Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Looking back, Part I

It is traditional at this time to reflect on the year just being wrapped up, and, usually, to draw large conclusions from it.

Today's sermonette isn't really about the year just passed, but about the seven years just passed, the Bush administration, but it is, I think, appropriate because we are coming into the final stretch of the race to replace Bush.

I am not here going to castigate Bush or Cheney or the gang as a whole; anyone who by now does not grasp the depths of the damages they have done is beyond convincing. Rather, I ask again, How did this happen? That is the question we need to ponder in our reflections.

The huge difference between this administration and all that have gone before is not their perfidy, though that may be record-shattering: it is that they have largely been quite open about most things. Consider the Nixon administration: when the dirty laundry overflowed the hamper, we were ready to throw Nixon out via impeachment. Today, those who suggest impeachment as a remedy for the Bush-Cheney axis are an irrelevant minority (sorry, but you are). When some gob of dirt comes to light, this administration makes barely pro forma efforts to deny it, visibly laughing behind their sleeves. They don't care who knows: their attitude from Day One has been We don't care, we don't have to. And the problem has been that they are 100% correct.

How have we descended so far so fast? I suspect that the descent is not so sudden as it seems; what makes it appear sudden is that till 2000 and Bush, no one had expressly recognized the watershed shift in the American public's hebephrenic refusal to assume any responsibility whatever for its present and future condition. The facts had been gradually shifting since, oh, who knows--perhaps the dawn of the television era--but Cheney and his sock puppet were the first to expressly realize that no one cares any more, and to take overt advantage of that spaced-out attitude.

What is the future? Optimism comes hard: history does not offer us many examples of a reasonably free society losing interest then somehow stopping and reversing the inevitable concomitant slide into an initially comfortable despotism. Mind, much is new and unique in this era, notably the speed of communications, so I suppose there is some hope, and in any event all we can ever do is the best we can on the ground as we find it.

Moreover, we have to keep in mind the difference between what we would like to be able to do, and what we can actually accomplish. There are no demigods striding the Earth to whom we can harness our wagonload of hopes: we have to make do with who is actually out there. While that means a focus on electable candidates for the presidency, it also means a focus on electable candidates all the rest of the way down. In presidential-election years it is easy to lose focus on the other races, from Senator and Representative down to town council, but they are all important.

This is not, however, a call to mobilize for the election. Yes, we should all do that; but more important, we need a dialogue on means, and some action consequent on that dialogue, for turning around the American public's slide into ennui. We need to wake people up to how close to the cliff edge we are dancing, and of the consequences of falling over that cliff. We need to shatter the complacent attitude that if our favorite isn't the one voted off the island, all's well with the world.

Once it was bread and circuses. Today, it's just circuses. The kind of circus playing today is so mesmeric that it is like an addiction, and the crowd, like junkies, ignore even the lack of bread, just so long as the circus keeps playing. That has to stop. Ways in which we might stop it are another matter, for which we so urgently need that dialogue I spoke of. This isn't a prescription, it's a diagnosis.

I had, for a change, selected my topic for today before reading the news. I since found two articles that seem to me quite relevant, and recommend them:

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