My impression of the current political scene is that... well, for one thing, it's – as one might expect – all about next year's election. Which is to say, there are no challenges or issues before Congress, or being dealt with by the administration, that are not already influenced, overshadowed, and – I'll say – corrupted by the prospect of the 2012 presidential election. One doesn't have to read far between the lines to realize that this is the only real issue at hand, no matter what the nominal issues are. Whether it's immigration, the economy, deficit spending, the national debt, health care, entitlements... you name it, the bottom line is the election, and it's a pity that everything has to be thoroughly contaminated in this way so far in advance of November 2012. But that's the way our system is set up – and always has been, in fact – but the effect is more aggravated than ever by the hyperactive media and the Internet. Suddenly everything has “implications” for who gets to be (or remain) president next – not principle, not sound judgment, just this single consideration of who gets to sit in that one chair in that one office for four years. And this in the face of the growing realization that the president has no real power... that he is, rather, only a figurehead, and a tool of even higher powers, and nothing more. And what's really pathetic is that he wields more power as a tool than Congress or the courts do whether they are tools or not.
So we have, in the White House, an empty suit simply going through the motions of leadership... and, of course, enjoying all the perks and privileges of a temporary king. Such is the sorry state of affairs things have become... and yet there are men, and women, by the score aspiring to this office. Are they stupid, naïve, delusional? Do they believe that sitting on that throne, even if it is made of papier-mache, is preferable to holding down an at least semi-respectable job? Apparently so... and it's this, as much as anything, that should serve to automatically disqualify anyone trying to become president. In other words, it is an office not worthy of a normal human being with even a modicum of principles. The American president in our time is nothing more than a glorified servant – not of the people, which would be appropriate, but of powers unelected and unseen – but very much felt by all, at every stratum of society. It is an office, in other words, designed for failure... designed to make its occupant a scapegoat for everything that could possibly go wrong in a four-year term (and much that could go wrong afterwards, as witness the continuing “blame Bush” industry – not that that's entirely inappropriate, mind). So we have a score of people out there who want nothing more than to occupy an office where they will be guaranteed – absolutely! -- humiliation, defeat, absurdity, and irrelevance. Can it possibly be that the title, and the thin veneer of prestige that goes with the office, are worth all that? Again I say, this is in itself evidence of unsuitability. Someone has said that anyone who wants to be president should not be – the implication being that the people who should be president wouldn't consider running under any circumstances... and I think that's pretty much on target. So whoever wins is, by definition, delusional to the extent that, in a lesser venue, would justify having them committed and either locked up or subjected to very intensive therapy... and kept a close eye on for the rest of their days.
And I don't claim that the system was designed this way. If anything, the flaw in the system is that it does nothing to prevent it. The Constitution, for all of its faults, does not, as far as I know, provide for the election of a king (or queen) every four years... nor does it give all the power inherent in that office, not to mention all of the assumed powers that have accumulated through the years, over to unseen forces that exist in an international shadow world. But to be fair, could the Founding Fathers have realistically contemplated such a possibility? Certainly there was a shadow world of sorts that was behind the Revolution... and there is a power behind every throne. But I submit that America's splendid isolation, which lasted for more than a century after the Constitution was written, combined with our (originally) agrarian, pioneer nature, combined with our phobia when it came to the evil ways of the Old World, kept the forces of darkness at bay, and moderated, at least for a time, our worst impulses. But we did have an Achilles heel from the beginning, and that was what has lately been called secular humanism – the notion that ideas, pure ideas, suffice to change human nature, and enable men of good will to create a paradise on earth. This noble but flawed premise served, increasingly over time, as the breeding ground for bad ideas as well as good... and a curious failure on the part of the citizenry to distinguish between the two.
For evidence of this, we need seek no further than the bruised and battered Constitution, and what has become of it after two-plus centuries of implications, interpretations, “penumbras”, and the like. We take great pride in having had no revolutions since that of 1776 – and yet we have had many. But they have all been what are called “revolutions within the form”, and these were made possible by the infinite flexibility – not of the Constitution, but of people's interpretation of it. As long as we can claim that whatever we do is consistent with that moldering document in the National Archives, we are on firm ground (or so we think), and our consciences are clear. Would that the rest of the world saw things our way! But they see through all the falsehoods, rationalizations, and outright scams... and so their respect for us, and our “system”, has dwindled almost to naught. Those who do arrive on our shores are no longer seeking “ideas”, or even freedom in the abstract, but only a way to escape their old life and a way to make money to send back to friends and relatives who have not yet escaped. So America has become a sort of cafeteria for the world, offering nutrition sufficient for survival, but not much else. Is it any wonder that so many of our new immigrants (legal and otherwise) are so unwilling to give up their old ways – traditions, customs, language, etc.? They see what has become of us, having done all of that (or having ancestors who did), and they want no part of it. The “deal” of old that was presented to the immigrants sailing into New York harbor was, you give up “A” and you get “B” in return... and most of them were only too glad to give up “A”, since they were convinced that was the source of all their woes. But over the years, second thoughts have crept in, and now people aren't so sure they want to give up “A” for the simple reason that there's not a whole lot left of “B”. Sure, they come here for jobs, or to get on the welfare rolls, or to get free education for their children... they come to escape the bullets, bombs, and swords (including ours!) that were aimed in their direction wherever they came from... but as far as embracing the founding principles and entering into the American experiment – well, how many of our “native” citizens are interested in any of that? Politicians mouth words about it all the time, but I don't think they believe any of it either – their behavior gives it away. So we have a nation led by hypocrites and overrun by people who just want to get to the ever-shrinking trough... and yet the ideas of old continue to circle around, like birds around the beacon on the Empire State Building, with no firm foundation and no rational basis. They are free floating, and have very little to do with the “ground truth”, which is that we are all floundering in a vast sea of politics and economics, and anyone talking in Utopian terms is deemed a fool (or should be).
So with all of that in mind, let us consider, for a moment, the dazzling array of aspirants to the presidency – by which I mean the Republicans, since no Democrat is showing any signs of wanting to challenge the Chicago Messiah. It's hard to even remember, or believe, that Obama had any opposition from other Democrats back in 2008, since all of their criticisms have gone conveniently down the memory hole. His main rival, namely Hillary Clinton, was granted the State Department as a consolation prize, and I have to admit that she has shown herself fit for that office, with its unplumbed depths of moral corruption. Certainly she has not allowed herself to be humiliated on a regular basis the way Joe Biden has... nor has she turned into the administration's court jester, like Eric Holder. No, to give credit where credit is due, I believe that she and the office she occupies were made for each other. Even her well-developed delusional system and acute class-warfare mentality serve her well in that capacity. And her visibility has, paradoxically perhaps, served to remove her unspeakable husband from the news almost entirely – a great blessing to be sure. And we all know that she has already focused, like a laser, on the election of 2016 – but hey, a lot can happen in five years, and we may yet be spared the privilege of having, as president, the American version of Elena Ceausescu.
So Obama will not be challenged from within his own party, because when you have campaigned, and won, on the platform of being The One Who Is To Come, not even the most foolish of your facilitators will turn against you in this time of need and great crisis. Obama is enjoying the untouchability that comes with being a president engaged in multiple wars, both of the conventional sort and of the social/economic sort – not unlike his predecessor FDR, who is still held on high as the very embodiment of Democratic/liberal ideals. And he has been a good student; he remains aloof nearly all the time... never shows more than slight irritation... keeps smiling... speaks with consummate confidence in all matters. The man who believes in himself even when nothing is going right can be only one of two things... or maybe three: A saint, a genius, or a madman. At least that is the almost-universal premise by which we operate. And since no one considers Obama a madman (except in the generic sense that applies to all presidents, as discussed above), then he must be either a saint or a genius – or both! If he is a saint, it's because he is in touch with a higher wisdom, compared to which all of our petty concerns about things like the economy are mere trivia – and yes, he does project that impression on a regular basis. And if a genius, it's because he is prepared to, at a moment's notice, call upon all the higher powers at his disposal to wipe the slate clean, and dab the tear from every eye. Can anyone deny that this is the image he is trying to project, and that his loyal followers fully subscribe to? He may not enjoy the blatant and overt personality cult of someone like Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao, or Kim Jong-Il, but it amounts to the same thing... and the American version ain't half bad, let's admit. FDR was worshiped in his time, and continues to be so – and every president since has, perhaps secretly, kept that vision close to his heart. “Maybe I can be another FDR! Maybe I can be installed in the pantheon of the greatest leaders of... well, of all time! Or at least of the century, or something.” Don't tell me this doesn't occur to them on a daily basis! After all, one of the minimum qualifications for any candidate for president is delusions of grandeur, right? With delusions of omniscience and of omnipotence a close second.
But this is no time to be prattling on about mental illness; I'd rather talk about the Republicans. (Well, OK, maybe it's the same thing... ) When we survey the vast field of contenders for the Republican nomination, we find a common theme, which is... um... well, actually there is no common theme. Well, there is one, and that's “ABO” -- Anyone But Obama. And this strategy does work, on occasion. Reagan won in 1980 based on an Anyone But Carter platform, although Reagan was, I believe, worthy in his own right. And how about Carter himself, who won on an Anyone But Nixon/Ford/the Republicans/Watergate platform? And unlike Reagan, he had nothing else to offer, as we found out to our dismay.
But! -- you'll say, if you're a member of the opposition – the Republicans do have a platform, which is “conservatism”, and “hate”, and “turning back the clock”, and so forth. Or, on the more optimistic side, aren't they all about “family values”, and a sound economy, and a “vigorous” foreign policy? Well... as much as I dislike shooting fish in a barrel, I have to reiterate that the Republicans represent none of these things; not really. They are certainly not about a sound economy, and I have yet to see them put their money where their mouths are when it comes to “family values”. And as to foreign policy – Obama's is indistinguishable from Bush's, so forget about that. And Republicans certainly don't have a monopoly on “hate”, whatever that is (all it really means is that your idea of social policy is different from mine). Republicans are not “conservative” in any meaningful sense of the word... and as far as “turning back the clock” is concerned, isn't wanting to put a new New Deal into place an example of turning back the clock? To take something we already know is guaranteed to fail, and put booster rockets on it, and place it back over the heads, and on the backs, of the citizenry? Might as well have a candidate for president of Russia who is a committed Bolshevik (there probably are some), or try and get the leaders of China to quit wearing power suits and go back to Mao jackets.
But don't just listen to me – listen to the Republican contenders themselves. Listen to their debates. They can't agree on anything (except “ABO”) -- not on priorities, not on how to handle any given issue or crisis, not on what they are supposed to represent to the American people... not, in other words, on anything impacting the American people directly. What they do seem to agree on is foreign policy, which, as I said, is no different with Obama than it was with Bush... so as far as the next election is concerned, foreign policy is basically off the table except for some trivial details that are hardly worth mentioning.
So the Republicans are in disarray, and they have ceased being the party of principle, assuming they ever were. And this is where the Democrats have a built-in advantage, because their platform and their programs constitute a more or less seamless garment. Say what you will, they're consistent, energetic, tough, ruthless, and determined. They lie, cheat, and steal – which is considered perfectly OK, since their goals are so noble and humanitarian. They all believe in big government, socialism, collectivism, and totalitarianism of some sort, and it all fits together beautifully. They have no problem with deficit spending, the national debt, “industrial policy”, socialized medicine, welfare, entitlements... the entire array of policies and programs that have served Europe so well, ahem, since World War II. And as to war, their position is plain – any war that a Democratic president is engaged in is a good war. By definition. And this set of positions is, compared to what the Republicans have, a monolith. It may be evil, wrong-headed, delusional, and guaranteed to fail – but the unity and consistency override all that, or at least seem to as far as the media and much of the public are concerned. And of course they do have the full support of the mainstream media, who take great delight in pointing out all the inconsistencies, fumblings, and false starts of the Republicans. And I won't even bother mentioning academia, where if you're not a card-carrying liberal, you're cast into the outer darkness where there is wailing, gnashing of teeth, and lack of tenure.
Someone once offered a thumbnail definition of the Republicans and he Democrats as “the stupid party and the evil party”. Well, at this point, the Republicans have caught up in the evil department – no small thanks to the triumvirate of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld – but they're still, most of the time, stupid. Or if not totally stupid, at least not agile – not fast on their feet when it comes to dealing with the issues of our time, and particularly with the Democrats, and particularly with a Democratic president. And of course their biggest inconsistency is that they believe in, and want, both big war and small government – a wish that is delusional in the extreme. So whenever they are given the choice of reducing the size of government and ending the wars, they invariably decide to keep fighting the wars and leave the size of government as is – or make it bigger. But when the core component of your political belief system is itself a blatant contradiction, this is going to weaken you in all other areas – and it's this debilitating effect of their inconsistency that has the Republicans on the constant defensive.
And this is not to claim that the Democrats are invulnerable, at all times and in all places. After all, Reagan did manage to snatch the presidency from Carter's cold, dead hand... and Bush II was shoved out on stage by his handlers to satisfy people weary of the non-stop soap opera that was the Clinton administration. But in the long run, I claim that the Democrats have an advantage – not deserved, but frankly no less deserved than if the Republicans had it. To a people that still believes in ideas, no matter how dog-eared or shopworn, the liberal vision persists in emitting a dim light – the way the Sun must look when you live on Pluto. The Republicans, on the other hand, are full of indignation, but when you get down to cases you find that they're no better at supporting, and preserving, values that “regular, ordinary” Americans believe in than the Democrats are; they're just better at talking about them. And in most cases, they've even given up trying. So... keep this in mind as you watch the dreary “star search” over the next 15 months. The people who stand for something wrong have an advantage over those who, on occasion, seem to stand for something right, but can't assemble it into anything coherent or convincing. Add to this the perpetual crisis mode that we're in, and let's face it, the Democrats have no peer when it comes to handling crises – especially ones they had a hand in creating. It's not that they ever solve anything, but they have the propaganda part down pat – again just as FDR did. See, it's the faint, residual, occasional search for a principled basis for things that has turned into a weakness for the Republicans. They are politicians, but they don't believe in politics – not the way the Democrats do, for whom politics is the be-all and end-all of existence. The typical Republican would like nothing more than to serve his time in office, then retire to his country estate like Thomas Jefferson... whereas the Democrats, political junkies that they are, would prefer to live out their days on Capitol Hill. That's the difference, and that is the Democrats' – to borrow a term from C. S. Lewis – hideous strength.