not even be from my state to attempt to influence the vote on MN political races through hundreds of thousands of DVDs mailed to all Catholics in Minnesota. The anonymous donation is likely tax deductible, and the donors anonymity is protected, and the separation of Church and State is difficult to effectively challenge: the Church has good lawyers and public relations people too, and they can find the loopholes and develop the public relations ‘cover’ that ordinary people cannot. This is a matter of great concern to me. It should be of great concern to everyone, even those who might agree with the position taken or the politicians effectively supported by this free and anonymous political advertising.
The Congresswoman who (unfortunately, in my opinion) represents me in my Congressional District has raised over $10 million in campaign contributions – a record in the entire United States, I understand. Most of this funding comes from outside her district, and probably most of that from outside the state of Minnesota as well. Money buys those offensive attack ads. She is a national spokesperson of the Tea Party fringe, and revels in that designation…and could care less about her constituents in our 6th Congressional District. I’m one whose policy question, respectfully and properly submitted to her office a year ago, which was a simple question to answer, was ignored not once, but five times. The question was never answered, even though it related to a position the Congresswoman was on record about.
It wasn’t as if she was far away or too busy. She and I live in the same community, she has a large staff, and one of her offices is in this community as well.
Bluntly, at stake in this election in every place in this country is power and control by interests who do not care about the well-being of the vast majority of the citizens of this country.
We are well advised to be very careful what we listen to and who we ultimately vote for November 2, 2010.
If you wish to see needed reform continue, now is definitely NOT the time for a change. If we wish to assure catastrophic results, put the radical faction of Republicans back in charge of House and Senate November 2, and effectively derail reform and eliminate reforms made in the last two years. It is as simple as that.
Other recent posts on this general issue: here, here and here.
Other recent posts on other topics: here, here and here.