Feb 24, 2008

February 23, 2008: Four Horsemen over Middle America, Malaise Days, Downward Spiral Toward Argentina

Dark clouds gather on the horizon looming like the four horsemen over Middle America. With oil now trading above one hundred dollars a barrel, about four times what it was when ‘Ol Two-Cows took office, the price of gasoline in the last twelve months has soared nearly 30% from a nation-wide average of $2.38 a gallon for unleaded regular one year ago to $3.03 today. With uncontrolled urban sprawl spurred by the dictum that “one drives until one can afford it” (that is one commutes far enough into the countryside to find affordable housing), Americans more than ever rely on the automobile to drive long distances to work. The result is that when the price of crude oil increases by 400%, as it has under the able leadership of the Great Decider, middle class households find themselves thrown into a bind from which they increasingly cannot extricate themselves. Americans find they are choosing, because of the ravages of inflation or the loss of a second or third job in the household, to skip a mortgage payment, miss credit card payments, or to not meet the payments on the auto loan in order to buy food or gasoline.

As the economic indicators begin to drop like the barometric pressure before a deep upper-level trough one senses, as the clouds gather, a certain foreboding. As noted earlier (see previous post: Inflation is a Cruel Mistress) the inflation rate is much higher for working class Americans and is now biting deeply into household budgets. The unemployment rate is also beginning to inch its way upward. This has translated itself into growing credit card delinquencies, but more importantly growing mortgage defaults and automobile repossessions. It was reported today on MSNBC that Goldman Sacs estimates that 15 million mortgages are now at risk with homeowners finding themselves “under water” or “upside-down”. Due to speculation and the boom in construction—market forces beyond the homeower’s control--real estate values have begun to fall and many find that they now owe more on the mortgage than their home is worth. An estimated two million mortgages are at immediate risk of default and today it was reported that automobile repossessions are at a 10 year high, with repo lots filling to capacity. For the first time since the early 80’s the term ‘stagflation’—a condition in which the economy simultaneously suffers from stagnation and inflation-- has returned to the political lexicon.

We, of course, have been here before. In the 1970’s, under the maladministration of Nixon and Ford, the price of crude jumped from roughly $7.00 to around $30.00 a barrel, forcing Americans to endure more than a decade of what we then coined ‘stagflation’. Inflation, as heretofore generally understood, was caused by “demand-pull” that is an overheated economy in which rising wages created too much purchasing power in relation to the amount of goods and services then being generated by the economy. Simply put, too many dollars chasing too few goods and services; demand ‘pulling’ prices upward. The palliative was to raise interest rates and further restrict credit thereby reducing demand bringing supply and demand at a somewhat lower price into classical balance. But under Nixon and Ford we were presented, because of OPEC mandated increases in the cost of oil, with something entirely novel; we did not have high employment and inflation, instead we were for the first time confronted with high unemployment and inflation. It is one thing to have rising income ravaged by inflation; it is quite another to have inflation with stagnant or declining household income. The problem was that the breaks had already been slammed down on the economy before Volker and the Fed jacked the interest rates through the roof. The result was an economic train-wreck so serious as to make an actor look like a President and Ronald Reagan look like a populist.

The problem is that this model for inflationary control does not work when confronted with a different cause of inflationary pressure; in this case the rising cost of raw materials. Oil is an excellent example. Used in everything from road construction, to anti-freeze, to clothing and packaging, gasoline and lubricants, fertilizers and grain-drying operations, oil is a basic commodity with price fluctuation sending reverberations throughout the economy. This is what is known in economics as “cost-push” inflation; that is increases in prices are not the result of a robust economy having an excess of purchasing power, but the increase in the cost of basic commodities—energy, and food for instance—due to the quantum leap in materials cost. It is for this reason that recently the Federal Reserve, unlike the Greenspan era, moved to lower rather than raise interest rates in the face of rising inflation. To raise interest rates would be to misread the root cause and further erode demand. Business would then be caught between wholesale increases in operating costs—energy, transportation, raw materials—and a worsening retail market in which to pass on those costs. This is what happened in the 1970’s. This is what created the malaise days of Jimmy Carter when unemployment stood at 12% the prime rate was at 18%, consumer loans in the twenties, mortgages in the low teens; when America experienced for the first time simultaneous inflation and stagnation.

It remains to be seen how we work through the present crisis. The movement of the Fed to keep interest rates low, and the stimulus package, such as it is, are indicators that we will not move so quickly to repeat the mistakes of the Volker-Greenspan era. But such a course, over a period of time, could also serve to further reduce the value of the dollar in international currency markets leading not only to the flight of foreign investment in the United States but also making foreign goods more expensive. This will force up prices at Wal-Mart, the dollar stores and—lets face it—virtually every retail outlet in America because so much of the goods purchased in this country are now made overseas. Inflation threatens then to further weaken the dollar creating more inflation in a wicked downward spiral toward Argentina. What is certain is that this is a conundrum that, from past experience, is not easily overcome; one that requires fiscal discipline born of political wisdom and will, all of which have been woefully lacking in the last 8 years.

February 22, 2008: Peace in the Valley, Laredo Serenade, Defending Her Errant Husband

There had been rumors from the Clinton camp that things were about to go negative. According to several reports, top aides had been impressed with the impact the negative ads had in Wisconsin reducing their margin of defeat. Such is the state of the Clinton campaign that they are now claiming progress in that they have cut Barrack’s margin of victory from roughly 33% to 17%. Still, by any of the old political standards, anything over 55% of the vote is considered a landslide, and Barrack’s victory in Wisconsin was 58-41. Accordingly, as noted above, he swept all socio-economic categories except white women, and then lost that vote narrowly.

This had placed the Clinton campaign in a conundrum. Take the high road and hope for the best, or take the low road and savage the young Jedi in an effort to bring him down. As one Clinton aide was quoted as saying, “his negatives can only go up”. But to savage him is to risk permanently damaging the man who is now likely to be the Party’s nominee, crippling him for the general election, and saving the Rescumlicans millions of dollars they would otherwise have to expend in the effort. In any case it would look like the last act of desperation.

Hillary, to the surprise of many, did not take the low road. Jabs were exchanged over the alleged plagiarism issue in which she charged Barack with stealing lines from the governor of Massachusetts, a friend and co-chair of his national campaign. Since the governor suggested he use the lines, it hardly qualified as the theft of intellectual property, but such are the straws that are being grasped in order to gain momentary advantage. Finally, at the end, Hillary turned to Barack and concluded her remarks by saying that whatever the outcome she and Barack will be o.k. that they have lives and families, and everything will work out. The question, she said is if the country will be alright, and that worry about America’s future is what motivates them, not personal ambition. Then she turned to Barack and said that she wanted to tell the nation what an honor it is to be on the same stage with him. It was a stellar moment. It may indeed help galvanize support and salvage her chances in the upcoming primaries. It may have been her swan song. It may have earned her a place on the national ticket. Only time will tell but the fearfully anticipated bloodletting, at least momentarily, did not happen.

It did not appear that Hillary had quelled the groundswell building beneath the young Jedi. She is now confronted with the possibility of losing the March 4 Texas primary outright. In fact things on the other side have turned absolutely festive with the news cycle featuring Ted Kennedy serenading in Spanish a crowd at Laredo. A bit hoarse, and his voice cracking under the strain, the old pol was in his element having fun before the faithful as he works to bring yet another constituent part of the party’s coalition into the Obama camp. The work is nearly completed.

Next is Ohio, holding its primary on March 4th, the same day as Texas. There is a debate scheduled between Barack and Hillary next Tuesday and there Hillary will have to defend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by the previous Clinton administration. Bill fought and won that battle, with his Vice President Al Gore famously taking on Ross Perot on the Larry King Show. The voice of Perot, the master of the sound-bite, can still be heard echoing down the deserted streets of the ‘rust-belt’. “I can hear the sucking sounds now”, said Perot, as high paying industrial jobs leave the country heading south. Clinton and Gore ridiculed Perot calling him a fear monger and a xenophobe. In the aftermath, Ohio has lost well over two hundred thousand such jobs, nearly a quarter of its old industrial base. This presents Hillary with at once peril and opportunity: peril if she simply goes into Ohio and defends NAFTA; opportunity if she were to break with the current policy, take to the ramparts and defend the middle class by breaking with the former Clinton administration and demanding the immediate renegotiation of the treaty. This would demonstrate that she feels the pain of the long-suffering middle class. It would also serve to put some distance between her and Bill in the eyes of the nation, demonstrating that she is not acting as Bill’s surrogate, but is rather seeking to be President in her own right. The latter course of action, requiring as it does political courage, is unlikely and now Hillary, increasingly facing certain defeat in Texas, must bundle up and travel into the frigid north and once again defend her errant husband.

February 20, 2008: Slip-Sliding Away, Kicking and Screaming, We Cannot Afford Such Nonsense

With last Tuesday’s crushing defeat in the Wisconsin Primary, the Clinton Campaign appears to be on its last legs. Last week Obama had swept the primaries in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia. This week brought huge victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the beauty contest in Washington where he had already defeated Clinton in the state-wide caucus. The victory in Hawaii was expected since it was seen as Obama’s home state, but the results from Wisconsin were telling. Obama won 58%-41% sweeping 60 of the state’s 72 counties. He won overwhelming support in the black community, which was expected, but blacks make up only 11% of the state’s population. What is remarkable is that he won nearly two-thirds of the white male vote, and fought Hillary to a near draw, winning 48% of the votes of white women. In addition, for the first time he carried a majority of households earning less than $50,000, a year.

“Slip-sliding away
Slip-sliding away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip-sliding away” ---Paul Simon, “Slip-Sliding Away” www.sing35.com

Last fall when this campaign began in earnest and as America began to pay serious attention to the upcoming election, Hillary Clinton held commanding leads in virtually every demographic, including the Black population. In fact some where openly questioning if Barack was ‘black enough’ to win over their support. Today he stands astride the political landscape supported not only overwhelmingly by the country’s black population but by solid majorities of white men, college educated professionals, working class blue-collar households, Catholics, and union households. His support extends from the city to the suburbs and deep into the white rural landscape of this country. He has become the champion of change reducing Hillary to dwindling majorities among white women and Hispanics. He has now won 10 consecutive primaries and caucuses, and the last several primaries---Maryland, Hawaii, Wisconsin and Nebraska have been landslide victories. He has transcended the great geographical divides within the Democratic Party winning not only in the cities and the countryside but in the Midwest, the North, and the South; he has captured not only urban and suburban America but has reached deep into the lands of corn and cotton.

Yesterday Bill Clinton, campaigning for his wife in Texas, told his audience that it all comes down to Texas and Ohio. He said that if Hillary wins in both Texas and Ohio she will be the nominee. This was no doubt an attempt to stress the gravity of the situation in order to mobilize the troops, but the Old Jedi, now too long in service to the Empire, still knows how to read the tea leaves of political fortune. He, better than most, knows what the aggregate numbers mean as well as the numbers beneath the numbers. He knows that the Clinton campaign faces not only a stiff uphill battle, by some accounts having to win by nearly 60% in the remaining primaries in order to catch Obama, but that the numbers beneath the surface reveal a growing Obama groundswell. Latest polls show a statistical dead heat in the upcoming contest in Texas, and Hillary’s lead cut to 7 points in Ohio, states where just a few short weeks ago Hillary had commanding double digit leads. It appears, as we approach the endgame that all the president’s men cannot bring about the restoration.

It is doubtful that the Clinton’s will go quietly into the night. More than likely they will have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the political limelight. Such a spectacle bodes ill for Democratic fortunes, for it will deeply divide the party as it prepares to confront the Republicans in the general election. The upcoming weeks will reveal for all to see the quality of leadership, or lack thereof, as the victor takes the crown and the vanquished accepts defeat and joins the common cause. What needs to be avoided at all costs is a rancorous food-fight from which the party emerges from Denver hopelessly divided and demoralized. The country simply cannot afford a Democratic alternative to the mess the Republicans have made-- and are now seeking to enshrine—to be shattered because one group or the other had missed an historical opportunity. The country’s problems are immense; we simply cannot afford such nonsense.

Feb 20, 2008

February 19, 2008: Unspeakable Degradation, Total Submission, Splendid Irrelevance

Meanwhile, the Marshall of Tombstone, in a statistical dead heat with the Huckster in Texas went down to Houston for a talk with pappy Bush. They met over the weekend in the lounge of the Lone Star Hotel where the two old warriors swapped war stories. A night of drunkenness ensued that, from all accounts, quickly degenerated into unspeakable acts of debauchery and degradation involving the Marshall’s total submission. In the morning, ‘Ol Pappy led the Marshall out before the cameras to announce that the he is indeed a good conservative deserving the Party’s nomination. McCain then took to the microphone and, without getting into the details of what had transpired the night before, said in a trembling voice: “Read my lips, no new taxes.”

McCain has now completely wrapped himself in the ill-fitting raiment of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. He has pledged to continue ‘Ol Two-Cow's war in the Middle East for the next five generations; he has pledged to make W’s tax cuts for the rich permanent; he has now pledged no new taxes. This will ensure federal deficits as far as the eye can see; will ensure that there is no money for education or health care, or much of anything other than the military-industrial complex. This will ensure that there will be no change. McCain went down to Houston, was bitch-slapped into submission by the old man, and emerged from the encounter in service to the Empire, as it were a mere farmhand on the Crawford Ranch.

It is fitting that McCain parrot Bush in telling the party to, “Read My Lips,” for the Republican Party has long been reduced to lip-reading, as it has grown deaf to the cries of the middle class and the working poor. The problem the good Marshall will discover, once he has left town and regained his senses, is that such a posture only serves to communicate how hopelessly mired in the 1980’s and how prepared he is to fight the last war. If the election degenerates into a contest between McCain and Clinton, it will be a struggle over whether the politics of the 1980’s or the 1990’s will prevail. The middle class will yawn, knowing that there ain’t a dime's worth of difference. The election will have been reduced to mere spectacle, a splendid irrelevance.

February 18, 2008: Gorilla in the Room, Grasping at Straws, Waging War on Hope

Last Sunday, while speaking in Steubenville, Ohio, former President Bill Clinton criticized Hillary’s rival for the Democratic Nomination saying that Barack was na├»ve to assume that we could put aside all the food-fights of the last generation. He said that “if you believe that we can sit down with the Republicans and come to agreements with them and all will be pleasant and rosy…well…I’ve got some land I’d like to sell you”.

Bill is, of course, the 800 pound gorilla in the room; a former President who’s ego is nearly as large as the shadow he casts over his wife’s campaign. It has not been a good year for the Clinton’s, they had thought that the campaign would have been wrapped up by now, they had planned to have nailed down the nomination by Super Tuesday, February 5, and had made no plans and had built no ground organization in the states that followed. With Obama surging and passing her in the delegate count, and gaining growing support among Catholics, union households and middle class whites, the Clintons are left grasping at straws.

The problem as Joe Scarborough, the former Republican Congressman from Florida and now host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, is that the Clintons have lost the initiative. In 1992 when Bill ran his first campaign he presented himself as the “Agent of Change”. The problem, as the historical record shows, is that for the middle class the 8 years of the Clinton administration brought no change—it brought only further erosion of standing. This has left Hillary’s campaign to stress experience. But again, the problem presents itself: what, from the middle-class point of view, was accomplished during those 8 long years? The middle class remembers NAFTA, the wholesale loss of the old industrial jobs, stagnant or declining wages, and the loss of worker’s benefits. It remembers boarded up Main Streets, and whole industries leaving the country. The problem is that no matter how hard Hillary tries to fire up the party, too many remember that the 90’s were a celebration to which they were uninvited.

Bill Clinton is the Darth Vader of American politics. As head of the “Democratic Leadership Council”, a group he formed to take control the Democratic Party, he transformed the Democracy from a party that represented the working men and women of this country into yet another tool in service of Corporate America. The fact is that Bill did sit down with the opposition and did negotiate agreements. Remember the famous strategy of “triangulation” put forward by Dick Morris in which Bill would balance himself between the Republican Majority and his own party? Remember the miserable legislation that he signed off on? He signed Newt’s Telecommunications act making it possible for Rupert Murdock to set up shop in the United States and making Fox Noise possible. He signed off on the federal responsibility for welfare, waging successful war with the Republicans against the “Welfare Queens” of the land. He re-appointed Alan Greenspan to the Federal Reserve virtually insuring that the workers would get no additional share of the growing economic pie. After 13 veto’s he signed off on allowing the banks to invest in the stock market, tearing down one of the last firewalls erected by the New Deal. Under his tutelage, Wall Street prospered while Main Street suffered.

In fact what infuriated the Republicans most, what fueled the investigations and the impeachment, was that he had stolen their thunder. He did what they have for more than a half a century promised to do—balance the budget. He cut crime by putting 100,000 additional policemen on the beat. And he also kept the screws turned down on the workers and allowed Wall Street to walk off with the plunder. This, besides the legacy of scandal, is what the working people of this country remember.

Geraldine Ferraro once said in a speech, following her unsuccessful bid to become Vice President in 1984, that America needs the Republican Party. “What we don’t need”, she told her audience, “is two Republican Parties”. While some of us would vehemently disagree with the first part of that statement, her point is well taken. For a generation the Democrats, beginning with Jimmy Carter’s push for deregulation and taxes on unemployment benefits have been turning cartwheels in an effort to outdo the Republicans. This madness reached its pinnacle during the administration of William Jefferson Clinton.

Many through these long years have yearned for a champion, someone to pick up the fallen standard of Robert Kennedy and take to the ramparts. Today that champion, that would be Luke Skywalker, that young Jedi is Barack Obama.

The Clintons now have nothing left. They have no record upon which to base a campaign on experience. They can no longer present the country with a fiction of change. They are left only with offering more of the same. Last Sunday Bill Clinton said that we cannot transcend the things that divide us. That, in effect, change is impossible. “If you believe….well I got some land I want to sell you”. This is what happens when one sells one’s soul to the devil; when one goes over to the “Dark Side”.

At the Democratic National Convention in 1992, the party was presented with a splendid little film biography of their new champion. In it we were told that the man from Hope had made this incredible journey from modest means to the pinnacle of power. The message was that you could take the boy out of Hope but you couldn’t take Hope out of the boy. Something happens to a man when he sells out, when he goes over to the dark side. As Joe Scarborough pointed out this morning, Bill now finds himself, in the end, waging war on Hope itself.

The young Jedi has met Darth Vader and made him confront his own hopelessness. It is left only to administer the final coup de grace.

Feb 18, 2008

February 17, 2008: Essay On Political Geology, Seismic Shifts, The Face in the Mirror

Like California resting on the San Andreas Fault, the United States stands astride major geologic fault lines that course through the political landscape. In the strata that lie deep beneath the republic are major tectonic plates that slowly move as the society grows. Tension builds up along these fault lines and at seeming regular intervals political earthquakes occur. These earthquakes at times force a realignment of the political coalitions that govern the country. At other times, like the political earthquakes of 1860 and 1932, they shake the very foundations of the republic itself.

Generally speaking, as new coalitions were formed to govern the country after each upheaval, the country moved to the left. That is the country adopted greater regulation and added additional fetters to the growing power of capital in order to ensure not only the survival of the middle class but to advance the process of including additional groups into the mainstream of political and economic life. There have been exceptions, most notably the stolen election of 1876 when the Democrats, then representing the Old South, bargained away a presidential victory by not contesting the electoral votes from Florida in exchange for ending reconstruction in the South. In an era when the Republicans had briefly stolen the populist mantle from the Democratic Party, the Democracy chose to honor its rural roots by instituting Jim Crow. The other example that springs to mind is the upheaval of 1968 in which the Great Society was broken up on the rocks of racism by the breaking away of Southern Democrats toward George Wallace and Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy. The patterns these tremors reveal is that if the earthquake runs along the economic fault lines the country generally shifts left; if the earthquake runs along the racial fault lines it generally—though not always—shifts right. And so the progressivism that was Lincoln and Reconstruction ended with the establishment of Jim Crow and the progressivism that was the New Deal and the Great Society ended with Nixon and Reaganomics.

The movement along the economic fault line generally shifts left because the middle class must constantly re-address the distribution of wealth in order to ensure its survival and, by extension, the health of the Republic. After a period of adjustment capital, as it continually reconfigures itself, discovers ever more novel ways of circumventing the evolving constraints. New disparities appear and the country finds in times of economic upheaval the need to redress the equation usually in the form of anti-trust action, regulation, or changes in the tax code. The period roughly from the Civil War to 1932 witnessed several ages of reform largely because each successive downturn in the economy brought greater and greater misery until, in 1929, the whole edifice collapsed. Each depression brought a response of more reform which served not only to stabilize markets, secure investments and regulate commerce but also addressed the maldistribution of wealth through the abolition of child labor, the empowerment of union organization, the introduction of the minimum wage, the establishment of the 40 hour work week and the creation of Social Security.

The movement along the racial fault line generally shifts right. One cannot begin to understand politics in America unless one immediately confronts the racial issue. American politics has always been about race. From the time the Spaniards arrived in the New World it has always been about race. The wholesale genocide perpetrated by the Europeans as they made their way on this continent is one of the great crimes against humanity and the long bloody tale of our theft of this country from the Native Americans is one of the darkest chapters in the history of this planet. In our unselfconscious boldness we declared it our “Manifest Destiny” to take possession of the entire continent. Given sanction by a benevolent Providence to take all that lay before us we were quite unapologetic as we went about the business of claiming our place in the sun. In fact the Governor of Minnesota issued a public proclamation in the Centennial Year of 1876, in the very same year that the Democrats moved to end Reconstruction and institute Jim Crow, for the “extermination” of Native Americans. Imagine an elected official in these United States actually uttering such a word.

Then, of course, there was slavery. Beginning in 1619 with the introduction of slaves into Virginia the American democratic experiment would find itself entangled in a bitter and deeply divisive internal economic and political contradiction that would nearly tear the republic apart. Much of the first half of the nineteenth century was consumed in bitter battles over slavery, ranging from the abolition of the slave trade in the early century, to the debate over the extension of the institution into the new territories, to wrangling over the fugitive slave laws, the ability to send abolitionist publications into slave territory via the U.S. Postal Service, the controversy over the Dred Scott Case, to the battles in Bloody Kansas, and John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. Recently I discovered a book at the local bookstore. It was published in 1958, marking the centennial of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. The book is a virtual transcript of all the debates. Newspapers had sent stenographers to the debates and jotted down every word, even including descriptions of the reaction of the audience and the performances of the principles. I expected a free-flowing series of discussions on issues ranging from trade to protection to taxation to the incorporation of the new territories into the United States. What I found was that the debates were about nothing other than slavery. Every word of the debates was about nothing other than the resolution of this issue, so commanding was the issue just two years before war broke out and all hell broke loose.

That the Civil War brought emancipation and the 14th, 15th, and 16th amendments extending citizenship and outlawing involuntary servitude is clear. And for a brief time the country shifted a bit left along the racial fault line but then abruptly fell back to nearly its former position in the reaction of 1876. This was true a century later when the Civil Rights Movement, another earthquake along the racial fault line, moved the country a bit to the ‘left’. But as in 1876, so in 1968, when confronted with the prospect of allowing those of color total admission into the body politic, the country recoiled and shifted ‘right’.

Let there be no mistake. The primary reason the country shifted ‘right’ was not due to Goldwater’s conservative conscience, nor was it due to the reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe V Wade. It began in 1966 with the “white backlash” that swept huge numbers of Democratic Congressmen and Senators from the Congress; men who had voted for the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Housing Act. Suburban America, who had fled the cities to segregate themselves along racial lines, was now confronted with the might of the Federal Government threatening to allow the minorities to follow. What is instructive here is that for the first time since FDR put together the coalition that was the New Deal, middle class working white families—people identified much later as Reagan Democrats—were voting Republican, and were doing so not because they had embraced “free-market” economics but because they would no longer associate with a party that embraced persons of color.

There had been premonitions. Strom Thurmond leading a walkout of so-called “Dixiecrats” and running independently for President in 1948 when a young Hubert Humphrey forced a Civil Rights plank unto the Democratic Party Platform. But here, in 1966, saw the emergence of a full-blown revolt in nearly all-white suburbia. A revolt running the length and breadth of the entire land. A revolt in which whole segments of white America said that we have gone this far, we shall go no further.

Richard Nixon, on the advice of his young strategist Kevin Phillips, saw an opening. Remember Nixon always sensed opportunity whenever he could smell fear. So in 1968 he adopted Phillips’ strategy of campaigning against busing and affirmative action, and making calls for ‘law and order’. These were understood at the time to be racial code words, a thinly veiled appeal to racial prejudices in the name of Conservative Principles.
Things were complicated by the emergence of George Wallace as a third party candidate making his own racial overtones, but for the first time the Democratic Party—here represented by the self-same Hubert Humphrey who had outraged the Dixiecrats a generation before—lost its hold on what was once the “solid” South. The earthquake of 1968 forged a realignment of the constituent elements of the republic that cost the Democrats not only the “Solid South” but, in effect, the Presidency for the last 40 years.

It is difficult to remember but when I was young the South was considered “yellow-dog Democratic” country. It was said to be so solidly Democratic that one could put a yellow dog on the Democratic ticket and have it elected. After 1968 this was no longer the case. It took a generation or more, beginning in 1948 with Thurmond and continuing with defections of John Connolly and Phil Gramm of Texas, George Wallace bolting the party in 1968, Zell Miller in Georgia…the list goes on, elected Democrats following the electorate began to shift parties. There were a few brief interruptions in this trend, the nominations by the Democrats of Southerners Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 in which the Democracy was able to carry several Southern States, but beyond that the region has become “yellow-dog” Republican.

Let’s be clear about this. This seismic shift in the political landscape was not about Roe and abortion. It was not about ‘Supply-side’ economics as the Reaganauts would have us believe. It was about race and playing the race card. The revolt that first became nation-wide and would reshape the political landscape in suburbia as well as the South began in 1966, a full six years before the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling on abortion. Long before the Republicans used abortion as a wedge issue to advance their economic agenda, there was race. There has always been race, they are not the first nor, as the Clinton’s have so recently demonstrated, will they be the last to exploit it.

Today the political landscape is beginning to shake along both of its major fault lines. An earthquake, of sorts, is coming and for the first time since the Civil War the Republic is about to come to terms with forces seeking to reshape our economic as well as our racial landscape bringing not only fear and uncertainty but the promise of a new day.

There are at least two possible outcomes. The first is that the establishment wins. Either Hillary gains the nomination and wins the election or McCain wins the election in which case nothing changes and the screws get a few more turns. The second is that a new coalition is forged capable of transcending the deepest divisions of our historical experience. At that point we will find ourselves in such a place that when we collectively look into the mirror we will see the face of Barack Obama.

Feb 17, 2008

February 16, 2008: Quotations of Chairman Joe, Eden Certainly Never Existed Here, Worshipers of Dead Liberals

“The purpose of the Democratic Party is to make good Republicans of us and, conversely, the purpose of the Republican Party is to make us all good Democrats.”

---From the “Quotations of Chairman Joe”

In the ebb and flow between conflict and consensus that has been our collective history certain patterns reveal themselves. It is perhaps no small coincidence that the rise of the capitalist economic order roughly coincided with the emergence of the liberal democratic state. In fact both the American Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” appeared during the very same year of 1776. The former was the world’s first full-throated declaration of human rights; the latter the first theoretical formulations of the Free Market. It is, perhaps, worth noting that the Founder’s reference to the rights given every man by his creator was not so much an articulation of religion generally or Christianity in particular as it was a boldface attempt to wrest control of political legitimacy from European monarchs who held that they ruled by ‘Divine Right’. Similarly, the emerging marketplace of Adam Smith in which each acting in narrow self interest would collectively as if by some ‘invisible hand’—perhaps the hand of god himself-- act in the common interest. Theology has always been relied upon in times of uncertainty.

The point is that the laws of supply and demand are no more immutable and the Capitalist order is no more eternal than our own Republic and, since they came into being contemporaneously, it is no surprise that the greatest example and advocate of the Capitalist order is the liberal democratic state as it first emerged in North America. Following the schematic laid down by Smith, Ricardo, Say, Malthus and others the emerging professional and industrial class unleashed, as they gained power, the magnificent productive force that has been the modern Capitalist-Industrial state.

These forces were mutually reinforcing in that the growing economic power of the early industrialists, merchants, and professionals led to reforms which freed labor from the old guild system and agriculture from the bonds of the middle ages. This led to the creation of economic interests that demanded representation that could not be met by the crown or a landed aristocracy. In America these economic interests were represented by the emergence of a large agricultural ‘middle class’ of ‘yeoman’ farmers. No matter what the intent, no matter the number of experiments at recreating the European feudal order on these shores, the shortage of labor and the vast expanse of cheap land prevented the Europeans from transplanting their order in North America. This put the emerging United States ahead of the historical curve for we did not have the weight of the ancient regimes to cast off in order to unleash the modern age. In that sense, the American cry for human rights was produced by a novel pre-capitalist economic order. In Europe it was quite different. Either through a long process of Revolution and Restoration and then middle class political reform as happened in France or the kind of political reform in England with the Reform acts of 1832 and 1836, and the ‘corn laws’ which displaced whole segments of the population forcing them into the emerging factories, the forces at work proved much harsher in the old countries. In the United States similar reforms throughout the 19th century extended the franchise and created a growing segment of the population of middling means that grabbed and held power but not without hardship and suffering. As any student of 19th century American urban history will attest the conditions of the working classes while not as prevalent were nearly as scandalous as those in Europe. While the historical forces of the emerging democratic order coincided with, were interrelated to, and mutually reinforced those of the emerging Capitalist order it did not follow that all was well in Shangri-La.

“If Eden existed, it certainly never existed here”….James Baldwin

It is not often pointed out that as we emerged from the old bonds of the landed aristocracy and began to create new economic formulations that the idea of “Corporations” was viewed with suspicion. Originally a Corporation was a city or a company—like the East India Company—which was incorporated as a monopoly to do business for the Crown. Smith and his disciples—in the early Republic these were primarily the Federalists—introduced the new concept of incorporation into the United States in which they were no longer monopolies but had legal rights and limited liability with the additional advantage of the emerging assets being wholly portable. This unnerved large parts of the community and many—including Jefferson—were deeply troubled that the idea of unfettered wealth would create new combinations, a new aristocracy threatening the foundations of the New Republic. Accordingly the first laws authorizing the creation of corporations were passed with a view of fettering the emerging capital so as not to create unhealthy combinations. Jefferson saw these developments—usually taking place in growing cities—as deleterious to the prominence of the large yeomanry of middling means that had succored the New Republic.

If the emerging capitalist economies gave rise to larger and stronger economic interests capable of transforming the old political order-- the growth of those economies continued to fuel the rise of the modern middle class—it was not without difficulty. The problem is that unfettered the new order tended to concentrate greater wealth into fewer hands threatening, as Jefferson had feared, the foundations of the Republic. Therefore, at seeming regular intervals, an age of ‘consensus’ would give way to conflict as the constituent elements of the Republic would re-align and reign in the excesses of economic power.

So in 1800 with the election of Jefferson, the yeoman farmer made his first appearance as a reforming factor in controlling the Eastern interests. In 1824 Andrew Jackson brought the ‘Jacksonian’ frontiersman to the fore. Declaring war on the National Bank—the “eastern aristocracy” (a theme which would reverberate down through American history) and introducing the ‘spoils’ system the Jacksonian movement put the machinery of governance into the service and the hands of the citizen. In 1860 Lincoln forged a new coalition that ended the slavocracy—a plutocratic remnant of old Europe to be sure—but an economic order that had been given new life with the industrialization of cotton through the introduction of the cotton gin. In the 1870-90’s the yeoman farmer once again organized creating the “Greenback Party” challenging the gold standard of the eastern bankers, as well as the “Grange” movement—a virtual prairie fire—that swept the heartland and shook the emerging oligopolies of the ‘Trusts” to their foundations. Finally in the early decades of the last century these movements came together to extend the franchise to women, institute direct election of Senators, the petition, recall and referendum on state ballots, anti-trust legislation, the income tax and a host of other reforms in an attempt to reign in on the abuses of economic and political power of the ‘Gilded Age”. After a period of prosperity in which main street was uninvited and with the crash of the Stock Market and the Great Depression, the New Deal instituted, in a similar vein, a host of reforms designed to fetter—some would say civilize—Capital.

Then came the Great Society. President Lyndon Johnson—an old New Dealer whose first administrative experience was as a young man directing a massive employment program for young adults in Texas—understood that the fruits of our society, the fruits given so many by the New Deal, were not reaching everyone. Those so abandoned tended to be persons of color. And so in the early and mid-60’s the Johnson Administration passed landmark legislation enabling those left behind to vote, buy homes, gain employment, get health care and nutrition. Then came the “white backlash” in the congressional elections of 1966, and the emergence of Richard Nixon and the new conservative governance in 1968.

Broadly speaking then the history of the democratic experiment is closely linked to the periodic disruption of political consensus by conflicts resulting from the propensity of the economic order—if left to its own resources—to reconfigure wealth into fewer and fewer hands. The democratic society threatens to become a plutocratic society; the Republic threatens to transform itself into a Banana Republic. To prevent this, our ancestors were periodically, and all too frequently, required to take political action in the name of the middle class and social justice to balance the scales. As Kevin Phillips has pointed out—he the former card-carrying Republican author of Nixon’s 1968 ‘Southern Strategy—the age of the “Robber Barons” and the “economic royalists” would be superceded by reform. Ages of excess brought on by conservative Federalist, Whig or Republican Administrations and policies were brought to heel by the salve of Democratic Reform. There were exceptions—Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. But let’s face it: both were liberals and, if alive today, would be Democrats.

Seen from this light, one can easily agree with the Chairman. The Republicans, if allowed to walk the corridors of power for any length of time, will undo the reforms, remove the regulations, and unfetter Capital. The problem is that Capital, so unrestricted, will do what, by universal observation, it always does when so free—it concentrates wealth into fewer and fewer hands. For instance, we have had near four decades of such rule and the middle class now controls less a percentage of the economy than it did before the Great Crash. Revolt ensues, and through political action reforms—usually, but not always, in the form of Democratic remedy—the balance is restored. One can then conclude, with the Chairman, that the purpose of the Republican Party is to impoverish the rest of us and in so doing make us Democrats; the purpose of the Democratic Party is to increase the wealth of the rest of us and in so doing make us comfortable and Republican.

Only a society that is lean and hungry feels the necessity of Liberalism; only a society that is comfortable and secure can afford the luxury of Conservatism. George McGovern once said that “conservatives are worshipers of dead radicals”. He might more accurately have said that “conservatives are worshipers of dead liberals”. Listen as the Republicans speak fondly of Harry Truman or Reagan of John Kennedy or Teddy Roosevelt—notice they never look to Herbert Hoover or Calvin Coolidge or Warren Harding or Richard Nixon. Like a parasite conservatism can only live off the liberal host: if one kills the host, the underlying health of the economic and political order, then the parasite itself must die—or else degenerate into some form of fascism.

Liberalism gives birth to conservatism for without it we could not afford the folly.

Feb 13, 2008

February 12, 2008: Return of the Jedi, Of Mice and Men, Forging a New Coalition

With last night’s victory in the Maine Caucus, Barack Obama has completed a clean sweep of the week’s primaries and caucuses, trouncing Hillary in Nebraska and Washington by 2 to 1 majorities and winning easily in Louisiana and now Maine. This has set the Empire back on its heels with Hillary shaking up her campaign organization. Yesterday it was announced that the Clinton campaign would have a new manager and, hopefully, new focus. In the short term, however, things look a bit grim. With the weekend results moving Barack ahead of Hillary in the overall delegate count and with contests in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia looming, it appears that the Obama campaign is poised to take control of the contest. Recent polls show Obama with a large lead in Maryland, overwhelming support in the District, and even—by some accounts—a lead in Virginia. With the next round shaping up to be another good night for the Senator from Illinois, it is beginning to look like the train is leaving the station.

Many held, when this campaign began, that Hillary Clinton was a lead-pipe cinch to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. She had the name recognition, the money, the organization and some say the experience and the political savvy to waltz to the nomination. But all does not follow the plans of mice and men.

There are serious problems with her candidacy that transcend gender. Problems alluded to earlier concerning her high negatives. Hillary likes to chide the party about how Obama is an unknown quantity and that she has already been vetted; already been through trial by fire. But, in large measure, that’s the problem. Yes most of her warts have been exposed but the process has produced the highest negative readings of any presidential candidate since such tracking numbers came in use. As noted earlier, her negatives are so high as to make Hillary a ‘hot-button’ wedge issue unto herself.

Perhaps the most significant vote taken so far has been the Michigan primary. There Hillary ran unopposed. She ran in an open primary with no other names on the ballot. Large numbers chose to vote and 45% voted uncommitted. This revealed that nearly half the party wants anyone but Hillary…a percentage not too terribly different than the country itself. This vote in Michigan—because it was uncontested and preferences were expressed undiluted by campaigning—put in stark relief the central problem of the Clinton campaign: all that is needed is a reason; all that is needed is someone to step forward and fill the void and at least half the party will follow.

John Edwards, although a great spokesman for those left behind, did not fill the bill. It was not lost on the political activists who dominate these undertakings that Edwards did not—in the end—bring much to the table on election night in 2004. While his message is compelling he has not yet demonstrated an ability to roll with the rough and tumble that is the political arena; for politics is a contact sport, all elbows and knees, and one has to be tough to give life to hope. Or, as a friend of mine so eloquently puts it: “if you want to kill the rats you got to get down in the sewer”. Edwards’ failure to grab Cheney by the collar and push his nose into the shit he and ‘Ol Two-Cows’ created is the principle reason that his campaign has not resonated with an electorate in search of a champion.

Enter Barack Obama. As the field narrowed down to two, the Clinton campaign began to use the race card to marginalize the Jedi. The Empire chose the South Carolina contest in which to make its play: it is a Southern state where race is known to be a factor—in fact the Clintons used a form of reverse logic saying that Obama’s victory was really only about race since over half of the Democratic voters in the South Carolina primary are black and, therefore, such a victory is expected of the BLACK candidate. And, of course, the timing leading up to Florida and Super Tuesday was right, giving Barack little time to react to being so labeled. And with Barack crushing Edwards it would eliminate another competitor leaving the field with only the pre-ordained nominee and the ‘Black’ candidate. We would simply go back to the 1984 and 1988 campaigns where the contest would boil down to the obvious nominee against the spokesman of ‘Black’ America. Barack would be expected take his place next to the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have his brief moment in the sun and then go back home to Illinois and campaign for the team.

But it didn’t happen that way. Many lions of the old party—especially but certainly not exclusively on the left—rallied to the standard of the Jedi. Kerry, Hart, Kennedy, several governors and senators, many who will be super delegates to the convention moved to defend the emerging Barack telling the faithful as Oprah had told her audience that yes, he is indeed presidential timber and yes, he is indeed the real deal. Suddenly the numbers began to surge once again across all socio-economic and racial categories, closing the gap on Super Tuesday and fighting the Empire to a draw. What is remarkable in the last week is that the surge continues. Barack is winning in areas of the country heretofore unimaginable for a candidate so confronting the racial divide: Alaska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Washington, Idaho, and Nebraska….eating away at the remaining pillars supporting the old order. In the process he is re-emerging as a ‘transcendent’ political figure forging a new coalition capable of governing America.

Obama’s campaign slogan is “Change we can believe in”. Can we believe? Dare we believe? It is too early to say…but on this balmy February eve the future looks brighter than it has since the morning after Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek another term as our president. I remember it well, the great orange ball rising in the clear blue sky. It was a time of hope, joy and celebration. It was April Fools Day, 1968.

Feb 11, 2008

February 11, 2008: Fornicator’s Remorse, Paradise Lost, Holy Huckabee

Fornicator’s remorse is to awake next morning and find that you had got more in the night’s transaction than you had bargained for. And so at closing time last Tuesday night the good Marshall of Tombstone went down to the Bar-None saloon and struck a quick bargain with the barfly of ambition. After a long night of heated passion between the good Marshall of Tombstone and the Republican Party, each awoke on the morning after with not only with a colossal headache but a case of the clap. It is not clear, as of this writing, who gave what to whom but from the maiden’s not so righteous indignation it appears that the good Marshall took more than his guns and his spurs upstairs with him.

And so Wednesday morning could be heard the hue and cry reverberate down Main Street as the Grand Old Vixen protesting her sullied virtue promised never to do business with him again. How long she sticks to this resolution will depend on how much she drinks; for the night is long and there are now few other prospects. The Marshall, for his part, merely smiled as he emerged from Doc Reagan’s office protesting that he has always been ‘one of the boys’.

Her sisters cried foul, with James Dobson of ‘Focus on the Family’ taking the shopworn maiden to the Reverend Huckleberry for absolution. The Reverend pronounced the transgression to be so serious as to require a ‘fair-tax’ baptism involving full emersion. It was difficult enough to get the aging pachyderm into that horse trough in front of the General Store; but now the Right Reverend is out stumping the land seeking to reclaim the virtues of paradise lost by blessing the aging vixen in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Huckabee. He has met with some success, trouncing McCain in Kansas and winning narrowly in Louisiana leading the Reverend to proclaim himself to be god’s very own work in the making. Stripped of the hubris, we have seen this before …Jerry Brown winning a string of primaries in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was on the verge of sewing up the nomination, Gary Hart winning 11 of the last 12 Democratic primaries in 1984 as the party looked down the barrel of the Mondale candidacy. No Huck, these are not the works of god, these are not victories for your righteous cause, these are merely the manifestations of Fornicator’s Remorse. This is not that the country has suddenly found religion as in some second ‘Great Awakening”. No Huck this is what happens in politics when you wake up in the morning with a smile on your face only to find that you’ve caught the clap.

February 10, 2008: Profiles in Cowardice, Rat in Heat, Gone AWOL

Keith Olbermann, in last Friday’s “Countdown” on MSNBC, rebuked John McCain for the number of votes he has missed during this congressional session. In addition he chided the Senator for failing to vote on the Senate version of the ‘stimulus’ package which added some 40 billion dollars to the House version by extending rebates to disabled veterans and social security recipients.

I do not fault the Marshall of Tombstone for missing votes since given the state of physical science it is not possible to be simultaneously both on the Senate floor and out in the country campaigning for the Presidency. And since this country requires that in order to grab the brass ring one must campaign like a rat in heat, I cannot find fault with the Senator’s voting record. Similar standards were set by John Kerry, George McGovern and Bob Dole to name but a few. I am, however, baffled by the Marshall of Tombstone being AWOL on a vote of such importance to the Administration and the country.

Let’s be very clear about this. Newsweek, as well as several other leading news organizations have had lead stories on what appears to be an emerging recession. The Federal Reserve has dropped interest rates and is contemplating more rate cuts even in the face of real inflation (read above “Inflation is a Cruel Mistress). In fact this problem looms so darkly on our immediate horizon that this President, this complete ideological moron who had previously never encountered a problem that could not be solved by massive infusions of federal dollars into corporate coffers, has rushed forward with a ‘stimulus’ package that emphasizes putting money into the hands of those who struggle most. For George W. Bush to discover, even at this late date, Keynesian economics is to underscore the seriousness of the looming crisis.

But the Marshall of Tombstone was AWOL. His gun was on the Senate floor, but the Marshall was gone. Why? Because he was about to be gored on the horns of a dilemma: on the one hand if he voted for the bill he feared he would outrage the fiscal conservatives jeopardizing the support of the base of his own party; on the other hand if he voted against the bill he feared he would be seen as savaging disabled veterans and retirees on fixed incomes, jeopardizing his support among independents and Democrats. And so in the name of unlimited political expediency, John McCain took the coward’s way out.

It’s not that he didn’t have cover. The Democrats, in their own trembling cowardice, quailed at the prospect of being called out by the President for being too much the bleeding-heart, the Good Samaritan. Accordingly, they dropped demands that unemployment insurance be extended to those whose benefits have expired. McCain could easily have pointed to the capitulation by what remains of the ‘left’ and reassured both Wall Street and Main Street that something would be done to shore up aggregate demand. Instead he appeared before a conservative forum protesting his exclusion and demanding admission. Contending that he too is a “Reagan” conservative, “a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution”, he demonstrated a proclivity altogether too common in such circles: the need to besmirch the historical record to achieve useful misunderstandings.

The truth is that Reagan, as ‘Ol Two-Cows”, amassed huge deficits as they spent money like drunken sailors. Both now have supported such stimulus measures. Barry Goldwater would not. Perhaps it is not wise to forget that McCain has Goldwater’s old Senate seat. The point is that while McCain, as both Goldwater and Reagan before him, distinguishes himself for his unpredictable predictability-- Goldwater would rail against the Neo-Con police state and welcome gays into the military, Reagan would run huge deficits and move to throw away our nuclear arsenal-- they would have taken a position and made a stand. The difference is that no matter on which side they stood neither Goldwater nor Reagan in the heat of a Presidential campaign would have, on an issue of this importance, gone AWOL.

February 9, 2008: Virtual Draw, The Engine Redlined, Hillary's to Lose

Meanwhile, the remaining Democratic candidates fought themselves to a virtual draw in last Tuesday’s primaries, caucuses and conventions. Hillary, at last count had won 8 states, Obama 13, with one yet to be decided giving both an almost equal number of delegates to the convention. With the next round of states favoring Barack, and the later rounds favoring Hillary, we could end up at the end of the long, grueling process with a deadlocked convention, no closer to choosing a nominee that we were in January.

The good news is that these campaigns, pitting as they are the first putative female and first black nominee, are generating huge increases in public participation as people who have never participated before are drawn into the contest. Voter turnout so far rivals the mid-seventies as new waves of female, black and younger voters are drawn into the vortex portending a huge Democratic turnout in November.

The bad news is that one of these groups must emerge from Denver disappointed. The blowup would be not unlike someone throwing a cinder block on a car’s accelerator and watching the engine red line then explode. In what promises to be a season of hope we might instead bear witness to the implosion of the Democratic Party as the two major faction’s war over delegates in a death-struggle for the nomination. It is, from this distance, not difficult to imagine both candidates a few votes shy of the nomination with the contested returns of Michigan and Florida in the balance. A huge floor fight ensues, much like the Republican convention of 1912, or the Democratic conventions of 1968 and 1972, producing a pyrrhic victory with the emerging champion leading a hopelessly divided and demoralized party.

Obama, once again transcendent, has found his voice. Beneath the numbers of states and delegates won and lost are those demonstrating an Obama surge, especially with Latino voters in California and elsewhere, and a growing proportion of white support—especially white male support—across the country. As people went to the polls, white support had increased to nearly 40% from a low of 15% in South Carolina just a few weeks ago. Much was made of the setbacks the Kennedy’s had suffered when Obama lost Massachusetts to Hillary despite the endorsement of Kennedy and Kerry as well as the state’s governor. But this, in some measure, misses the point. These endorsements came late; a bit more than a week before what was, in effect, a national primary covering 22 states. What was lost in the reporting was the closing of the gap both in the white vote and the Hispanic vote that occurred in the last days of the campaign. No state in the Democratic contests awards delegates on a winner-take-all basis but, instead, according to the proportion of the vote. These endorsements gave Obama the needed lift to close the gap and fight Hillary to a draw on a night when she should have put the challenger away. Given the initial support among super delegates—those party officials and operatives who will have a vote at the convention—this nomination has always been Hillary’s to lose. She is doing a damn good job of it. Last Tuesday the Jedi fought the Empire to a draw in a contest in which the future of the Democratic Party, and perhaps the country, hangs in the balance.

February 8, 2006: Shootout at Tombstone, Quaint Oxymorons, Endless Circles

Super Tuesday is behind us and John McCain, the Marshall of Tombstone, is now the Champion of the Wrong. Having swept all the major states, he emerged with a commanding two-to-one lead in delegates to the Republican National Convention over his nearest rival Willard “Mitt” Romney. Romney, discovering the next morning that he would have to win four fifths of the remaining delegates to be chosen, decided to withdraw from the race leaving what remains of his personal fortune intact and McCain as the odds-on-favorite to clinch the nomination.

The lead-belly conservative vote was almost equally divided between Romney and the Huckster, with Huckleberry taking Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia and Arkansas, demonstrating that most of us north of the Mason-Dixon and west of the Red River prefer our politics without benefit of clergy. Romney, winning little more than his ‘home’ states of Massachusetts, Michigan and Utah, did not emerge as a national candidate, demonstrating that America demands a sharp distinction between church and state. The fatal flaw of both of these candidacies was the assumption that the bible-thumping fundamentalist vote is such as to nominate and elect a president outright. This was the fraud perpetrated upon us by the likes of Messrs. Falwell and Robertson, and given credence by the cretin Rove who, acting as “Bush’s Brain”, convinced both the president and the country that the Christian conservative vote was such that no compromise with the rest of America was warranted. Both Mitt and the Huckster swallowed whole this fantasy of the ‘True Believers’ and assumed they could ride that elephant down Pennsylvania Avenue. But, alas, the blue smoke of the ‘Moral Majority’ has gone the way of ‘compassionate conservatism’; quaint oxymoron’s describing the common misunderstandings of ‘Ol Two-Cows’ America. This left both men high and dry; merely provincial spokesmen, masters each of his own little bayou, neither capable of swimming in the deep blue sea. So McCain, the aging Marshall of Tombstone, was left to put together a coalition of the weary, as if by default.

But all is not well in the belly of the beast. Loud groaning can be heard from the ‘Idiot Right’ as it tries hard to swallow and digest this latest news. Rusty, ‘Rush to Judgment’ Limbaugh has taken to the airwaves and Ann Coulter appeared before a Y.A.F. (Young Americans for Freedom, or is it Young Asses for Fascism) conclave howling in pain at the prospect of their movement being ‘stolen’ by a man who exhibits, all to frequently it seems, a disturbing propensity to recognize that there is demanding to be heard another, larger and more compelling America. And there are larger and more compelling problems that this nation needs to address, from the maldistribution of wealth to global warming, demonstrating that reality is indeed a liberal proposition. For no amount of incantation, admonition or prayer will stop the melting of the polar ice caps, the shrinking of the middle class, or the depletion of the world’s remaining petroleum reserves unless we—collectively—do something about it. This requires a New Deal.

It remains to be seen if the good Marshall can ride this pachyderm in anything other than endless circles.

February 4, 2008: No Historical Precedent, Yellow Bellied Son of Tricky Dicky, Gimme Some Truth

“There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the President
There’s no such thing as a winnable war
It’s a lie that we don’t believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don’t subscribe to his point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too”---Sting, “Russians” www.azlyrics.com

To paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli: there are lies, damn lies, and then there is George W. Bush. There is no historical precedent to put such words in the mouth of the President.

Lying, when it concerns matters of state, is not the unmitigated evil, the cardinal sin that it is held to be. Certain kinds of lies not only serve the national interests but in fact may be necessary. If the economy is in a downturn, for instance, it is not wise for the President to stand before the country and announce that things have gone to shit and there is nothing we can do about it. This will, as anyone who has watched the markets react to the slightest ill wind blow from the backsides of Alan Greenspan, send the markets into a panic and destabilize the nation’s economy. National leaders often have to put the best face they can on inconvenient truths. But it is one thing to fudge the edges, to play cheerleader in order to boost the spirits and give confidence to the country; it is quite another to intentionally lead the country into war by the systematic use of falsehood. In the history of this republic there is no record of any President so openly and compulsively lying to the American people about questions of war and peace.

“I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just give me some truth”

A few weeks ago it was reported that leading up to the Iraq war senior administration officials openly lied to the American people no less than 935 times. These lies have been documented and catalogued for the historical record, and will remain as a permanent blemish on the history of our age. The rancher from Crawford, our very own Decider in Chief, led the parade with 260 boldfaced lies. These were not little white lies, you know the kind needed to restore confidence to shaky markets, the kind a cheerleader would shout to inspire his heroes on the field. No these were material misrepresentations designed to scare the holy shit out of the public so as to stampede us off to war. For instance: 1. Iraq had 500 tons of chemical weapons, including Sarin gas, Mustard gas, and VX nerve agents. Wrong. In fact not a single drop of any of these chemical weapons was found. 2. Iraq had 30,000 weapons capable of delivering chemical weapons. Wrong, there were zero munitions found. 3. Iraq had a growing fleet of planes capable of dispersing chemical weapons. Wrong again. Not a single aerial vehicle so capable was found anywhere in Iraq. 4. Iraq aided and protected terrorists including Al Qaeda, implying that somehow Iraq was behind the September 11 attacks. Wrong again, not a single shred of evidence connected Hussein with Al Qaeda or, with the exception of certain Palestinian groups, any other known terrorist organization. 5. Iraq attempted to purchase metal tubes used in nuclear weapons production. Wrong. Months before the war the International Atomic Energy Agency declared that these tubes were unsuitable for such purposes. 6. Iraq was rebuilding nuclear facilities. Wrong. In an IAEA report to the U.N. Security Council, dated 1/27/03, the inspectors declared that they found no evidence of prohibited activities at these sites. 7. Iraq had sought to obtain significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Wrong. These documents were not credible and were believed at the time to be forged. 8. Iraq has nuclear weapons. Wrong. The IAEA in a report to the Security Council dated 3/7/03 said that “The IAEA had found no evidence or plausible indication of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.” 9. Saddam Hussein refused to allow U.N. inspectors into Iraq. Wrong. U.N. Inspectors went into Iraq in December and Hans Blix, chief U.N. inspector, was pleading for more time as the Americans brushed aside the U.N. effort advising the U.N. to withdraw its inspection team as we prepared for war. These and many other such gross misrepresentations of the facts on the ground were repeated by the President and his administration culminating in Secretary Powell’s humiliating performance at the United Nations, and with Condi Rice famously warning that we didn’t want “the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud”. (See “A Chart of Bush Lies about Iraq” at buzzflash.com, http://www.buzzflash.com/contributors/03/07/22_lies.html)

“No short-haired, yellow-bellied
Son of tricky-dicky’s
Gonna Mother Hubbard
Soft-soap me”

Note here that the world knew, if America did not, enough of the truth to vote against a Security Council resolution sanctioning our invasion. It is for these reasons that we went to war with what was derisively referred to at the time the ‘coalition of the bribed’. It was a coalition which, beyond Tony Blair’s Britain, enlisted the support of such military giants as Lithuania, Poland and Costa Rica. It was a coalition hastily formed through the device of offering or withholding foreign aid. It was a coalition which belied the fact that we went into Iraq nearly alone.

It is clear, as noted earlier from the “Downing Street Memos”, that this administration was hell-bent on war with Iraq, and that the reasons given for our action were nothing other than blue smoke and mirrors designed to confuse, mislead, and fool the American people. The problem, as Abe Lincoln once said, is that you can fool some of the people all the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time; and the world was not amused.

“I’m sick to death of seeing things
From tight-lipped, condescending, mommies little chauvinists
All I want is the truth
Just give some truth
I’ve had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, egocentric,
paranoiac, prima donnas
All I want is the truth
Just give me some truth.”—John Lennon, “Give Some Truth”

And now with the war grinding on longer that World War Two, with some four thousand dead and tens of thousands wounded, with nearly a trillion dollars having been spent, we have Marshall McCain insisting that we honor these falsehoods by committing us, for another century, to this hopeless quagmire. There is no historical precedent to put the words in the mouth of the President that there is no such thing as a winnable war. Especially a war that has no justification. A war without end, Amen.

Feb 4, 2008

February 3, 2008: Generation of Swine: Happy Trails to You, Warp Factor II, A Ranch Called 'Neverland'.

“Happy Trails to you
Until we meet again…”--Dale Evans, Theme song of the ‘Roy Rogers Show’ circa 1955

We are a generation confused. Confused about origins, confused about purpose, confused about the very time in which we live. Media, and television is an extraordinary example, have always been pack animals. Produce a hit show and the medium is soon churning out ‘spin-offs’ and copy-cat replicas as everyone madly rushes to cash in on the new bonanza. It has always been that way and, perhaps, it always will.

The problem with the Boomers is that it was their singular misfortune to have passed through their formative years when the emerging media of television was besot with what mother rather derisively referred to as ‘horse shit and gun powder’. It is difficult to imagine today, but nearly 80% of prime-time broadcasting consisted of an endless stream of westerns. To discount their effect on the ensuing behavior of the tender young minds who sat transfixed before the “tube”-- the emerging ‘light of the world--’ is to be in grievous denial. These were short ‘morality plays’ which sought to teach that good always prevails over evil, and our parents went to bed knowing that their young charges were being taught valuable life lessons.

It is always impossible to know beforehand what will be the effects of an emerging technology on the subject society. When the automobile was introduced it was seen as an unmitigated technological and social blessing. Compared to horses, cars reduced accidents and injuries 90%. Then there was that business concerning all that horse shit accumulating in the streets, being washed into the gutters, producing all those flies, being tracked into the house. Ah, so much better the car—even if it was a little noisy. But with the advance of time and the growing numbers of vehicles on the road, smog and congestion made their unanticipated appearance. Soon the millions of combustion engines were expelling so much lead into the air that traces of it were showing up in the polar ice caps. The car gave us freedom to travel and to explore. Whole industries arose to meet the growing numbers who set out in search of America. But it was not an unmitigated blessing. With increased freedom came increased strain on the social mores. I have first hand experience having grown up in Drive-in theatres and having managed several of them. The automobile was a material culprit in the explosion of the illegitimate birth rate in the United States. Society can be ‘blind-sided’ by the introduction of new technologies and television was no exception.

These were morality plays whose lessons learned were not always what mom and dad had hoped were being taught. First, good does not always prevail over evil. Often, in what appears wholly capricious and arbitrary, life presents us with quite the opposite. This had the singular effect of creating a generation whose sensibilities were easily disturbed, and whose sense of ‘virginity’ was, when confronted with novel and taxing social crises, serially violated. The boomers are a generation who, because we were taught that the good always prevails, are constantly in shock when it does not. And when confronted with war, impeachments, assassinations, stock market crashes, ad nauseum, we are constantly said to be losing our virginity. This had led us to be easily traumatized and to clearly over-react in times of national stress: as in our reaction to the events of 9/11. We have come, over time, to have protested our virginity altogether too often and can no longer be taken seriously.

Second, there is this business of conflict resolution. In these contests drawn in stark relief between good and evil, right and wrong, resolution nearly always involved violence; violence in the form of fist-fights and/or gun play. In fact the opening scene of every “Gunsmoke” episode involved a shoot-out on Main Street with the good Marshall Dillon shown enforcing the law with hot lead. The “Rifleman” had opening credits showing a menacing, albeit heroic, Chuck Connors shooting his sawed-off rifle in broad daylight as he walked down the middle of town. Yes, the “Lone Ranger” pledged to shoot only to wound but this would only further confuse tender minds about the use and accuracy of such weapons; confusions that now play themselves out in the national quest for “clean” bombs and “smart” weapons, where war has become an increasing video reality and, to our undiscerning eyes, bloodless.

Third, there was very little realism about the damage such violence produces. Blood was very rarely seen and the lesson was lost that even in a good fist fight jaws are often broken, teeth come up missing. One very rarely witnessed, in these portrayals, the pain of the families of those who had fallen—regardless of how good or evil they may have been. No these were mere card-board cut out figures, no real context—hence no real meaning.

But, for our present purposes, the most important confusions may have involved time. Here was a generation of young Americans about to enter the space age who were relentlessly being pulled back into the nineteenth century. In this context I never quite got the “Roy Rogers” show. The plot would always appear to be in the wild old west, the villains were always being pursued on horseback, and weapons were always vintage nineteenth century. The law was always riding in posse. Then at the end of the episode there would appear Pat Brady and his Jeep “Nelly Bell”. Suddenly we would be transported, as if by magic, back into our own time. It was a time warp, as if Clayton Moore were sucked through a wormhole appearing as the “Lone Ranger” in your local parade; seen riding Silver down main street toward a grand opening of the latest shopping mall. There were attempts at modern drama, but such was the level of confusion that in “Highway Patrol” Broderick Crawford was shown apprehending villains with his patrol car much the same way Gene or Roy would maneuver a horse during a chase. Crawford would swerve in front of the fleeing suspect and cut him off. In real life, nothing like that could occur, it would mean the certain destruction of both vehicles and serious injury to the officer. Nothing had any context, any linear sense, or any sense at all.

Our collective misunderstandings, not adjusted by rigorous study of contemporary history or current events, only reinforced the problem. Our experience in school involved great periods of time studying Columbus, Pizzaro, Cortes, Ponce de Leon, leading to the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century. Then we would be rushed, in the closing weeks of the school year, in a cursory review of the twentieth century. We never, collectively, got our minds into our own time. Such was our preparation for the challenges that lay ahead, as we approached the “New Frontier”.

It has been pointed out by many commentators that it was no accident that the Boomers elected the first television president. Our parents remember Reagan as a movie star; we remember him as host of “General Electric Theatre”, but more importantly, “Death Valley Days”. Here was the host, playing the familiar cowboy, speaking to an emerging generation who were by now hopelessly lost in time and space. He would later be embraced by the Boomers as a father figure. Who cared if his was not a real ranch—nothing in our collective understanding of time and space has been real. It was surreal—so unreal as to be real—reality enclosed in a simple wooden box. And so, when the clarion call came to return with him unto the nineteenth century, to go back to that place where good always triumphs, and to fight the good fight with the ‘Evil Empire’, we knew precisely where he wanted us to go. And so, like rawhide, we were willingly herded down the Santa Fe Trail toward a ranch called “Neverland”.

February 2, 2008: The Hundred Years War, ‘Ol Two-Cows’ on Steroids, The Torch Has Been Passed

John McCain has emerged from the Florida Primary energized and garnering endorsements. With next Tuesday’s upcoming primaries involving over 20 states, McCain got the endorsement of Arnold Schwarzenegger the Governor of California as well as several other leading Republican figures. Polls show him pulling away from Mitt nationally and opening up a comfortable lead. The Marshall of Tombstone once again has become a tenuous front-runner with an inside track to the Republican nomination. The problem is that the Marshall has always been a lousy front runner, prone to shoot himself with some ill-advised campaign gaffe. This week he suggested that the country prepare itself to occupy Iraq for a hundred years.

When he is not campaigning for the presidency, John McCain can demonstrate reasonableness and moderation. He has worked with Democrats, like Senator Feingold of Wisconsin on campaign finance reform and with others on everything from immigration reform to education. He, nearly alone among his Republican colleagues, voted against the Bush tax cuts because he had the courage to speak the truth and to vote accordingly. But something deranges the Senator from Arizona when the presidential bee begins buzzing under the old warrior’s helmet. While not running for office he correctly excoriated the administration for failing to provide the necessary ground forces to prevent a rising insurrection. But last year, as the campaign got underway, he signed off on a much diminished ‘surge’ and quickly went to Baghdad and pronounced it a success. The newscasts were flush with clips of McCain, dressed in a flak jacket and escorted by marines and helicopter gunships, strolling the streets of Iraq’s capitol city blabbering on about how safe the streets were, and telling America that the commercial district of downtown Baghdad looked like Macy’s after the Thanksgiving Day parade. Potomac Fever has been known to make even the most sober politician delusional, and the good Marshall has contracted such a case of it that he now appears like ‘Ol Two-Cows’ on steroids.

It would be troubling enough if this were mere campaign rhetoric reaching only a domestic audience, but the whole world—which has grown increasingly wary of American intentions—is watching. Mother Jones reports that Halliburton is contracted to build 14 permanent military bases in Iraq. The U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad is the largest such U.S. compound in the world, signaling our intentions to be there ‘in force’ for a very long time. These facts are not lost to our allies, our adversaries, or the Iraqi’s, and talk of staying and fighting a ‘hundred year’s war’ could potentially confirm everyone’s worst suspicions and fuel the insurrection.

The Cons, the Neo-Cons and, apparently, Marshall McCain have never understood that America has always been a lousy imperialist power. America wants and seeks the advantage of world domination but does not have the stomach to use the force necessary to enforce it. Rome was, by most accounts, an excellent imperial power bringing the rule of law and economic prosperity over most of what we regard as the ancient world. As a rule Roman occupation brought peace and order—if, that is, one followed the rules. Local jurisdictions were allowed to follow ancient practices as long as tribute in the form of money and the worship of Roman gods were followed. Ancient financial needs and superstitions required it. Rome needed the taxes to fund the army, and the worship of Roman gods—while not excluding concurrent religious devotion to local gods—was required to satisfy ancient superstitions. Reversals in battle, epidemics or famine were thought to be caused by insufficient attention to the deities, so as a precaution the empire required at least obeisance to the Roman Pantheon. Otherwise one was free to go about one’s business. But fail to worship the Roman deities could bring swift retaliation, or fail to pay proper tribute and you had to deal with all the power of imperial Rome. And it could be brutal. The Romans, as the Spartans before them, consciously set about inuring the population to blood and pain. This was what the coliseum was all about, to give life to blood sport, to make the citizenry view violence as a natural everyday occurrence. As a result the Romans could put heads on pikes, even the heads of errant Senators, and feel no qualms about doing it.

Not so Americans. We, in order to properly exercise imperial prerogatives, feel compelled to find some kind of ‘moral’ justification for our actions. Beginning with our entry into the First World War we found justification by telling ourselves that this was a ‘War to End All Wars’, and that we were ‘Making the World Safe for Democracy’. We have since engaged in tiresome rationalizations for supporting the most brutal and repressive regimes on earth by convincing ourselves that we were defending ‘freedom’ from the godless communists or, most recently, so-called ‘fascist Islamic-terrorists’. We have had to cover ourselves in high moral or political purpose in order to go about the dirty business of securing our economic interests. The use of force must not be seen to be either naked or brutal. Old-fashioned ‘gunboat diplomacy’ will, quite simply, no longer do. The use of simple force, so natural to a real imperial power, violates our growing sensibilities. Our intentions must instead be covered by fig leaves, political to be sure but preferably tied to higher moral or religious principles. For the most part the rest of the world has seen through the charade but remained acquiescent, giving us the luxury of this collective delusion, because most were secondary beneficiaries to the moral levitation.

But there have been times when our seemingly endless capacity for self-delusion has been stretched past the point of no return. One such time was Viet Nam and, increasingly, so is the present quagmire in the Middle East. The good Marshall might, on a bad day when the fever runs high, think that he can commit this country to an endless occupation, a modern hundred year’s war, but America does not have the stomach for it. A nation that demands instant gratification will not tolerate the specter of committing its children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren to fighting an endless insurgency. The country must not be forced to face a proposition that we stay in Iraq until either the nation’s patience or the Iraqi oil fields run dry. Let us hope that should the good Marshall win this election that this rather virulent form of Potomac Fever will have, by inauguration day, have passed.

Mitt’s remaining strategy, it appears, is to declare an open break with the Bush Administration and portray McCain as Bush Lager, tie ‘Ol Two-Cows’ around McCain’s neck and throw him overboard. But such a prospect seems unlikely and it may very well be already too late.

On the Democratic side the keepers of the flame have anointed Barack as the reincarnation of Camelot. Caroline Kennedy, the last survivor of the First Family, made her first public endorsement following Florida’s vote. She said in an op-ed piece in the New York Times that she has met many people in her life who tell her how much her father had inspired them and no one had until now inspired her in the same way. Prodded by her children she re-evaluated her early private endorsement of Hillary and openly switched to Obama. Ted Kennedy and his son Patrick, a congressman from Connecticut, joined her at American University and endorsed Barack. Ted spoke at length about how the young were at the forefront of the New Frontier, and how the hopes and dreams of the next generation find their best expression in the candidacy of Barack Obama. Shades of 1968; a children’s crusade against the establishment. Let’s hope that this time we don’t end up with another Richard Nixon.

February 1, 2008: There’s No Place Like Home, Dandelions Don’t Tell No Lies, Scurrying Home After the Curfew

The housing crisis circles overhead like a vulture with Newsweek suggesting that the U.S. economy may be facing the guillotine. Associated Press writer J.W. Elphinstone reported on January 29 that “U.S. home prices plunged by a record 8.4% in November, marking two years of slowing returns”. The decline measured by Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 10-city composite index “was the biggest year-to-year drop since a 6.7 percent decrease in October”. A broader 20-city index showed a 7.7 percent decline in November over the previous year. All of this, according to the Commerce Department, a result of a drop last year of new home sales of 26.4%, the largest plunge since 1980.

Preceding the crisis the construction industry had for several years been building new homes at a rate of 125% of demand, meaning that we were building 25% more homes every year than we could sell. This led to a creation of excess housing that economists say will take at least four years to flush out of the pipeline. Nearly all of this building was done not to meet demand but by those seeking real estate investments. As supply began to outstrip demand the financial markets responded by issuing sub-prime loans: loans to consumers who did not have the income or the credit to make such investments. These were loans that consumed too great a percentage of household incomes. There were also loans that were often ‘balloon’ payments involving little or no down payment and initial monthly payments that, in most instances, didn’t cover the interest on the loan. After a specified period the loan would come due and would have to be renegotiated. Since these contracts involved selling homes to those deemed a higher risk greater interest rates could be charged. The financial institutions, having once crossed these thresholds, became rapidly addicted to the high return these instruments produced and began steering greater numbers of buyers into these sub-prime loans. By some reports nearly 45% of these contracts were issued to people who could have qualified for more conventional loans but were not given the option by the lenders. The result was that a veritable financial house of cards was constructed as the landscape was bulldozed and housing tracts sprouted up upon the land like dandelions in the spring.

“Dandelions don’t tell no lies
Dandelions will make you wise
Tell me if she laughs or cries” ---The Rolling Stones, “Dandelions”

Then the bill came due. After several years of high tide and green grass it became increasingly difficult to unload the splendid new mansions that dotted the hillsides. With rising energy and food prices, with stagnating incomes, with consumer debt at astronomical levels the market simply went dry resulting in an increase of 79% in the number of U.S. homes in some stage of foreclosure, and an estimated 2 million additional families facing eviction. Now we had not only a downturn in the construction industry but an emerging financial crisis that has sent jitters down the stone corridors of the world’s financial markets. This brought the President back from his failed quest for peace in the Middle East like a young girl on a date scurrying home after curfew. Where this will lead is anyone’s guess. As the year began ‘Ol Two-Cows’ announced that his new year’s resolution was to “be fiscally responsible and to see to it that every dollar was spent wisely”. Of course the country laughed itself hoarse at such buffoonery and the stock market took a dive. Britain’s Prime Minister Brown, a much more respectable figure, was more sober. He said his new year’s resolution was to stabilize the world economy in face of America’s credit crisis. Evidently it had not yet dawned on Crawford’s very own village idiot that the entire world order may now be at risk.

January 31, 2008: So Long Frank Lloyd Wright, Record of Futility, 'Tale' That Wagged the Dog

“Architects may come
And Architects may go
And never change your point of view” –Paul Simon, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”

January has come and gone and the first phase of the campaign season is behind us. The field is strewn with the fallen, with only 5 now left standing. So before we proceed, let us bid a fond farewell to those who have done their best to make a difference.

On the Democratic side there was Dennis Kucinich, arguably the most courageous of the lot. My first recollection of the Congressman was when as mayor of Cleveland he fought to keep municipal ownership of the city’s power plants. It was back in the 1970s and Kucinich was a young up and coming star in the Ohio political constellation and Cleveland was, like New York and many other major metropolitan areas, in a financial crisis. The major banks in Cleveland, with large holdings in private utilities, moved to try to force the city to divest itself of the municipal utility. Kucinich balked, whereupon the banks refused to roll over the city’s loans throwing Cleveland into a financial crisis. Kucinich held his ground, marshaled public opinion and forced the banks to yield. It was a rare instance, in the last thirty years, of government refusing to yield to the pressures for privatization, an act that should have earned him a ‘profiles in courage’ award. Instead the moneyed interests moved to defeat him in the ensuing election. Cleveland kept community control over energy, but lost a champion. Years later, after the heat of the conflict had subsided; Dennis won a seat in Congress and has been there ever since.

Kucinich has been a voice of reason on the national stage. An early opponent of the war in Iraq, he has also given voice to those who understand that this administration has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. Accordingly, he has introduced a bill in Congress calling for the impeachment of Dick Cheney. This week he withdrew from the race, returning home to Ohio where he faces three challengers for his seat.

Joe Biden, Senator from Delaware was former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Joe is a good man, an early critic of the war who has had the courage to ask the tough questions and think about alternatives. He has a mastery of foreign affairs that brought experience and understanding to the political discourse.

Chris Dodd, Connecticut’s other Senator, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a voice for the middle class. And, of course, John Edwards. All of these men would have made a far superior president than ‘Ol Two-Cows’, such is the strength of the Democratic field or perhaps the paucity of national leadership as it is presently constituted.

On the Republican side we say goodbye to Rudy Giuliani. Rudy’s candidacy never made any sense, not only because his public positions are at odds with the base of the Republican Party, but because in the history of this republic no one has gone from being a mayor of a city—no matter how large the metropolis or how demanding the challenges—to become President of the United States. Not Mayor LaGuardia, not Mayor Lindsay, nor either of the Mayors Daley. In fact, no one has gone from being a Congressman to President since 1860, and Lincoln won that election because he was in a four-man race. Even Barack Obama, as charismatic as he is, has had to check into the United States Senate for a few months in order to be taken seriously. Rudy missed his chance at the White House long ago when he withdrew from the Senate race against Hillary. Rudy cited a bout with prostate cancer but, given his behavior in the early primaries, it may be that it was a contest he knew he couldn’t win and rather than fight the good fight, chose instead to quit. So the man who for over a year led all Republican contenders in the national polls, who early set the pace in fundraising had, by the middle of January, retreated to make his stand in the marshes of Florida. It was an inhospitable environment for a New Yorker and he promptly shriveled and faded like a dead gator in the hot tropical sun. By the middle of the month his campaign was running out of money, and his staff was working without pay. The Giuliani campaign will now be remembered only for setting a new record of futility. He raised 50 million dollars and spent 50 million dollars winning just one delegate to the Republican National Convention; thereby superseding the record of John Connolly who, albeit thirty years ago, got his single delegate at a cost of a modest 11 million dollars. Fifty million dollars reduced to mere road kill by Marshall McCain’s “Straight-Talking Express”.

We also say goodbye to Fred Thomson, whose lackadaisical effort demonstrated convincingly that being a thespian does not give one a lock on the Republican Presidential nomination. The nation has watched, for the last eight years, a man pretend to be President. Perhaps we have finally had our fill of those who would have us suspend disbelief. In any case Fred Thompson quickly demonstrated that he was, in fact, no Ronald Reagan.

And finally last, but certainly not least, the Christian Coalition. Divided amongst them, the dogs of war the Reverends Robertson and Falwell had loosed upon the land, the old ‘moral majority’ alas could rally around no single candidate. Robertson in an act of guile and expediency endorsed Giuliani, who promptly quailed before the mightier guns of the party and expired in the hot southern sun. Others cried for Thompson, but Fred slept through the campaign and got no heat. Finally they fell upon Huckleberry who quickly embroiled himself in America’s racial quagmire, and has been of late more interested in relieving the tax burden of Bill Gates than addressing the conservative Christian social agenda.

The returns have demonstrated in any case the true strength of the ‘Christian Right’ (read Christian Wrong). It has been—like the old Soviet military threat—grossly exaggerated. Rudy, Fred and Huck could between them garner only about 15% of the Florida vote. It seems that they had come to believe their own press releases, some openly saying that the Christian Right was strong enough to elect a President on its own. And so with much ballyhoo the candidacies of Giuliani, Thompson and Huckleberry each expected to ride that elephant straight to the White House. Falwell is gone; Robertson has beshit himself in crass political expediency. In any case, the strength of the movement has been revealed for what it is: blue smoke and mirrors; a lie that has held hostage American political life; a tale that wagged the dog.

If only Rudy had courage; if only Freddy had a heart; if only Huck had a brain.