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.