What have we done to my country? (Another political digression.)

In the spring of 1973 my father -- then and now an eminent historian specializing in the economic history of the Portuguese empire -- and I retreated to a small patch of land on Whidbey Island to cut a little firewood. This was something we did occasionally. Something, long removed from that place, which I hope to do again today, in fact.

What we had, that first morning, was a failure to communicate.

Fortunately I had the reflexes of a 14-year-old, and jumped. The chainsaw tore up my new jeans (mom was pissed), and went down to my kneecap, but no further.

There was no first aid kit at our cabin.

Father handed me a rootbeer for strength, gathered quickly all our belongings, and drove toward the ferries, me sitting in the backseat with a reddening t-shirt tied around my knee.

It was a slow weekend day, and the first ferry to come into the slip tied up, the crew headed home, and there we sat.

I don’t remember how many stitches were finally sewn into my leg, only that I was more afraid of the needle than the chainsaw. For some reason they didn’t splint my knee, just told me not to bend it. And I had to sleep on my back.

Happily this event coincided with the arrival of a 12-inch black and white TV in our household, occasioned by my mother’s discovery that when father and I went to watch games at his colleague’s house, well, his colleague has a vineyard.

This, then, is how I came to watch gavel to gavel coverage of the Senate’s Watergate hearings. The public investigation of President Richard Milhaus Nixon’s campaign misdeeds, the curious character twitch which obliged him to cheat in an election he could not have otherwise lost.

Never have I been so proud of my country.

PBS also ran the Army-McCarthy hearings, or at least long excerpts from them, in the interstices.
That summer I formed the notion that there was no more noble career I might pursue than politics.


And everything I did from that day forward until one long, black night in my early 20s when I realized that I was singularly unsuited to such pursuits, and had, furthermore, come so far off the rails as to be utterly unelectable, everything I did was centered on that goal.

Youthful hubris being what it is, I had planned to run for President in 2004.

But what I really aspired to was the U.S. Senate. For on that dias, in that crucible, I was privileged to watch democracy act out its most difficult dance. I was privileged to watch men of both parties struggle mightily to do the right thing. And I believe, without having read all the books I have slowly collected on Watergate, I believe to my soul that without exception they placed their country above their party.

I write this from Kentucky, where Rand Paul contests with Jack Conway for Jim Bunning’s Senate seat, but I could write this about any election you might be obliged to follow.

What the hell is wrong with you people?

How have we come to this?

Mine is not a partisan objection, though my politics are no secret. Because I tilt fairly hard left, I tend to believe that the Republicans started this, that the chief domestic legacy of the Nixon years was a fatal breakdown in trust between our elected officials, the press (which succumbed to the temptation to intrude on the private lives of public figures), and the electorate. Because I tilt left I tend to think that the Republicans are more prone to dirty tricks, to Swiftboating, to all that. Because I tilt, and wish for my side to win, I tend to wish that my side would do a better job defending their goal, if not attacking the other.

Because I am an American, I am dismayed beyond words by what passes for political discourse. I am ashamed. Saddened.

I do not believe we should elect people to government who do not believe in governing. I do not believe public service should be nothing more than an altercation for power. I do not believe we deserve the discourse we are being served with.

And I fear the rise of the corporate state.

Those are my particular paranoias.

But for the purposes of this discussion, they do not matter. For the purposes of this discussion, I wish simply to suggest that every single bloody politician who puts his name on an advert should be ashamed. Because none of them are worthy of the democracy in which we once lived.

Views: 66

Tags: alden, politics, rant

Comment by olds sleeper on October 19, 2010 at 6:45am
wow grant...ive always distrusted political aspirees...they only fill the air with what they asssume will win them the positions they crave, they are more devisive than helpful.... i believe that it was Plato who suggested that leaders should be those who do not wish to lead...that way, more honesty and integrity would be inherent in the decisions and motivations of those in power.....
human institutions are flawed, top to bottom.
thats why i hide in my basement, write songs, and inebriate myself.
Comment by Kim Ruehl on October 19, 2010 at 7:17am
I thought for a time I'd run for senate too. I don't think I'd pass the scrutiny, at this point, though.

I think a lot of the problem is that we allow scrutiny from people who don't understand the way government works. We don't require social studies in our standardized testing. Most Americans really have no idea about the limitations of the office of the president, what "checks and balances" means, the role of the court, etc. People vote based on imaginary unicorn fantasies about what their government can and should do. Far as I'm concerned, for example, if you don't even know who Keynes was, maybe the economy isn't something you know how to "fix."

People vote out of fear now - fear that the Muslims will blow up their middle-of-nowhere village, fear that people who don't believe as they do...don't believe as they do, fear that their teenage daughter will run off with a posse of gay men in speedos, who will give her free abortions and a copy of the Qu'ran.

We can't make progress out of fear. Our government isn't set up to operate at a running-away pace. It's set up for baby steps for a reason. I can only hope the fear subsides, and my niece's generation - which is supposed to be more confident and creative than Gen X - will eschew the fear for some honest ambition. Or something.
Comment by TenLayers on October 19, 2010 at 7:49am
Bravo Grant.

One of the reasons I love singer songwriters is they put to words my thoughts that I can't put to words. Same goes for writers. I look to others, those that are good with word to crystalize my thinking because I can't do without them. So thank you for this piece, just what I've been thinking.
Comment by taylor page on October 19, 2010 at 11:04am
I'd vote for Grant
Comment by Jack on October 19, 2010 at 11:35am
The law Jim referred to above is the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, also called the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, which repealed parts of the Depresion era Glass-Steagall Act. It was indeed republican sponsored, had bi-partisan support and was signed by Clinton. The bill repealed the Glass-Steagall barriers between commercial banks, investment banks and insurance companies. There was another piece of legislation also widely credited with contributing to the financial meltdown; the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, also republican sponsored with bi-partisan support and also signed by Clinton. This bill determined that derivatives would not be regulated as securities or futures and would instead be "supervised" by "federal regulators".

Obama takes credit for legislation he claims is designed to prevent another financial debacle, yet his legislation was written largely by special interests - meaning those to be "regulated" - and this legislation does not address the derivatives market. His own point man on the commission overseeing this legislation, Paul Volcker, laments that the bill is not strong enough, noting weakly that it's the best they could do. This is leadership? This is acceptable? Same bullshit, different president.

The left says dereg was to blame. The right says inappropriate regulation was to blame i.e. Franks and Dodd pushing for relaxed lending standards to promote home ownership.

I have Harry Truman's autograph hanging in our dining room. I've always thought he epitomized what we need in a politician. He came from a modest upbringing, worked his way up, was honest, wise, possessed strong personal and moral convictions and the courage to act on them. I refuse to believe we don't have such people in government at various levels, but they are hard to pick out in a political landscape dominated by frauds, cheats and self absorbed egotists funded by special interests, especially here in Illinois where no matter how hard you guys elsewhere try, you probably can't top our litany of corruption, malfeasance and bold faced stealing. You also probably can't top our financial woes, which per capita, are far worse than those of California, which gets far more attention.

Tilting left or tilting right? Doesn't matter, your team hasn't been looking out for you in ages. Vote for the best person you can next month,or the lesser evil if that's the choice. Just don't reflexively vote the same way out of habit - it isn't a helpful thing anymore.
Comment by Adam Sheets on October 19, 2010 at 12:33pm
Grant, move 50 or 60 miles north and you have my vote for Senate. Just don't call yourself a Democrat or a Republican, because, in my newspaper column, I took a vow to never support either of them again.

Rand Paul doesn't have anything on his old man, if that counts for anything and I believe that Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are the only two politicians in Washington who actually deserve to be there.

I covered a story for the paper here in Portsmouth last week. Ohio gubernatorial candidate John Kasich came to town and his supporters lined one side of the street while incumbent Ted Strickland's held down another. As an objective reporter it was my duty to talk to both sides and I soon realized that both were verging on insanity. I actually talked to a high-up in the NRA who told me, "We don't care about other issues." Presumably meaning the 400,000 jobs lost while his candidate has been Governor (don't take that as my support for Kasich by any means, I'm still undecided: between the Libertarian and the Green Party candidate.)

Paul/Ventura 2012
Comment by Derek on October 19, 2010 at 1:27pm
Our current system values money over all other issues or ideals.

Economy? It's about making money.
Taxes? It's about keeping money.
Health Insurance reform? It's about how much money taken from me.
Freedom? It’s how much money is in my bank account.

The pursuit of money over and above life, liberty and happiness lead to our current state. It's the 600lb gorilla in the room. No one wants to acknowledge that our system revolves around making more and more money. All other ideals be damned.

Sure there is lip service about freedom, liberty and other ideals. But in reality, freedom has been perverted to mean the ability to make as much money as possible. Assisting your neighbors is an entitlement program. Sacrificing for the benefit of your community is communism. Reason and compromise is weakness. Keeping your money, however, is FREEDOM.

Money is the tally on the scoreboard. It’s easy to understand. No need for anyone to define what is beneficial or what is not. Money will decide.

It is the invisible hand that dictates winners and losers; good and bad; justice and injustice. Success is how much you have in your bank account. Easily interpreted.

How does a politician succeed in this system? Do what it takes to get more money. A candidate must chase the money. It’s about one’s campaign contributions, not the number of votes. By the time we vote, the money has already spoken. We are presented with a choice of two candidates who have the most money. One dollar equals one vote in our system.

The solution to our situation? Place other ideals over and above the almighty dollar. Take back freedom to mean something more than increasing wealth.

That said, I need to go back to work so that I can afford my freedom, justice and happiness.
Comment by David Haskin on October 19, 2010 at 3:21pm
I've been around the block, politically, more than a few times and we've never been in more dire straits. In the 70s, I was a daily newspaper reporter covering politics and government but I became disgusted by the constraints that made it so difficult to effectively do my job. I'm talking about the constraints and business decisions of newspapers, not the brain-dead noise-machines (EG: cable news) that dominate news today, which make those newspapers look like paragons of journalistic integrity.

So I left daily news to become involved in politics and found it to be even more disturbing than I had guessed as a reporter. What was most disturbing about politics in that time (the mid-80s) was the emergence of a Republican political operative named Lee Atwater, whose success with slash-and-burn politics and whose brazenly politicized mastery of wedge issues led directly to our current situation. Sorry, Jim Pipkin, but Carville was a follower of Atwater and was, frankly, never nearly as skillful. In fact, for better and worse, the Democrats have never had an evil genius of Atwater's caliber -- Carville was as close as they got.

Flash forward to the Internet age. Traditional newspaper journalism, which was effective at covering government meetings but was toothless at helping readers understand the behind-the-scenes political dynamics that informed the meetings, weakened as the business model they had used for centuries started to crumble without a new model to replace it. Atwater's followers (he died, as I recall, in the late 80s) realized immediately that they could spread the most vicious rumors and innuendo via the Internet without being held accountable.

And, of course, politicians, being ever-practical, started exploiting that world of instant communication, meaning they no longer needed to consider whether what they were saying was true or useful. For instance, "Obamacare kills grandmas" was believed and repeated by many, many Republicans even though there wasn't a shred of truth to it. Multiply that many, many times over, and that is the state of political discourse today.

Given this woeful state of political discourse, Congressional Republicans had one easy, simple strategy for regaining power after Obama's victory Do nothing and blame their opponents for the ineffectiveness of government. With modern communication so quick and superficial, with citizens' political memory reduced to milliseconds and with the majority of voters getting their information from the most cursory, unreliable sources … well, we are currently living through a perfect storm that, in my opinion, could seriously erode so many of the things that made our nation great.

I guess that explains one of the big reasons I spend so much time listening to music.
Comment by Adam Sheets on October 19, 2010 at 3:59pm
The decline in this country began when Lyndon Johnson and the CIA performed a successful coup of the elected President (a second coup was performed in 2000 by the Supreme Court). Since then, we've had Kent State, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Waco, ignored warnings prior to 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, and now the recession. I fear that the only solution is revolution and pray that the revolution can be done at the voting booth.
Comment by denton fabrics on October 19, 2010 at 4:46pm
Christine O'Donnell said it best. "I am not a witch....I'm you". She's absolutely right. But what most people fail to realize is that "you" (just like me, and just like Christine) are not qualified to be a United States Senator. God help us all.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.