Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is American Politics REALLY Worse Than Ever ??? -- Part I

I have asked myself this question and now will attempt to answer it. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Is American politics worse than ever? Probably not. Buying votes with cash, coal or whiskey was a long-standing tradition. Crass corruption and trading of favors ("log rolling") were rife and unrepentant - think of the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876 and the Compromise of 1877>link<.

What, if anything, is worse than ever about American politics?
  • Civility - Nah! - There is far more civility in modern politics than there has been since the founding-fathers retired from politics. This is not all to the good. It reflects a pact among incumbents to protect each other - to their own profit and to the detriment of responsive, responsible government.
  • Educational Context - Eh - High-school graduates used to have better education in English and history than college-graduates have today . . .however, a larger percentage of the population has these diminished skills now than at any time except 1940-1980 (when the percentage of high-school graduates crested while educational content declined).
  • Literacy - Hmm - The complexity of public discourse is much simplified, compared to any previous period in American history.
  • Media Behavior  - Simplify, then Exaggerate! has always been the motto of the "yellow" press. Print media have almost always been driven by profit-pressures of advertising, so that radio and, later, television, have only maintained the same set of behaviors - seeking readers/listeners/viewers by whatever means possible.
  • Media Bias - Most metropolitan areas now have only one newspaper. The perspective of most reporting is therefore less challenged and more conformist.
  • Media Technology - The internet as a news source, Facebook, Twitter and Lord-knows-what-comes-next make news more accessible, faster, cheaper and more varied. For some, this makes a wider range of views accessible while, for others, it permits a more narrow, more parochial view.
  • Span of attention - A lifetime of news factoids and commercials has left nearly all of us with impaired powers of attention and critical analysis.
  • Power of Special Interests - $$$ - As long as there has been government, there have been special interests attempting to influence that government. The larger and more powerful the government, the larger and more corrupting the efforts of special interests. Eisenhower warned of the "military-industrial complex" that had developed out of World War II. The subsidies and rules that protect Big Ag and Big Pharm have become part of the fabric of American life. Are special interests worse now than ever . . .or are their resurgence and detriment now more visible?
Some Conclusions:

It is tempting to opine that what is worse than ever about American politics actually the failure of our education system to produce citizens with a sufficient grasp of history, civics and rhetoric - leaving voters prey to all manner of legerdemain.

One might say that American politics is no worse than ever and that our crisis, if there is a crisis, is the lack of a coherent view of the future. Those who lived through the Cold War, the Kennedy & King assassinations, the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam War can tell the rest of us about lack of a coherent future. Closer to the truth is the abiding, patent, smarmy conspiracy of politicians to say one thing and do another, yielding lack of coherence the way the circus magician makes the elephant disappear before 20 guys in overalls push the empty box off the stage.

So some things are worse and some things are better and some things are just different. So what?

The answer to "So what?" is in Part II -
to be found at Memetics & Marketing, here

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Presidential Legacies - Part II

The historical legacies are like a series of matryoska dolls, going back to the War for Independence. We have to begin somewhere. We’ll begin with Ronnie . . .and save the earlier administrations for a cold winter day when there’s nothing current to think about.
Ronald Reagan was nominated and elected as Governor of California, then the second most populous state (=beaucoup electoral votes), as the then-most-recent neurotic electoral reaction to Kennedy Assasination-Johnson/VietNamChaos-NixonScandal-Ford-CarterMalaise. Ronnie came and the political system seemed to stabilize. He brought a few trusted staff from California and winged the administrative process with whatever GOP talent was around. In his mind, he was President and then he was going home. That’s what he did. If readers can point to any action he took to develop or sustain his policies, or to build GOP leadership, beyond his last day in the White House, please inform us all with a comment.
Geo.H.W.Bush was a different story. He was born to the Washington game. He, his family and the family friends have been in this game since his grandfather's time. He and the folks behind him have been planning and developing talent and making use of every opportunity for more than a hundred years. That’s how H.W. could sit on Naval Observatory Hill for eight years and not go mad. >link here< He put his folks in the Reagan administration when he could and he had a regiment of his own people ready when he took his turn in the White House.
Being clever does not mean being smart. H.W. ran his administration a bit too transparently as his own. His slights and mistakes, large and small, accumulated. Ross Perot’s third party candidacy from the right cost H.W. re-election.
Bill Clinton took a Democratic Presidential nomination that no one else wanted, because the experienced Washington politicians “knew” that H.W. couldn’t be unseated in his re-election bid. Clinton was lucky and smart and canny and won. He didn’t know anything about Washington but he was a quick learner. Hillary was such a shrewish hick that on her first night in the White House she was throwing White House china at Bill – leaving the Secret Service with a novel dilemma of how to protect the POTUS. Good Old Hillary - when in doubt, be a bitch – but is it sexist to observe that men don’t throw china?
Bill was canny and clever and imagined being in power forever. Apart from some awful bits of his wife’s campaign for the Presidential nomination, actually, Bill remains a world power.
BabyBush was waiting. He was also lucky. As I wrote in an earlier post, he won the governorship of Texas through luck. >link< From there, Daddy and his friends just carried him along.
BabyBush and Cheney and Daddy’s team were very “adult” in preparation for BabyBush’s administration. Plans, personnel and appointments were in very good order from the first day of this administration.
Baby Bush and Cheney gave no thought to their legacy. They took no interest in promoting individuals or ideas to perpetuate GOP leadership. They took no interest in establishing an identity for the GOP in the mind of the electorate.
Bad, bad, bad. Both BabyBush and Cheney exploited their opportunities, packed their bags and left. The United States deserved better.
Ask yourself where we would be today, if BabyBush had put the Democrats on the defensive in 2007 with Tort Reform and interstate sales/portability of health insurance, instead of building his library. BabyBush's Bungling in the 2006 Congressional elections is discussed >here<.

Biden was likely an impetuous choice to balance Obama’s youth and inexperience. The media were hilarious in their denial of Biden’s record as a corporate lackey and his well-known gaffe-a-minute behavior. Biden was never intended to be a future Presidential candidate.

Try to imagine what, or who, comes after Obama. To ponder that is to realize how thoroughly Obama consumes the oxygen of the current political process.

The Anointed Won will give no thought to what comes after him, because it doesn't concern him! There is meager consolation that, if he wins a second term, there will be only wreckage for the Democrats to build upon and so, presumably a great opportunity for the GOP. The catch is that the GOP will have to both accept the far-left detritus as a starting point and make some clearly principled distinctions in order to remain a viable political movement. The world will be a far better place if The Anointed Won is weakened in 2010 and defeated in 2012.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The W Legacy . . .the Reagan Legacy and Presidential Legacies, in General

There is a story that, after the inauguration of John Kennedy on January 20, 1961, Dwight Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, thanked the White Staff, got into their old station-wagon (stuffed with suitcases and souvenirs) and drove home to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I like the idea of the old general and his wife just driving home.

However, legacies are more complex. I'll give away my plot here:
  • Reagan didn't plan for a successor; I don't think he cared, but Daddy Bush was there to pick up the opportunity.
  • Clinton thought he would go on in power forever, in one form or another.
  • Baby Bush didn't plan for a successor; he didn't care, either.
  • Obama came into office thinking he, too, would go on forever; we'll see how he changes when he realizes he won't.
I like Baby Bush for the villain of this particular blog, but you'll have to read
down to find out how and why.

Ike left Richard Nixon in the wings, but between the stuffed ballot boxes in Illinois and Nixon deciding to lose, rather than make a fuss,there was JFK . . .and then the assassination and LBJ's disastrous application of legislative prowess to the executive branch . . .and then Nixon's return, disgrace and resignation, leaving Gerald Ford . . .and then the un-Republican Carter . . .and un-Carter Reagan and his VP, H.W. "Daddy" Bush . . .then the un-Bush Clinton elected because of Perot's third-party candidacy . . .and "Baby" Bush . . .and Obama.

I'm reminded of H.L. Mencken's statement: The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.

However, all of this is a digression. Today I am contemplating legacy in terms of staff and leadership. In Biblical terms:
  • Ike begat Dick and Dick begat Ford.
  • JFK begat LBJ.
  • Reagan begat Daddy Bush and Daddy Bush (with an interruption) begat Baby Bush.
The discontinuities here are Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama.

Legacies take several forms:
v The received legacy – talent that occupies the upper echelons of an administration
o The non-political appointments of the preceding administrations which are held over. Federal judicial appointments are the clearest example, but there are many.
o The pool of talent of the incoming party, from which political appointments will be made. For example, Dick Cheney was chief of staff for Ford, Secretary of Defense for H.W. (during the 1st Gulf War) before he was BabyBush's Vice President.
v The bequeathed legacy – what is left behind as an administration exits the Executive Branch
o The political talent that is permitted to develop and is bequeathed to future administrations.
o The non-political appointments which are made. Again, judicial appointments and inspectors-general are good examples.
o The identity that the administration and party leave in popular opinion when that administration departs. These days, this is called “branding.” BabyBush's bloated budgets and erratic leadership bequeathed no coherent branding. The Anointed Won's brand is "Change we can believe in," if you can continue to believe it.
o The issues that are dealt with – resolved or kicked far enough down the road that the subsequent administration does not have to confront them, if they choose not to. Examples of this type are difficult to recall.
o The issues that it fails to deal with, which are then passed on to the next administration. Iraq and Iran are two of many examples. Social Security is another.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Untold Story of Geo.H.W.Bush and Ronald Reagan

While it is difficult not to guffaw at this story . . .and to dismiss it as gossip . . .what I am describing was a fundamental dynamic of 12 years of American history - the eight years of the Reagan Presidency and highly formative of the subsequent four years of H.W.'s Presidency. Surely, too, W's impressions of the presidency were affected by his father's experiences.

Geo. H.W.Bush was the son of a senator. He went to Phillips Exeter and Yale. He gave heroic service as a pilot in WWII. He campaigned for the GOP nomination in 1980 and lost to Ronald Reagan. Reagan invited him to be the vice-presidential nominee.

And, they never talked to one another again.

Geo. H.W.Bush was the first Vice President to occupy the new V.P. Residence on Naval Observatory Hill in Georgetown. For eight years, his one sworn duty was to call the White House to see if Ronnie were still breathing . . .and his duties were done.

I'm not a fan of H.W. He had a major role in The Bay of Pigs while he was at the CIA. I suspect that his talents were mostly mediocre and that he successes in life were rewards for reliability and family connections. However, as a pilot myself, I find his war record and his reluctance to exploit his war record for political gain to be impressive.

Regardless, my point here is:

H.W. wasn't ever invited to the White House for eight years, not even invited to the state dinner when Queen Elizabeth II visited the Reagan White House.

Imagine how you would feel, sitting up on that hill for eight years with nothing to do, as Vice President of the United States!

Also, imagine how it felt to be sitting at lunch with some Washington character and get the call that the President had just be shot . . .by the son of the man sitting across from you! Talk about wanting to bury an incident!

Reagan recovers and, still, eventually H.W. becomes President.

I think that a great deal of H.W.'s impetuousness during his single term as President stems from eight years of humiliation.

I also think that the press showed uncharacteristic gentility or altogether characteristic stupidity in failing to comment on Baby Bush's immediate appointment of Daddy's State Department press spokesperson, Margaret Tutwiler, to be ambassador to Morocco (and, later, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs). That's how that family deals with family secrets; all the more reason to respect and sympathize with Barbara Bush - to bear five children and support that man, to live with this sort of thing and have it abetted by her son.