I'm not normally one to rant – among the scores of diaries I've posted over the course of the past three years, only a handful are of the "screed" variety. The sort of diaries I usually do don't lend themselves to soapbox-style indignation – there's not much to be gained, legislatively or electorally speaking, from a knock-down, drag-out flame war over, say, assigning blame for the outbreak of the First World War.
Yet, as I've often stated, sometimes the worst thing about being an historian is that one often has a pretty good idea of what's coming next, decline-and-fall-of-civilizationwise. Certain patterns are discernable, and seem to play out each time a civ rises to a leadership role in human development or the exercise of might – and no civilization has ever shown itself immune to the degrading effects of time. Since often an understanding of the events of the past can inform the shape of responses in the present, it's here that this historian perceives a role for an historical rant.
I'm not much of a believer in end-times prophecies on a global scale, but I do think it important to occasionally pause to contemplate where our civilization stands relative to its own inevitable demise. We've seen far too many examples of life on the micro scale being mimicked by geopolitics at the macro to ignore those events which have not yet come to pass, but inevitably will. Like Rome, like the Ming, like the Victorian British, our civilization will someday experience an end to the glory days, and will undergo the social upheavals that always accompany large-scale economic and political realignment. There will come a time, hopefully in a very remote future, when the United States of America will be a distant memory, our only contribution to lasting world society the fact that we perfected the art of breakfast.
And how will the political machinations of that flapjacks-n'-sausage-loving society be described by textbooks? Will we be seen as little more than the predominant nation-state during the Age of Petroleum, or will we be acknowledged as the only one ever to successfully bridge the gap from reliance on one energy source to another? If one of the reasons we study history is to avoid the mistakes of the past, then what lessons will the politics of our age teach to students with the benefit of hindsight? Will they learn the same lessons they did from reading about Louis XVI, Herbert Hoover, or Neville Chamberlain? Or could it be that they'll see reinforced the lessons gleaned from earlier studies of Sun Tzu and Franklin Roosevelt?
The Republicans may well have left us a disaster from which there may be no recovery; such periods of civ-destroying misrule are not all that uncommon in history. I mention this not because I believe that there's no hope for us – for the record, I do think the USA can weather the Bush Panic of '08 relatively intact – but rather, to highlight just how much worse I think things could get. In terms of chronology, we're still in 1930, not 1933, and with so much still at risk, we simply cannot pause on the road to reform in order to placate a few whining Republicans. Rather than allowing them to complete the Grand Equation that CNN will no doubt soon report as populist=socialist=communist=Stalinist=Nazi – we should deny them the "populism is evil" meme as a means of throwing them off-balance. After that, we should embrace once and for all the fact that we've had war declared on us, and that the only way we're going to leave the battlefield is if we win.
In terms of terms, we're still stuck in those we've been using for decades: "bipartisanship," "compromise," "reaching across the aisle." This is an ideology as failed as that the right has inflicted upon our nation for lo, these past eight years, yet we persist in allowing our leadership to continue doing more of the same and hoping for a different result. I propose we adjust our thinking to a more militant stance, that we dispense with the idea of bipartisan compromise, and that we use our superior numbers and zeal to overwhelm the foe. The Neandercons have viewed their clashes with us as a war since the early 1980s, if not before; imho, it's high time we took off the gloves and started treating the conflict – what they so snivelingly term "class warfare" – that way ourselves.
An army is assembled, ready to march. Its weapons are oiled, its organization superb, its soldiers committed. It has thus been so for months, however, and morale is flagging around a handful of the fires at night. The soldiers grow restless; having mustered at the call of an impassioned and noble general, they still await their deployment on the field of battle. To have elevated their leader to control of the whole land is not enough – the armies of the recently-usurped pretender are still roaming the land, pillaging and looting seemingly at will, and yet the forces of good, superior in everything from numbers to morality, have not been sent out to confront them.
Every day or two, the general appears before the army to celebrate some triumph of written words, or of work toward a peaceful compromise with the foe. Dutifully the army cheers, for these are indeed great achievements in the restoration of national dignity after a period of despotic reign, but still the soldiers wonder why they have not been called upon to sweep across the battlefield and drive the enemy into the sea once and for all. They know that an army too long idle will lose cohesion, morale, and discipline, and without clear explanation from the general himself as to what is expected of them, they are left to argue amongst themselves how to interpret his machinations.
The moment has either arrived, or is fast approaching, in which President Obama will have to either send the vast army of volunteers and supporters he created for the election into earnest battle with the Republican obstructionists, or he must watch it wither away. Tried-and-true methods exist for harnessing the power of full-throated democracy, and while these are not without dangers of their own, as a use of the power of the people, they are infinitely more wise than assembling a potent few millions of foot soldiers and then providing them no banner to follow.
Where are our symbols around which to rally? Why don't I see a 2009 version of this:
in shop windows around town? So far, all we've gotten is a redesigned Pepsi label and a suspicious rise in the use of tricolored "O"s in various and sundry logos. It's not that I'm advocating giving the National Industrial Recovery Act another shot – were it attempted again, the same broad coalition would form in opposition, and the same sort of relic-dominated Supreme Court as the one which vexed FDR would find some means of killing it with an updated version of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States - but I am solidly behind the idea that an army should have a standard. Give us a banner we can follow into battle. Give us a Blue Eagle to believe in.
They will attack us for raising a standard, those who tolerate Confederate flags in their midst will, for they understand the value of owning the symbolism of an issue. They'll accuse us of propagandizing the public, of brainwashing and manipulation, and they will do it all without a shred of recollection about Bush's Prepackaged Video Reports. We must be ready to explain that it is not only possible, but indeed a responsibility, for the government to communicate its messages and attempt to motivate public energies. Public Relations is, in its best forms, the ultimate transparency: the government utilizing its unique organizational capacities to inspire and lend structure to the energies of the people. In the past, government exhortations have instructed Dust Bowl farmers in better conservation techniques, sold War Bonds, put riveters in Rosie's hands, pushed recycling rates to levels unheard of today, and put men on the Moon. They even helped us gain a little closure from one of the earlier times a Republican president tried to set himself above the law:
Is the power of the government's voice susceptible to abuse? Yes, it is. But the fact that something is susceptible to abuse doesn't mean that it will always be so; in responsible hands, well-monitored by a vigilant press and inquisitive public, government's leadership provides focus and an outlet for expression. I'm not calling for a dictatorship here, nor for some Orwellian Big Brother thing – what I am saying is that the government is the only entity with a voice powerful enough to contrast itself with Orwellian Big Brother thing that the traditional media has become.
The act of government publication and broadcasting is not in and of itself evil – the word "propaganda" originally held no pejorative connotations – but the message it carries can be. We must guard against the use of government information as a means of allowing the tail to wag the dog, and of an antiquated media structure that has come to believe "fair and balanced" means never investigating a claim. The press won't be willing assistants in this reformation of their craft; their feet will have to be held to the proverbial fires in order that they be reminded of their responsibilities as watchdogs for the public good. Upon them will fall the responsibility for curbing any irrational PR exuberance that may occur, and they best do it with something more substantial that giving Sean Hannity four and a half minutes of open-mic time on a talk show.
It's become an uncontestable article of faith among the Neandercons that government is bad. This was stated explicitly when Blessed Saint Ronald declared war on our nation three decades ago by decreeing,
government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.
Few Republicans, then or now, acknowledge just how far Rushmore Ronnie strayed from the founding principles of the GOP:
...that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
...but then again, their special defense has always been an invulnerability to irony. So it is that Rush Limbaugh can utter, with a straight face, the words "Obama Recession," and John Boehner can lie so convincingly about the root causes of the Bush Panic of '08. The fallacy of "supply-side" economics has been a cornerstone of Republican doctrine since at least the 1890s (back when "trickle-down" analogies were a bit more colorful, as in "feeding the canaries by feeding the horses"), and they're well accustomed to defending it as something akin to a Divine Right of Wealth. They are dogmatists, beholden to a blatantly exploitative system and devoid of any virtue but obedience – a circumstance which makes them both powerful and vulnerable. Today's conservatives are a Roman legion operating deep in Celtic territory, relying on ruthlessness, displays of force, and the undermining of alliances between tribal factions to compensate for their deficiency in numbers. Alas for them, this time they have no Caesar.
Conservatives are aware of neither their own roots nor of the foundations of their own philosophies, which makes the policies built upon them of little more weight and value than a soundbite. This is why it's so difficult to argue with them: they operate under a completely different mindset, one which is incapable of adhering to higher moral principles like bipartisanship. When they cannot win a fight, they will seek to damage their foe to the greatest extent possible as they go down – to a Neandercon, movie-type scenes of self-sacrifice, like 24-esque ticking time bomb scenarios, are the only acceptable climaxes to a debate.
Conservatives will not give up, and most would favor an heroic martyr's stand over a tactical withdrawal from an indefensible position. In terms of national history, those times when conservatives have found themselves morally or culturally isolated have been among our most calamitous, no matter their numbers – in 1860, 8% of a total population of 31,183,582 didn't want to give up their "right" to literally own another 13% - and like a cornered beast or a Confederate with his dander up, they won't care what they destroy when they try to fight their out.
This should inform the manner in which we deal with our adversary: to him, compromise equals submission. Our party was handed the clearest of mandates last November; it makes little sense to squander the political capital thus generated on squabbles with a foe who regards bipartisanship in terms of partisan gain and losses – and more significantly, always will. There's only one way to deal with that sort of foe, and though it's unpleasant, it's been acknowledged in public policy for a very long time. To extend the Roman metaphor with an observation from Germanicus,
Spaniards can be impressed by the courtesy of the conqueror, French by his riches, Greeks by his respect for the arts, Jews by his moral integrity, Africans by his calm and authoritative bearing, but Germans are impressed by none of these things. They must be struck into the dust, struck down again as they rise. Struck again while they lay groaning, while their wounds still pain them, (then) they will respect the hand that dealt them.
Substitute "Republicans" for "Germans" and understand the violence to be metaphorical, and I think we've got ourselves our first policy recommendation to come straight from the Classical world.
Liberals are notoriously poor followers – it's both one of our strengths and one of our weaknesses when dealing with the foe. On the plus side, our lack of cohesion makes us unpredictable: we're about as easy to herd as cats, which makes it tough for our adversary to know where to make his stand. On the downside, we always seem to suffer from an overabundance of generals and a distinct lack of recruits willing to play the role of the private soldier. In our camps, the conversation is different at each fire; quite the opposite is true on the Republican side, where forums only exist to promote the repetition and rote recitation of marching orders.
Yet discipline is something we're not only going to have to learn along the way, but will have to display from the start. We're also going to have to get pretty good at it, pretty quick – which will put us at an initial disadvantage when confronted with the nearly clone-quality golemhood displayed by long-term dittoheads. We can overcome this, however, by recalling our progressive roots. One has only to remember the Knights of Labor, who held that
An injury to one is the concern of all
An injury to one is an injury to all
...to envision a broad populist surge across the nation. If it's going to happen anyway, then why shouldn't we want our President out in front of it?
Lest I be accused of recommending use of the stale and antiquated language of class warfare, allow me to remind my detractors that the foe is already busting out the same "but, but...he's a socialist!" crap of which they accused FDR. This sublime bit of reasoning was posted at RedState earlier this week:
I have news for you. If you can honestly and objectively look at Obama’s past and say he isn’t a Socialist, then you’re the nut job. Now, instead of rolling your eyes at that last sentence, why don’t you take just a few minutes and see if this ‘Socialist thing’ is true? It’s not difficult. Just google these: Obama Saul Alinsky, Obama rules for radicals, Obama Frank Marshall Davis, Obama marxist professors, Obama redistribution of wealth, Obama Wright, Obama Ayers, Obama socialist conferences, and Obama communist party USA. The list goes on. I realize you can read a lot of crazy stuff on the internet. So google those things and read any ‘reputable’ source you like. Then, if you can add two plus two, and you’re honest with yourself, it’s easy to see why I along with tens of millions of informed citizens are convinced Obama is a Socialist.
A conservative activist is born., RedState.com, 2/3/09
So we're not dealing with geniuses here – this one wouldn't know socialism if it walked up to him swathed in red and singing the Internationalle – and they're definitely beatable in any war of ideas. Yes, we hold the high ground and our defenses are strong, but the enemy arrayed before us is weak and in disarray – which means we should sally and attack. This is our opportunity to break them, and break them we must, if our country is to be saved.
Bipartisanship is a pipe dream, and even if it were attainable, it'll take more than one term of an Enlightened Presidency to undo the mind-gelling perpetrated upon rank and file Republicans since the ascendancy of talk radio. This is not the time to seek agreement; this is the time to steamroll over our foe, put him to flight, and later let him approach under the white flag, seeking terms. This is one of those times when the sword must be drawn in defense of the people, and the leader must deploy his forces for a swift, brutal, and decisive attack. Yes, it's important to remember Gandhi and Dr. King, but it's also important to recall the advice of Sun Tzu:
He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue...In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
We did not choose war, but we cannot ignore that war has been thrust upon us. And when at war, one must seek victory by the most expeditious (with legality implied, of course) means necessary. When America finds some of the alphabet soup tasty, the Republicans will meekly start to vote for Millennial Deal programs, first in a trickle, then in a wave as they realize that their only shot at re-election hinges on being perceived as an Obama supporter. Voila, bipartisanship achieved – and on our terms, to boot.
So basically, I echo the sentiments, if not the dancing or primal-screaming abilities, of Simon Zealotes:
Lyrics pertinent to my argument, as sung by the character
Christ, what more do you need to convince you
That you've made it, and you're easily as strong
As the filth from Rome who rape our country,
And who've terrorized our people for so long.
There must be over fifty thousand
Screaming love and more for you.
And everyone of fifty thousand
Would do whatever you asked them to.
Keep them yelling their devotion,
But add a touch of hate at Rome.
You will rise to a greater power.
We will win ourselves a home.
You'll get the power and the glory
For ever and ever and ever
...in the hopes that the President will respond in a less cryptic, and far more aggressive, manner than did Jesus (who was here, after all, for a purpose other than rescuing global economies).
Barack Obama, as rightly pointed out in Muzikal203's recent diary, has accomplished more good in a fortnight than George W. Bush did in eight years, but TocqueDeville had a point earlier this week with the proclamation Sorry, But the Democrats Have Failed Again. The bar for what constitutes a "bold initiative" seems to've been lowered by mutual consent in the years since Andrew Jackson told the Supreme Court to pound sand, and while perhaps it did need some scaling back from Jackson's definition of executive authority, "boldness" ought not have become the synonym for "milquetoast" that it is today. Go ahead, President Obama, launch the attack – there's a lot of us out here who would consider it a duty and a pleasure to cover your back.
We are engaged in a battle for the soul and future of our nation. Trickle-down economics should be utterly swept away, cast into the dustbin of history as another failed idea that sought to perpetuate feudal relationships in the global economy. Repressive moral codes that limit personal freedoms by government fiat need to be struck down, and jobs must come about because we insist on their creation, here in the United States.
We've got our work cut out for us, and it won't by any means be an easy fight, but it is a fight we can, should, and must win. Our foe is uncompromising, utterly devoted to his misguided leaders and twisted philosophies; he cannot be reasoned with, nor should he be. He deserves no quarter, no mercy, no bipartisan aisle-reaching, for he granted none when he held the reins.
A legion of us – or at the very least, one really pissed-off historian – await the trumpet's call to battle, President Obama. And remember, as both Virgil and Captain Sisko said, Fortune favors the bold.