Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Frank Rich has an article in the Sunday ‘New York Times’ provocatively entitled “In Defense of White Americans” (

I don’t know what’s worse. The fact that such a title is provocative because that’s where We are now in Our national journey. Or that it’s been that way for so long now that a number of Americans who might hear of the article (that they would read it might be somewhat optimistic) would consider that ‘white Americans’ are too far gone (however ‘gone’ might be defined) to be ‘defended’.

But good for him that he wrote it.

As I’ve often said, the strategy of any new ‘identity’ seems inevitably to require an ‘enemy’. Goebbels not only picked up advertising theory from the American Edward Bernays, but also ‘demonization’ from … well, the nature of human communities, I guess. The Israelis, whose playbook the rising Identities of the late-1960s and 1970s borrowed about the same time they unpacked the suitcases of the French deconstructionists who had been tossed out of France as intellectual plague-carriers, had apparently figured that Goebbels could be ‘baptized’ (you should pardon the expression) simply by putting his methods in the service of something ‘good’. Thus, as the Americans took possession of Wehrmacht tactics, rocketry, and – only recently – the hugely efficient shape of the helmets as spoils of war, so the Israeli ‘realm’ soon took possession of Goebby’s propaganda play-book.

And deployed it forthwith.

The targeted folks must be ‘defined’ as ‘enemy’, and as a particularly inhuman enemy. So far so familiar. But it goes farther than that. Anybody who doubts that characterization – not necessarily ‘opposes’ it just yet, but simply doubts it – must be instantly characterized as an ‘enemy’ or a ‘aid-er and abetter of the enemy’ him/herself. No room for ‘deliberative’ space, for kicking the tires of your vision and your characterization and the plans and policies that you have derived in consequence of that characterization must be permitted. The ‘enemy’s’ worst characteristics must be presented as his only characteristics, and –again – any persons or any school of thought or habit of thought that would try to look at the larger picture, try to see the mitigating or ‘good’ characteristics … must be stifled, and itself indicted as ‘evil’ if need be.

And further, any idea which could not believably characterized as intentionally ‘evil’ would have to be undercut by being cast as ‘misguided’, ‘uninformed’, ‘ignorant’, ‘unrealistic’ – even if well-intentioned.

This classic set of methods has become – it is to be hoped – obvious by now to the several generations of Americans who have even a nodding acquaintance with the sayings and doings of the Israeli realm over the past half-century or so.

These methods, as I said, were adopted by the Identities here three decades and more ago, especially as their ‘advocacy’ quickly morphed from small bunches of ‘concerned citizens’ speaking on their own to expensively-advised ‘Advocacies’ run by ‘professional’ media-savvy flaks and lobbyists (always ‘fronted’ for the cameras – as was the case when Goebbels made his justificatory pitch for the invasion of Poland – by telegenic and well-coached ‘victims’ of the purported ‘evil’ and ‘enemies’).

Let it be said right now that I am not making a case that any and every ‘victim’ is a poseur, or a manipulator, or a liar. But no rational person can doubt that with these types of methodologies and the organizations who deploy them loose in the land, the prudent citizen is well-advised to look carefully. And quietly – lest s/he also be tarred with the brush of ‘approving of’ or ‘supporting’ or ‘being-for’ whatever actual evil the victim’s case might legitimately instantiate.

To the ‘white American’. We recall that in the ‘first’ 1960s (my term for the period in American history that ended on or about July 10, 1965) the sight of Southern white police officers and citizens (men, women, and youngsters) taunting and assaulting ‘freedom riders’ and black Americans, captured on TV news film and shown on TVs in every living room in the land, truly displayed a national ‘growing edge’.

But in the ‘second’ 1960s (my term for that period in American history that certainly had raised its head by 1968 and has never since ‘gone away’) ‘white Americans’ became all Americans who were not black. The ‘revolutionary’ and the ‘Black power’ movements wrested control of what had been so nobly achieved by that first week of 1965 and now wielded ‘blackness’ as a weapon against the rest of the national community.

And as I’ve said, in the Democrats’ desperate effort to keep this ‘demographic’ and extend it to make up for the electoral loss of Southern voters, the pols espoused whatever demands and visions issued from the presumable spokespersons of the black community (which I do not equate with ‘all’ American blacks). Hence, by a queasy osmosis, whatever the black-power folks wanted became baptized as part of the ‘liberal’ agenda because it became part of the Democratic agenda and the Democratic Party was the ‘liberal’ Party.

The feminists of the Second Wave – seeking to conduct a far deeper and wider ‘revolution’ – deployed the game-book a bit later on, mixing into the deconstructionist and revolutionary brew a stream of anti-whiteness to their anti-maleness, and coming up with an ‘enemy’ who was ‘white and male’ (although ‘maleness’ was not – theoretically – merely a property of ‘whites’; some allowances had to be made in the interests of revolutionary solidarity). The multiculturalists, coming along later in the ‘80s as somewhat the spawn of all the foregoing, created the now ‘classic’ ‘Enemy’ of all the ‘oppressed’: the Dead, White, European Male, in relation to Whom all other folks in the country and on the planet were ‘oppressed’ and ‘victims’, and of Whom all living white males were simply the evil and still-active progeny.

The media lapped it all up, since the playbook’s careful guidelines for telegenic agitprop were masterful to begin with, and faithfully deployed according to the original specifications. It was no longer necessary to ‘dig up’ news (or ‘truth’) but simply to read the fax and find out where the next ‘demonstration’ or ‘situation’ would be and show up with camera batteries charged and microphones on. (Later, the media would extend to government flaks the same courtesy, publishing the faxes as ‘reporting’.)

It may seem too fantastical to be true: that a nation with pretensions to holding the primacy of the West, and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the primacy of the planet should allow its politics to descend to such levels of caricature and immature thinking. But that’s what happened. And when the ‘right’ wised up and figured how to deploy caricature and immature thinking for its own purposes, then the circle of political debauchery became complete. And closed.

Worse than 'closed': stuck on the cycle of "permanent revolution" in Lenin's pithy phrase. And whether intentionally or not-intentionally permanent is of secondary importance.

The neocons were no more ‘conservative’ than the ‘radical Identities’ were liberal. But just as the national economy came increasingly to be detached from any working connection to the necessary realities that constitute an actual, solidly-grounded ‘economy’, so the national politics came to be increasingly detached from any working dynamics of an actual deliberative, representative democratic politics. It’s going to be a coincidence well-remarked in the history books that in this Year of Grace 2008 both the economic phantasmagoria and the political phantasmagoria reach a point of undeniability.

The economy – and the Malefactors of Great Wealth and their treacherous bipartisan political lapdogs ... all revealed to be a house of cards, a casino game rigged at Our expense, and Ourselves played for fools (though, what indication had We given them in the past decades that We were not ‘low-hanging fruit’?).

The politics of this election equally phantasmagoric: neither candidate making too much reference to the economy, each discussing plans and policies – domestic and foreign – that assume billions or trillions of dollars that the government can only acquire by borrowing, from the very foreign powers with whom the politicians and generals tell Us are or may be competitors and future enemies.

Nor – as if in a fairy tale – is anyone in authority now or who has been in authority in the past twenty years going to suffer any consequences. About all that can be said is that while they may continue to live happily, they will not live ‘forever after’; but at this point that’s still more than can be said for most of Us, who will be ‘unhappy’ for quite some time, as will Our descendants unto the third and fourth generation.

Nor can anyone predict just what a new President – no matter how well-intentioned – is going to be able to do to set things right, or to rebalance the nation’s politics, or even to just keep things from completely coming apart. If indeed, it is a President’s task – and his alone – to ‘balance’ or ‘rebalance’ Our politics.

Frank Rich notes the “anti-white” bias in the current election. He cites the example of George Allen, an unlovely and unripe ‘guy’ – senator from Virginia – of the type that has been enabled in these decades of debauched politics. Allen made the “macaca” comment (not to be confused with “Macarena” which was a buzz-word a while back earlier than that) to a Native American in the course of a re-election campaign event.

Prescind from the fact that it would never occur to me that “macaca” was a Native American word or had anything to do with Native Americans; or why calling an idea proposed by a Native American “macaca” was a sign of racial insensitivity. Allen was dopey enough to respond to a query with a childish deprecation of the comment and it’s nice that there is one less dope on Capitol Hill as a result (though one less raindrop does not the end of a hurricane make).

But the key point – the alpha stream – in all of this is that an entire group would be defined by its least ‘good’ characteristics or least impressive members, or by a characterization – think ‘Kulaks’ – assigned to it, and even inaccurately, by some even larger entity.

‘White people’ was the first in the Age of Identities, followed by ‘men’, then morphing into ‘white men’ and so on and so on. Decades of a very real form of civil war, conducted with publicity and various public panics and with fear and ‘outrage’ and all the panoplium of Goebbels big black book. Raising up the Kulaks and then others as a ‘class’ to be hated or feared by all the other Russian citizens had a lethally stifling effect on any Soviet-era Russian community among the citizenry.

The effect on Our national politics, on Our sense of identity as Americans, on Our ability to keep a watchful eye on Our common weal, has been nothing short of disastrous. In the manufactured or exaggerated distractions imposed upon Us all by this and that ‘movement’, and then as part of standard political operational procedure by the professional spawn of the disreputable Lee Atwater, has lethally compromised Our ability to ground the government bequeathed to Us, entrusted to Us. Like Russia and Germany after World War One, America's civil society now lacks - thanks to the past forty years - any commonly-held, consensual tradition; as the social compact has gone south, so had the social unity and common American identity before that.

Are all ‘white’ Americans ‘racist’? Define ‘racist’. Are there still pure embodiments of old-fashioned Southern racism circa 1955 still around? If you are white and you aren’t sure you agree with the whole ‘affirmative racism’ thing of the post-’65 era, are you racist? If you are white and not so spry and aren’t sure you’d walk down a street in an inner-city neighborhood, are you racist? (Think: if you don’t think Israel should have nuclear weapons, are you an anti-Semite? Does that make you a supporter of the Holocaust or of another Holocaust?)

The ‘expanding definition’ trick is one right from the black book: it’s been played on all sorts of folks and ‘groups’ in recent years, but it started with ‘white males’ in that faraway time four decades ago.

Frank Rich makes the valid point that not all ‘whites’ are ‘racist’. I agree – and I’d take it farther and say that ‘racist’ is a word the definition of which has been expanded almost to the point of uselessness. ‘Useless’ if what you’re looking for is accuracy. Maybe not so useless if there is another objective for using it. Deploying it. Wielding it. Against other citizens. Like guns are.

But as dangerous as guns are, they have not brought the American People and the Republic to the edge of the abyss. Hyper-inflated ‘categories’ and ‘definitions’ have. And there are wayyy too many folks walking around with them. Walking the streets. Using them. On other citizens.

In that sense America of the past forty years has regressed to the Wild West. Has been regressed to the level of the Wild West of yore. And – the ‘hot ironies’! – that regression was set off by the very interests who loved to claim that it was the very ‘white’ and ‘male’ Wild West that was the problem in America.

The Identities thought that a ‘revolution’ waged without ‘guns’ would be a ‘good’ or at least a ‘harmless’ revolution. That you couldn’t start a ‘civil war’ unless you used guns, like in 1861. But in an advanced democracy and among a politically sophisticated citizenry –which America was, relatively speaking, back in 1968 – then unripe or inaccurate concepts or patters of thought can create even more havoc than guns. Their effect is more insidious, but in the long run as lethal, perhaps more lethal.

But maybe We can see that now.

And if so, let’s not expect that any President is going to be able to ‘cure’ Us. To paraphrase the Good Book: Lest the person watches his soul, the government keepeth its vigil in vain.

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Monday, October 27, 2008


I can’t overlook what Joe Biden said. And what some other highly-placed Beltway players said when they amplified his comment.

Judith Young has usefully gathered together some notable comments on Biden’s October 22nd statement in her article “October Surprises in a Culture of Death”, Saturday 25th October on the site Atlantic Free Press (

Biden observed that Obama should expect that he would be “tested” within six months of his inauguration and this ‘testing’ will come in the form of a “generated” international crisis that will “force him to make unpopular” decisions.

Colin Powell – back hanging around the limelight – added that this ‘test’ would come “within a day or two after the inauguration”. Also back hanging around, Madeleine Albright (she who pronounced herself content killing half a million Iraqi children, in a ‘good’ cause, of course) called Biden’s statement “a statement of fact” in the sense that one must always be prepared for “something unexpected”.

Of course, this assumes that the Bush banditti – who certainly have ‘motive’ and ‘opportunity’ – do not declare a ‘martial law emergency’ before the election or between the election (which will presumably go to the Democrats) and the inauguration. And that strikes me as a somewhat generous assumption.

It is a sign of how far We have fallen that in this Year of the Independence of the United States the Two-Hundred-and-Thirty-Second, it is being discussed among Us whether there will be what is in effect a coup d’etat in this country. Lovely. And not by ‘the military’ – steely-eyed, ambitious uber-generals, ala Caesar – as was feared in the Cold War, but by the Presidency itself.

Of course, after decades of politely assuming that the ‘radical politics’ and ‘radical democracy’ of the Revolutions of the Identities were simply an extension of the long-tradition of New Deal and Progressive enfranchisements and ‘liberations’ and ‘empowerments’, and carried out so often under the rubric of ‘reform’ in the face of ‘emergencies’ and ‘outrages’ that played on the citizenry’s purported (or actual) fears and anxieties, who can be surprised that the national discourse is sufficiently debauched as to contemplate over morning coffee that the ‘Unitary’ Executive – quite possibly with the acquiescence of Congress (so far gone down the path of ‘bipartisan’ acquiescence as perhaps now to be known as ‘Gongress’) - and certainly with the ‘balanced’ and ‘patriotic’ cheerleading of the mainstream media, will establish itself as a dictatorial power? Perhaps without over much ‘pushback’ from the Supreme Court that gave Us Bush in the first place, a long eight years ago that now can be seen as an irretrievable watershed in America’s history that will mark this generation down – probably in dishonor – “to the latest generation”.

That all of this might – it is also being wondered – happen as a ‘false flag’ event (i.e. that the ‘emergency’ will actually be manufactured by Our own agencies specifically to provide a pretext for such an assault on democracy and the Republic) can hardly be considered excessive or fantastic. What LBJ did with the Tonkin Gulf in August of 1964 pales (somewhat) next to the ominous doings surrounding the killings of JFK, RFK, and MLK in the years when Hoover’s FBI could be counted upon not to do much against any perpetrators, and far more recently the most suspicious ‘anthrax’ scares of the fall of 2001, precisely targeted at Senators who robustly doubted the wisdom of the Patriot Act.

And again, ‘manufactured’ emergencies have been the staple of Identity and ‘victim’ agitprop for decades now, all for a ‘good’ cause, of course. As will any possible take-over be trumpeted as being for a ‘good’ cause.

Is it possible, one might ask, that both sides of the national political spectrum would go along with this? Abet it? But of course this question itself has long been outdistanced by the political realities that have developed over the past few decades. There are not ‘two sides’, and have not been at least since Tip O’Neill decided in the mid-‘70s that the Dems’ only hope was to stymie both the populist genie and the Identity-Politics demon that had been simultaneously released in 1968 and to throw in the Dems’ lot with Big Money, the military-industrial-complex, and the forces of corporate-inspired and corporate-funded ‘order’.

Reagan’s massive contribution was to put a happy-face on the whole thing, spinning it as ‘morning in America’ and unleashing the dogs of Greed domestically as the dogs of War were being sent out on preparatory hunting trips abroad. George the I’s happy fate was to burnish the continuation of Reagan’s policies with a military adventure marvelously provided by Saddam’s invading Kuwait, thereby offering a pretext for U.S. involvement in the Middle East, home of the oil supplies whose control provided the only - yet so perfect – solution to America’s growing energy-dependence and economic and debt problems. Clinton’s massive contribution was to place upon the whole queasy monstrousness the seal of the traditional Party of the little people and the working man, and to call it Good. Feh.

And here We are.

The Republicans – more specifically the Bush banditti – would certainly have motive to get control of the Republic before ‘politics’ in the form of the national elections exposed them to actual legal consequences for their decade-long spree. And surely, martial law would result in the huge expansion of the spirit of ‘military justice’, which is by its very nature and in its very essence subservient to the ‘command authority’ which its JAG priests serve (the genuinely committed and courageous advocates at Gitmo, those few and honorable counsel, very respectfully excepted).

But the Democrats also have ‘motive’, and their recent assurances that there will be no legal consequences for the Bushisti may be more than election-year fake-promises. After all, given the economic catastrophe, any such indulgence of legality and the administration of justice would quickly spread to the princes of the finance-sector which Senator Biden, among others, has served with a hound-like alacrity surpassed only by the truly-revolting, vulpine Phil Gramm, and that wouldn’t do at all, they being such ‘fine Americans’ – We saw this defense rehearsed when the reprehensible Scooter Libby sought to get himself out from under his prison sentence. His excuse – We recall – succeeded.

And if the economy continues to go south and worse - if this mess starts to reduce daily life toward the outlines of East Germany in the bad old days - then the Beltway banditti will immediately seek to fortify themselves. It may be that in their deepest counsels they're wondering why We have let them get away with so much for so long already. That, indeed, will be the hallmark question about this era. You might want to get ahead of 'history' and jot down a few possible reasons for yourself now.

Additionally, the Dems are now in a very difficult position: Obama’s campaign, and especially as it has been embroiled in the events of the economic catastrophe, has willy or nilly re-ignited the fires of a genuine democratic politics – which from the Beltway point of view is bad enough – and equally raised the ante of the Identities who sense that this is their Big Chance to make or break their agendas. It’s 1968 again.

Nor can the Democrats – they see now – possibly satisfy the Identities (they saw that decades ago) but worse, they can no longer simply pander to them; the demands of the Identities have proven to be unworkable and in many cases far more destructive than ‘liberating’ or ‘empowering’. Nor can the Dems turn on their corporate paymasters and hold those well-heeled vampires to account on behalf of the interests of The People that they purportedly represent in the spirit of FDR.

And with Our social unity and common identity as Americans now shot after 40 years of Identity Politics, what else might keep the citizenry in even a minimal state of cohesion except 'war' and the enforced 'unity' of martial law?

In this sense, some ‘tightening’ of American politics, i.e. some much closer approximation to martial law, would appear as a wondrous two-fer or three-fer. They could tamp down or patriotically put aside genuine aspirations for a recovery of a truly democratic politics, while simultaneously doing the same to the demands of the Identities, and without risking ‘electoral’ and ‘political’ consequences. They could simultaneously brush aside any calls for imposing legal consequences upon the Malefactors of Great Wealth or the Bush banditti, because of whatever ‘emergency’ has ‘happened’ and also simply because in martial law the ‘command authority’ doesn’t have to frakkin explain itself to anybody – it don’t need no stinkin badges.

Nor does Biden – certainly – need to make any great changes to his modus operandi. He has in the past robustly brayed his support for unconstitutional laws and his son, conveniently, is a JAG full versed in the queasy usefulness of the military legal system and a professional bedfellow of the that poison dwarf, Lindsey Graham, who with McCain pimped the Military Commissions Act two years ago (which also included a no-consequences-for-torturers clause).

This gambit, of course, would be a domestic replay of the entire Iraq invasion: a glorious two-fer or three-fer that would establish the U.S. as a stakeholder in the oil-rich heartlands of Eurasia (where it would otherwise have no seat at the table of the 21st century’s Great Game), and also would provide control of the oil that would erase all the sins and failures of its debt-and-paper-based economic policies since Reagan’s day, while simultaneously enriching the oil and other corporations (whom Bush, Cheney, and Rice served prior to their ‘public service’), and providing as well the opportunity to militarize the American mentality even as it privatized the military with the infusion of far more reliable imperial storm-troopers in the form of the Blackwater mercenaries. Everybody wins – except The People.

And - the hot and repulsive ironies! – ‘the troops’, who are mired in several losing Fourth-Generation-War frakfests while being simultaneously berated as sex-maniacs by a feminism that is running its own game-plan altogether.

We are going to be laughed out of the history-books in the not-too-distant future.

But We are going to meanly lose this Republic before that, if We do not start to ‘get it’, to grasp just what is at stake here and what is going on around Us, or may be at this moment “slouching toward” Us “to be born”.

The Dems can’t go back. And they can’t go forward. And for any one of a dozen reasons - the plundered and ruined economy, the immoral and failing wars, the broad and sustained pattern of Beltway dishonesty to The People, the constitutional insults of torture and half a hundred assaults on civil liberties - the history-machers inside Fortress Beltway may be figuring that there's gonna be a whole lotta angry folks around soon, on all sides of all the issues, and precautions must be taken. What may or may not have occurred to them is that a crisis in the legitimacy of the entire government as it has presently devolved may also occur - even if only (but who can be certain?) taking the form of a third party. They have to change the rules of the game itself. Which is precisely what the Founders feared and sought to avoid.

But in the wake of ‘deconstruction’ and financial ‘deregulation’, they will try to spin this as just a form of ‘Executive’ deregulation. And Gongress will go along. And We can only pray that the Supreme Court will not.

And nobody really knows whether the troops (and the ominously attired police and even the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies) will go along with such a game; they – after all – are the ‘teeth’ and the ‘claws’ of any such monster. As Maria Doria Russell noted, “Hitler never personally fired a weapon; all the evil he ever did, was done for him by others”. Those ‘others’ were not simply rabid slavering Party members and leering Gestapo agents, but fearful and cowed judges (think Burt Lancaster and the other accused German judges in “Judgment at Nuremberg”), dedicated career police officers, and millions of youngsters who patriotically answered their country’s ‘call’ by putting on uniforms and obediently following orders. And the ‘press’ barons, whose game-book now guides the Foxified corporate media here today.

Nor do We need – nor were We ever intended to have – a “protective father figure”. That was not included in the role of the Executive by the Founders. Lincoln was never so considered, even after the assassination and his apotheosis. It was only as the American male became used to ‘salary’ and the economy became so awesomely concentrated and complex that FDR came to be seen – to a generation who knew no other President in the 12 years of their growing up – any other President, that calm and ringing voice of inspiration that came into their living rooms on the radio every week as their world, it seemed, was teetering into the abyss.

Nor did the feminization consequent upon ‘feminism’ nor the youth-worship inherent in the bobby-soxers that came to whacky engorgement in the Boomers do anything but increase this ‘father-need’ among a citizenry that was originally conceived as being adult and able to manage its own affairs with some amount of self-possession and focus on the vitally important roles of Citizen and People.

It is another of those under-appreciated whackeries of American politics since 1968 that as the feminists were doing everything they could to discredit actual fathers and daddies and ‘men’, yet somehow they triggered a deeper need for a ‘national father’ who would console and bring closure to the many ‘victims’ of man’s chimpish world. We may not be an imperial people with no-clothes, but We most certainly have been an imperial-people parading around with some mighty ripped and mismatched threads, all the while secure in the assumption that everybody else on the planet saw Us as ‘the indispensable nation’ that knew what the frak We were doing.

And it is one of the ominous yet under-appreciated dangers that has evolved over that same period, that the Power-People, whose wealth bribed the politicians who were eager to preserve their sinecures in the first place, found a way to harness that whackery, and so in the end the Identities have indeed turned Us into donkeys, although they had been going for ‘chimps’ and ‘baboons’. Donkeys who will now be so desperate for whatever wage and financial bones might be tossed to Us that We will not dare to rock the boat and stand up to re-assert the Founders’ authority vested in Us.

We may have reached the point reached by Germany in the early 1930s and France in the mid-1930s: things are so messed up that authoritarian ‘order’ is the only thing will ‘work’ any longer. ‘Democracy’ will be blamed, as being the font of all the undisciplined and unthinking destruction of the national unity and productiveness. Which is precisely what ‘deconstruction’ was designed to do by its creators and clearly labeled as such. We can’t say there was no skull-and-crossbones on the package before it was eagerly opened and injected.

We face a rendezvous with Destiny as great if not greater than that which faced ‘the greatest generation’. And unlike the members of that generation, We cannot console and encourage Ourselves that We were simply minding Our own business until – in FDR’s ringing phrase – We “were deliberately and dastardly attacked”. We are about to be attacked by Our own government. And We have invited it.

As George II said, in what may be the most self-incriminating Freudian slip ever uttered from within Fortress Beltway: “they hate Us for Our liberties”.

What say We?

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Saturday, October 25, 2008


There are a couple of things that have come to me.

I’ve used the ‘ship’ metaphor often, many times ‘Titanic’ and other times just ‘ship’ in general. There’s more to clarify there.

If Our commonwealth is indeed a ‘ship’, what are We the People?

Not ‘passengers’ because passengers rely utterly on the captain and crew and the seaworthiness of the vessel, they have no knowledge of anything having to do with operating a ship or voyaging on the open ocean. And of course, they are completely at the orders of the captain or crewmembers, especially if things get rough.

Not ‘crew’ because the crew is completely at the orders of the captain.

Ships are – famously – not democracies.

So what are We then? I’d say that in the Constitutional vision The People are the ‘owners’. They paid for the ship, and they’re making the voyage aboard the ship. They may not know all there is to know about sailing, and they shouldn’t be up on the bridge day in and day out giving orders or getting in the way, but if there’s a major decision, then the captain is bound to consult them. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but then again the entire marvelous Rube Goldberg contraption of the Constitution is nothing if not a balancing act.

Nor should the ‘owners’ feel particularly cowed because unlike the captain and his officers and the crew they don’t get to wear snazzy uniforms. Their role is different, but the fact that it doesn’t involve gold braid and colored ribbons and a big hat doesn’t make their role less important – and a mature ‘owner’ will realize that.

Second, ‘fear’ and ‘emergency’ is not the best baseline emotional condition for conducting a vessel at sea. Nor is it the best way to conduct a democracy or a democratic republic – that curious but not bizarre hybrid that the Founders constructed and bequeathed to Us . Yes, the Founders allowed for special powers that would come into play in the declaration of a war – that monstrously weighty and grave decision that should never be entered upon lightly nor without the full comprehension and approval of the Branches and – it is to be hoped – The People.

But ‘war’ is a dynamic monster with a will all its own. Lincoln was saying more than anybody wanted to really comprehend when in his Second Inaugural he observed that “Each side looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding”. For Americans today, dulled by decades of advertising (You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! The amazing slicer and dicer!) Lincoln’s use of that heart-stopping “astounding” may slide beneath the radar.

But We cannot allow it. War is dynamic and its results do indeed “astound”; not ‘amaze’, not ‘wow’, not ‘impress’, but “astound”. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged defines it as “to shock with amazement, astonish greatly, shock with wonder or surprise”. And the adjective ‘astounding’ is defined as “stunningly surprising”. If you’re going to open the gates of a cage the living content of which is capable of ‘overwhelming’, ‘stunning’, shocking’ … well, you want to make sure you’ve thought things through.

Once it’s out, you can never go back. And even if you win, you can never go back. The America of 1865 could never go back to the ‘simpler’ time of 1861, the America of 1919 could never go back to 1914, the American of 1945 could never go back to 1941. And that isn’t simple self-indulgent nostalgia. Veterans in large numbers return, having changed or been changed; there is an awareness – no matter how buried – in the national consciousness that ‘things were done’ – yes, perhaps ‘had to be done’, but ‘done’ nonetheless.

And, ever and always, power of all sorts - financial, bureaucratic, prosecutorial, political, and cultural – has inevitably flowed to Washington, perhaps in waves that will not recede even after a President yields his wartime powers . Which Presidents now rarely seem to do.

Surely, while the Vietnam antiwar movement sought to curb the power of the post-WW2 presidency, the Identities were licking their lips, looking to capture that power for their own ‘liberational’ purposes. The Sixties were indeed troubled waters, deep beneath the surface. That both elements became identified with ‘liberalism’ has done nothing to clarify Our largest national matters, and the Democratic Party has fairly ripped its hull apart trying to navigate in that ominous sea – a process which the Republicans did nothing to prevent.

Third, there is a huge danger in taking the Civil War as a definitive embodiment of American Constitutional process at its best. The Civil War was precisely a failure of Our politics; the elected officials and citizens of those generations were unable to resolve the huge question of slavery in any way that was acceptable to all sides. “And the war came”.

It was in its way a hugely fortunate war for the Union: the elimination of slavery was a cause that later generations –even more than the generations of the War itself – could feel ‘right’ about; and certainly, the cause of ‘the Union’ (the logo of the most recent Presidential debate – “The Union and the Constitution Forever” – dates from those years) was a powerfully worthy one.

But it was also subtly but greatly dangerous. You could get the idea that anytime you were opposed, the situation was just a ‘replay’ of the Civil War situation, and the Army and Navy were to be called out forthwith to trample out some evil vintage, coming with the glory of God and a little tipsy on the grapes of wrath (served to them in paper cups by a Fundamentalist chaplainry itself drunk with the Deputization of God Himself). Oy.

Fourth, ‘fear’ or ‘outrage’ have always been necessary to goad post-Civil War Americans into war. McKinley had to use it to start his war with Spain, slyly focusing American outrage on the Spanish in Cuba while he made his move to occupy the ‘enduring base’ of the Philippines; Wilson had to do it – against a Germany that was trying equally shrewdly to avoid giving him a pretext (they remembered what McKinley had pulled against Spain less than twenty years before) and on behalf of an England and France who were equally aware of what McKinley had pulled and fervently and fondly hoped that Wilson had the same shrewd cojones as his predecessor; FDR may not have expected so bold a tactical stroke as the strike at Pearl Harbor but he was expecting the Japanese to strike somewhere (alas, We should know for sure, but when the statutory 50-years had passed in 1991, the Brits opened all their 1941 files except those for the last three pre-Pearl Harbor months of communications between Churchill and FDR, which – why would they do it, do you think? – they sealed for another fifty years, 2041).

Johnson had to fabricate an excuse for the U.S. involvement in Vietnam with the Tonkin Gulf non-attack of 1964; and then there was 9-11, which was not an attack by an enemy nation at all.

But the American People responded differently to 9-11. They went all-out for war – against … well, whomever, or –rather – whoever. And whatever. It’s hard to say how deeply and widely: the media were pretty consolidated into corporate employees by then so who knows how many Americans disagreed but figured – shades of Germany in ’33 and ’34, that it was best to keep their thoughts to themselves. The Germans called that sort of thing ‘interior exile’ – and nobody in these parts nowadays knows just how many such ‘exiles’ there are, especially now that the option that existed in 1980 – switching to the other Party – really means nothing any longer.

Why? It’s not just because of the twin-towers and so forth. No, I think that there was still a strong sense of war-as-a-last-resort in the country. But a corporate media that had already been battening on a diet of inciting ‘fear’, cooperating eagerly thereby with both the National Security State and the Identities behind the National Nanny State, were simply too far gone down that dark road to suddenly stop and become sober and skeptical, especially in the face of the ‘patriotic’ demands that the government claimed were flowing like a river of wrathful grapes, demanding an assault on the oilfields of Iraq, planned by a President, Vice-President, and Secretary of State who were – didn’t We know that? – former oil corporation executives.

And folks were kind of used to being ‘fearful’ and ‘anxious’ and so much so that ‘stampedes’ didn’t really look like ‘stampedes’ anymore; rather than quickly proving themselves to be moments of irrational emotion and great danger they had come to look like liberating moments of extraordinary ‘outrage’ that - like the Civil War – stamped out this or that designated field of evil grapes. After all, it was a fight for survival – ‘us’ against ‘them’ – where We were (somehow) both ‘victim’ and ‘avenger’ against evil perps.

But American democracy and the Constitution and the Branches were not meant to function optimally in a state of continuous ‘emergency’, in a situation of sustained ‘fight for survival’. ‘Survival’ is an overriding End which might justify any Means whatsoever (this is the conundrum Israel has set for itself by claiming that it is ever under an ‘existential’ threat). And if one drives too long in the gear of End-Justifies-Means, the transmission’s gonna go; the vehicle wasn’t designed to drive in that clunky gear for long periods.

Human beings – soldiers and citizens – cannot for long operate in that ‘gear’ without seriously deranging themselves.

That’s why the Identities’ sustained agitprop seeking to highlight and incite ‘fear’ and ‘outrage’ in Our democracy was hugely dangerous and toxic. And to seek to incite such ‘fear’ and ‘outrage’ against other Americans … well, you can see why no nation in the throes of an extended bout of this sort of thing is going to be entirely well. Perhaps not entirely well ever again.

So here We are now.

With flu season – perhaps even a global pandemic – upon Us, the national immune system that protects ‘maturity’ and ‘common cause’ is hugely compromised after decades of abuse. We may wind up on an ER gurney as a ‘train-wreck’.

Lastly, I can’t help but note that ‘deregulation’ came along only after decades of ‘deconstruction’. I need to give this more thought, but just on first look it seems there’s a connection: having ‘deconstructed’ ‘character’, ‘virtue’, ‘justice’, ‘law’, ‘responsibility’, civic-mindedness and ‘maturity’ (don’t be fooled by the last 25-years’ worth of everybody-is-a-professional), finally the radical elements of ‘liberation’ had punctured and undermined those retaining and restraining walls designed to curb the eternal human weaknesses and vices and Shape the human energies.

And suddenly – can it be coincidence? – there arises a generation of lawyers and bankers and financiers and assorted butter-greasy sharpies that has no character, no virtue, no civic-mindedness, no sense of sin or fear of justice, and – despite huge expense accounts and salaries and perks – no maturity and no real human Shape. And they meet with a generation of politicians equally conformed to this brave new world, and together they all erect the deconstruction of limitation into a Plan, called ‘deregulation’ – which is a classy way of rephrasing the ‘60s mantra about ‘being freeeeeee’ by not trusting anyone over 30 who might ‘know better’ but who –reeely reeely – ‘just don’t get it’.

And here We are.

Don’t pass the popcorn. We might need to store it up for the winter.

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Friday, October 24, 2008


Raymond Geuss of Princeton has a written a smallish book that’s both peppery and meaty, entitled “Philosophy and Real Politics”. Who can argue that it’s not necessary these days?

I think that, especially in light of the last forty years around here, his introductory observations are hugely necessary. He recounts a scene from Plato’s “Republic” (Yes, the dead white one from looong ago; although I don’t know if the Greeks would have thought of themselves as ‘white’; they would have thought of themselves as ‘civilized’, but that’s a category of thought that was tossed into the wastebasket in these parts some decades ago; and I’m not sure that the Greek immigrant of the late 1800s or early 1900s would have been thought of as ‘white’ at Ellis Island; Americans of the day thought of themselves as ‘Americans’, greater than which there could be no other, and Greeks – coming from southeastern Europe – would have been assumed to be part of the wave of not-really-white folks flooding in.)

Socrates observes – nicely – that “justice is the proper virtue of man”; it’s what distinguishes a human being, and a civilized one (and yes, he wouldn’t have been thinking of ‘women’ or ‘slaves’ when he said it, or – for that matter – of ‘the children’ or even ‘the young’). At which point the virile (Socrates was not seen as ‘virile’ by a lot of Greeks back then – he was not a ‘warrior’; that he spent most of his time and energies in the company of students who were all bright young guys did not raise any eyebrows) Thrasymachus breaks in and bawls the Greek equivalent of ‘Baaaloney!’. “I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.” Or as Geuss draws the thought out: “When one looks at justice clearly … he finds that it’s nothing but the disguise worn by power.”

Now that in a very useful nutshell is the problem. And it bethumps Us still. What is ‘justice’? Or ‘Justice’?

Answers – and policies based on those answers – have been many. Some of them more fully covered all the necessary ground, connecting all the relevant dots, and some of them less, and many much less.

It’s relevant to Us these days not simply as a good example of how to ‘do’ philosophy – how to pose a question that is comprehensive enough to shed light on all of the points on the circuit. It’s also relevant because a gentleman whose ‘answer’ largely followed Thrasymachus was himself the intellectual progenitor of the French deconstructionists of the immediate post-World War 2 era.

It was Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov – otherwise known as Lenin – whose simple question, a deceptively equation-like bit of ‘scientific’ dogma – set spinning the postmodern world in which We live. “Who whom?” Lenin asked; who is doing what to whom? That’s the first question of politics. Because politics is really just a matter of power; those with it do whatever they want to and with those without it.

And thus, Lenin figured, if you want to do ‘good’ and help those without power, then in order to do that ‘good’, you have to get and keep power yourself – by – in the charmingly ominous Israeli phrasing – whatever means necessary. The ‘good’ must do ‘whatever it takes’ to get and keep power, so that they can wield it on behalf of those without power. And the ‘good’ are good precisely because they want to use that power in a good cause – the relief of the oppressed.

‘The oppressed’, of course, may start to ring bells; America these past forty years has been discovered to be full of ‘oppressed’. And – depending on who is defining and reporting their oppression – then half of all Americans are ‘oppressors’, perhaps more. Of course, all Americans - every last one - are sinners, but this insight was politically obstructive to the creds of any aspiring 'victim' and tended to undermine any pretensions to 'outrage'; and in the course of events, such insights - though woven into the warp and woof of Western civilization - were shunted aside by one means or another.

The French deconstructionists were of their time: the oppression they saw all around them was the colonial control and manipulation of dozens of millions of human beings in the still-lingering imperial colonies of the great European powers. Human beings who had no safety or security in their homes, who often had no ‘home’ but only a hut or a hovel or a cave; human beings whose only adult activity could be trying to find enough to eat for the day ahead of them, whose family experience consisted in trying to bring in enough to feed the children – often by getting the children themselves to work or steal, and whose parenting experience consisted in consoling children going to bed hungry and watching the too-hungry die.

The deconstructionist solution was to wield Lenin’s insight like an axe against the roots of whatever established power and authority was doing the ‘oppressing’. There is no ‘justice’; justice is merely an abstraction used by the powerful to plunder and stifle those without power. Get power, ye oppressed, and be free thereby. It worked remarkably efficiently in undercutting the aura of legitimacy that surrounded and encased imperial colonial authority. And taken in conjunction with the economic exhaustion of the European nations after the war, it hastened their departure from their former colonies, and created in the 1950s dozens of ‘new’ nations.

Back at home, however, European governments – the French foremost – realized that the deconstructionist elixir worked just as lethally – threatening to undercut any government at all. Just as in many newly liberated colonies, the first order of the day for many new leaders was to stamp out any further ‘deconstructionist’ thought, lest they too be undercut and toppled.

Unfortunately, that got many of them into the bad habit of equating ‘deconstructionist’ thought with dissenting thought – which, they soon found, they also didn’t like. And which – oy – they became all too adept as squashing as thoughtlessly as they did the ‘deconstructionist’ ideas.

None of which was of too much concern to the great financiers of the ‘civilized’ world, who by the nature of their work and the experience of their time thoughtlessly assumed that countries would run much more reliably and efficiently if they were run like corporations, and the citizens an obedient and docile workforce. It’s not necessary to think too much when you’re very rich and very powerful. And those who cast their lot by serving them find that it isn’t necessary for them to think too much either. In fact, very much the opposite.

Unlike Lenin, the French deconstructionists were ‘theorists’ and academics, ‘intellectuals’ in some form, and were not – unlike Comrade Lenin – rabidly interested in actually taking power themselves. Which was nice. And to that large fraction of human beings who only understand danger in the immediate form of an actual loaded gun or ticking bomb in their immediate vicinity, their ‘ideas’ were just butterflies flapping in the breeze; the Commies, after all, had the Bomb – and that’s what the real problem was.

But the deconstructionists’ hugely potent elixir was capable of causing enough ‘change’ on its own, and in the hands of an organized vanguard elite it could bring down monarchies and massacre millions –even of those it was supposedly deployed to liberate. It was – in a conceptual way – a tool capable of massive destruction; nor – is this familiar? – had any thought been given by its intellectual creators to the necessary follow-on phase of ‘reconstruction’.

The French showed many of the leading deconstructionists the door. They came here.

God knoweth full well that there was enough oppression in the South. But Martin Luther King, with his roots deep in the spiritual power of the Bible and the highest ideals of the American Vision, did not seek to ‘divide’, but to unite, and not ‘in opposition’ to other Americans but in a common re-affirmation of the highest ideals of American tradition. He opposed Southern ‘ways’, but did not preach against Southerners. He was a remarkable prophet. Hoover hated him, along with many in power in the South.

In King’s struggle, there would be no room for ‘deconstructionism’. He had a cause and that cause had a long and very real presence in American history from almost the beginning of the American settlements. A Civil War had been fought, Amendments to the Constitution passed, a President assassinated, great promises broken for political convenience, and much blood shed in dark and bloody times. He needed no ‘boost’ from deconstructionist agitation. And who knows what the crafty spider Hoover would have done, had he even a scintilla of linkage between King, black civil rights, and the arch-Communist Lenin, even Lenin poof-poofed by French intellectuals?

But King was a uniter. That was his huge and abiding strength.

Not so with others who in those ‘revolution’ and ‘liberation’ addled times sought to get a larger slice of the pie. The ‘deconstructionist’ vision – limited though it was – offered a conceptual underpinning; not so much as to ground and justify new ‘revolutions’ here – ones whose ‘claims’ were not at all as grounded in the actual historical struggles that this nation went through in its past, but to generate and sustain a ground wave that would simply sweep the vanguards and their ‘claims’ into political power. They saw themselves as the Leninist ‘whom’ and there were many in power doing unto them, and they were going to change that.

It’s a shame in a way. Because there were indeed many in power who were in the process of ‘doing to’ the American people. The National Security State, increasingly enmeshed with the mega-corporate networks of the military-industrial complex, was pouring the nation’s wealth into weaponry. Seymour Melman had pointed out that a dollar spent on a bomb was not simply one dollar not spent on projects to increase or preserve the quality of life of the nation’s citizens; rather, it was many dollars lost in unrealized opportunities and un-capitalized businesses and projects and programs that themselves would have generated many dollars.

There was a Moment back there forty years ago when the 1930s’ spirit of the People and their Government versus the Malefactors of Great Wealth could have made a much-needed comeback. The National Security State and the military-industrial corporations were – without too much thought – following their own bovine illuminations, turning the citizenry toward a life of obedient indenture even as – with almost equally bovine stolidity but a thoroughly human cockiness – the government elites managed the military power of the nation into failure after failure, and the economy into increasingly queasy gyrations.

In a way, the Malefactors could not have asked for anything better. The ‘revolutions’ that would only be named ‘culture wars’ decades later distracted Us from what was going on in the greatest of the ‘doings’: Our livelihoods, the treasure piled up by Our labor to be passed on to Our children, and that most American of gifts – a government responsive to the People and interested only in serving their common interest – all slimed away, but tastefully, in the greasy, goldy-yellow buttery glow of the ‘80s and the ‘90s, abetted by Democrats and Republicans together; ‘bipartisan’.

We have indeed become Lenin’s Whoms. Nor will Our children nor their children escape now.
Geuss recommends that the West actually heed – and he admits this may sound a bit odd at first – Lenin’s advice: find out who is doing to whom.

But he does so in the context of his concerns that philosophers – he specifically goes after Robert Nozick and John Rawls – have failed to ‘stay real’ – in my words – and thus have failed Us. Rawls, especially, seeking to imagine an imaginary “original position” from which one might imagine philosophy under a “veil of ignorance” by which they can forget all preconceptions and imagine (or ‘hope’ or ‘dream’) matters afresh.

Geuss urges that We get back to the realities: those preconceptions are entwined with needs and feelings, interests and prejudices, grievances and benevolences – and that’s what ‘people’ are, what they are made of. And that’s where politics has to begin. Within the framework of citizens deliberating together, and then making their wishes known to the elected public servants who must then also deliberate (and not simply shop their vote to the highest bidder) … this is the great gift of the American Constitutional vision to Us and to the world.

The puck must be played off the ice; the ball must be played off the ground.

Deploying in this commonwealth the Leninist methods of grabbing-power-first-by-whatever-means- necessary must take its place as one of the many great failed ‘plans’ of the postwar years. There was a People here in 1968; there was a seasoned and decently matured People schooled in democracy and in ‘politics’; America of 1968 was not Russia of 1918.There was no need, there was no legitimate place, for the stratagems of a ‘vanguard’ elite of a ‘revolution’ – or several ‘revolutions’ – that would bypass the People and debauch their representatives with a combination of threats and visions of electoral love.

What Lenin devised to meet the necessities of his time had no real place in a mature and working democracy half a century later and half a world away. Nor does the challenge of his time exonerate him for what he devised and deployed.

But his initial instinct – that what matters in the life of societies is who with power does what to whom is without power – is very ‘real’.

And now, watching what had been going on and distracting the attention of The People, the government – now indentured to great wealth – began to bypass The People. And building on the fearfulness that has been insinuated into Our common spirit over the course of decades, it began to stampede The People as it itself has been stampeded by the onslaught of Leninist methodology that has not restored balance to American politics but rather has completely unhinged American politics.

A Leninist realism anchoring a Constitutional politics. No ‘hopes’, no ‘dreams’, no ‘boogeymen’ – whether hiding in the bushes or running a country halfway around the world – no ‘nightmares’, no ‘heavenmares’ of angelic hosts with swords whacking their way across the planet and hovering for recreation over aircraft carriers. No hypothetical imaginary ‘perfect citizens’.

Just Us.

Just Us and a careful, sustained, sober, acute, careful assessment of what faces Us and what We think should be done about it. And getting to that is going to be a job of political work. But that’s what the Constitution was designed for. And it’s clear that the country’s affairs are too important to be left to the experts, especially in their present debauched condition.

But it was never meant to be left to them.

That’s the genuine American realism.

And it’s the last best hope to build “a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations”.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I’ve occasionally mentioned in recent and not-so-recent Posts that Bill Clinton’s years represented a darkness not yet fully explored (as if Reagan’s administrations weren’t dark enough). In fact, if 1968 was a huge failure to re-ignite the democratic politics of the common weal – ignited in FDR’s first two administrations, then layered over with the thick concrete of World War 2’s centralization and the Cold War’s National Security State – then the early 1990s were a huge failure to grasp the stupendous opportunity offered by the disappearance of the Soviet Union. And granted that the first years of that ‘Moment’ were under Bush the First, Clinton’s election represented an opportunity for the Democrats to grasp and wield a chance for ‘democracy’ such as the world had never seen.

Ah well. That was then.

It occurs to me that the Year of Grace 1996 was gravid with portent. We recall that with the Soviet Union gone and the Russian government not quite ready for prime time, Clinton had in 1995 actually taken to flexing American might in the Balkans; this on top of sending to Russia a gaggle of neoliberal, elite university business and economy experts whose incompetence for the task was only exceeded by their kleptomaniac efforts at self-enrichment.

We here were perhaps the only folks on the planet who didn’t notice the irony. The Russians surely did, and in their ham-handed way, took very precise notes.

But on to 1996.

Alan Nasser, in an 8/2/07 article, “The Threat of U.S. Fascism: An Historical Precedent”, at, points out that in 1996 Lesley Stahl on ’60 Minutes’ asked then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright “whether she thought that the removal of Saddam from power was worth killing a half million children”. This question was prompted by the fact that under the parameters of Clinton’s bombing sanctions against Iraq, “Clinton bombed Iraq several times weekly for eight years”.

Many of Us might recall vaguely that factoid floating by back in those days, ‘in illo tempore’ as the Latin of the Gospel would put it. Nasser reports that “Defense Information Agency documents, now made available through the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the strategy of the bombing was to extensively bomb water purification facilities and power generating facilities with the explicit intention to spread diseases that would affect children. The idea was to pressure ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, with the knowledge that if they did so, the pedicide would cease. [italics mine]” Around the table at Beltway dinner parties this sort of thing is referred to as ‘reasons of state’; in less toney and toned venues it is called a ‘war crime’ – but such are the vulgarities of the unwashed.

The British medical journal ‘The Lancet’ calculated carefully and came up with a figure of 467,000 Iraqi children dead; the number of injured, wounded, and traumatized children was beyond calculation … by any earthly means, certainly, although bible-thumping, big-haired, shiny-suited chaplains on the Beltway A-list would no doubt assert that a bullet from America’s gun is a bullet from God’s gun, as God or Goering had publicly affirmed. And as for the British … they no longer made history. Pass the grape juice, and the bourbon, please. And if you have no communion bread, why a Moon Pie’ll do jes’ fine, maam, and thank ya vurrry mutch. It says a great deal that Moon Pies are available at Beltway dinner parties now, and have been for some time. It’s what ‘the little people’ eat. And ‘little’ they are there inside the Beltway – ‘small’, actually. Very small. In very big ways.

Back to Stahl, where Albright replied – with the full weight of her statuesque, matronly, and feminine authority – “Yes, it was worth it”. Thus the fruits of the revolution that would dethrone the violence of the masculine baboon, at the price of gutting any pretense of a democratic politics. In an echo of the Vietnam-era military lunacy, a woman of high political rank shrugged out a brazen ‘we had to destroy the children in order to save them’, a grotesquerie that surpassed even the woman Janet Reno’s assertion a couple-three years earlier that – come to think of it – she had authorized the Waco massacre because she was worried that the children were being ‘abused’ – said children thereupon having been burned to death when the wooden structure in which they were sheltering was deliberately attacked by police and federal agents with military-grade explosives and weaponry. The local volunteer fire department, just a couple of decades-old apparatus some distance away (this was rural Texas) – the feds had not thought to place on standby alert. Their foresight had not improved by September 11, some eight years later.

In that very same year, nineteen-ninety-and-six, the sex-offender mania, hugely fearful that ‘the children’ were at the mercy of hordes of slavering, stranger-perverts, burst into the realm of Federal legislation, when the parents of Megan Kanka of New Jersey affirmed that if they had only known about the proclivities of the man dwelling across the street they would most certainly have taken more precautions – though their own neighbors clearly recalled to local reporters at the time that his presence and proclivities were common knowledge in the neighborhood. But in an emergency facts don’t matter, and this was surely an emergency. (And perhaps in some future the Kankas will emerge into truth as did the famous Ms. Roe of 'Roe v. Wade' who - many years after the fact - acknowledged in a by-the-by that No, she hadn't really had the problem that the Roe case was all about, and that she kinda felt bad about all the fuss that she had started; as Ms. Roe was seduced by 'facts don't matter in an emergency' (nor 'truth' in a revolution) so as to shatter the American common identity, so too the Kankas may feel a bit bad that their little bit of non-truth had helped start a wildfire that is still consuming the foundations of the American constitutional sensibility. But by then ... )

As the military had borrowed tactics and rocketry and even the shape of its helmets from Hitler’s Wehrmacht, ‘registries’ and assorted restrictions as to employment, residence, and sundry other essentials of even a minimally sustainable life were borrowed from … another agency among Hitler’s inventive bureaucracies; although, to be sure, the maniac with the little mustache had borrowed much of it from the maniac with the much larger mustache in the East, where that Wehrmacht would eventually be sent for a shock-and-awe settling of the hash that was to prove – ach! – more lethal in the recoil than in the projectile.

History is nothing if not inventive, even when it’s repetitive. Which is pretty good, for something supposedly dead. The hell-hot ironies! But Hitler knows that now; what he thought he was making turned out to have a life of its own. Almost like Dr. Frankenstein’s science project. Thus science-fiction and horror come back not as fantasy but as reality.

And in that same year, of the Independence of the United States the two-hundred-and-twentieth, the Telecommunications Act was signed into law with a cheerible smile by Mr. President Clinton. This Act allowed the ownership of the news media to be concentrated in the hands of a relatively few corporate owners. Thus the government need have no fear that spunky and irrepressible investigative reporters of yore, proud of their outsider status – think Kolchak – would be poking around to discover the ‘real’ story, or what was once known as ‘truth’. As a generation of such folk retired or died off, new hires could save their expensive suits and hair-dos by simply publishing as ‘news’ what the government flacks would provide, by fax – the wonders of modern science!

Such ‘news’ as would provide gripping photo-ops were thoughtfully provided by agitprop advocacies, unwittingly (it is to be hoped) fronting and providing cover for the real outrages being perpetrated under color of law and national security and – of course – ‘for the children’.

All three things in one year. There’s almost a symmetry to them. And they all seem to be connected.

Can it be coincidence?

I tend to think not. In matters of state and of high import, coincidences – like the old breakfast cereal – are for kids.

No, I’m not saying a ‘conspiracy’. I’m saying something much worse. That matters have reached a point among Us – and did quite a few years ago – where so much national activity is off-the-rails, rudderless, unguided and unconfined and unlimited and un-Shaped by any overriding principles, that the thick, dense, vigorous sheets of flame are now – as in the firestorms created in concentrated bombing of cities – combining in ways unpredictable except that they will be even more lethally omnivorous than any individual fire could be. But always remaining ‘fire’ – insatiable, destructive, respectful of no boundaries, tempered by no mercy or obligation or responsibility, by no virtue or fear of sin or self-abasement, by no fear of God or of any millstone being hung around its neck.

Fire does answer to ‘the sea’. But it takes a lot of water to make a ‘sea’. If there were a million rains as there were once imagined to be a million points of light – well, that would do some good work.

That, indeed, is what is needed at this point. A People that can start to exercise a confining effect against the fire: like Southern California fire commanders, who will seek to contain and – if the opportunity arises – get to the heart of the fire.

If a patient were to come into the office of a prison psychiatrist, proudly asserting that he (or – most surely now – she) is outraged at the abuse of local children, while refusing to acknowledge the photographic evidence that he (or she) had purposely and deliberately stalked and killed huge numbers of children in a distant city … well, you can imagine that the patient would be coming into the sessions for a long, long time.

Just so, looking at the United States in 1996, the same type of verrrry disturbing symptoms seem clearly in evidence.

And if the patient then professes tearily to the psychiatrist that s/he doesn’t understand why other people avoid contact and seem to harbor ‘negative feelings’ and the patient ‘can’t think why’, except that people like to hate, and people especially like to hate those who ‘do what has to be done’ and who ‘do what is truly good’ … well, you can imagine that such a patient is already slipping the mystic cords of sanity. Prognosis: poor. At best.

And if such a patient then adds that s/he was ordered by God to do it all – deputized, actually … well, there are places for that sort of thing, and the bars on the windows aren’t to keep out the occasional burglar.

And here We are.

A healthy sense of the reality of one’s self would be a good start. One’s gifts but also one’s tendencies to weakness. And above all, a sense of one’s limits – not as an ‘esteem’-smashing downer, but as the first step in developing a social self – one capable of monitoring its own behavior and feelings and expectations while carrying on a set of working relationships with others of its kind. So that one might establish a just and a lasting peace within one’s self and among all other people.

When the sense of limits goes, the sense of self does not ‘grow’, it metastasizes. And this is as true for governments and nations as it is for individual patients. And while the ‘laws’ of economics that govern an individual person may not be the same as those that govern the economies of nations (governments, apparently, can spend well beyond their income, and should), yet the rules governing behavior toward other human beings apply universally. Yes, Hitler said that when a war is won, nobody will ask if you told the truth in the beginning – but did that work out for him?

I suspect more than a few governments around today – and what is a government but a collection of human beings exercising power over and for other human beings? – have fallen into the trap of thinking exactly as he did, except that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes he made. Yet they did. Yet they have.

And here We are.

If Obama wins the election – and what else can one rationally hope for? – let Us not allow Ourselves more than the briefest moment of rejoicing. He goes to the White House with a challenge facing him as great as that which faced Lincoln. The country has lost its integrity – although not in so obvious a way as in 1861.

Worse, there are far too many citizens who are not willing or not able to discharge the office of Citizen, as a member of The People. We are not rubber-stamps to be dragged out once every few years to stand in lines and cast a vote and then go back to the mall or the second job. While Ours is not a plebiscitary democracy where everybody has to vote on the specifics of every law that has passed, yet the tasks of the Citizen know no season: We must inform Ourselves, and then make Ourselves known to each other and to those elected (and damned well sworn) to represent Our interests.

We must educate Mr. Obama (and most surely Mr. Biden) into the tasks of ‘presiding’ over a true and actual People, and to do that We must become a People.

So many never understood what it means to be a Citizen: they did not come here to assume the burdens of a functioning democracy, or were born here so recently that the assorted debaucheries of several decades seem natural to them. And far too many were born here long enough ago to know, but have given themselves up to the apathy and distraction that is precisely desired by those who would make Us serfs, peasants and donkeys.

And collaborators in dark and bloody deeds. Did the German citizenry think in that Spring of 1945 that by sticking a freshly laundered white bedsheet out the second-floor window they would escape the price to be paid for what was done in their name? And not just ‘in their name’: as Maria Doria Russell points out acutely in the last line of “A Thread of Grace”, Hitler never personally fired a weapon in all the years of his monstrous, demonic Reich; “all the harm he ever did was done for him by others”.

This is no note to go out on, if go We must.

So let me borrow a little more of Churchill: for all the troubles that beset Us and infect Us, this election is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but if We brace Ourselves to Our duties, it may be the end of the beginning.

And that is a start. And a good one.


I’ve just come across an article printed on Truthout, but originally from ‘The Women’s Media Center’ by one Lorelei Kelly. I don’t go trolling in these shallow, murky waters of advocacy where actuality and calculated fantasy are deliberately confused, but it comes via the Truthout site and is relevant to the Post above. The article by Kelly is dated 23 October and is entitled ‘National Security: Women Must Define the Priorities Debate’;

Ms. Kelly asserts that “What were once considered women’s issues are now squarely in the middle of domestic and international debates”. Well, women’s issues have always been begging to be in the midst of domestic debate, but that didn’t happen anywhere near enough, and – I’ve been saying – that as a consequence, large numbers of voters of both sexes (the memos seem to indicate that ‘gender’ means something else and one does try to stay abreast) who may have been rabidly misogynist, or simply doubtful or skeptical or uncertain or just didn’t like having an end-run done on them, simply started voting Republican (nor am I suggesting that they were well-served by their new hosts). That was a hardly unforeseeable consequence of trying to pull the old Leninist end-run-by-the-vanguard-elite play.

Continuing, she asserts that “the old guns versus butter line is obsolete … the U.S. Army now considers girls’ education a vital link to achieving long-term stability”. Well, if it’s true – and what is too ludicrous to dismiss outright these days? – then part of the reason We may be in such deep doodoo on the Eastern Front is that ‘the Army’ is detailing resources to school-teaching duties. Of course, given the overall playbook that’s governed this 2WF advocacy for decades, it may well be that the Army is putting x-amount of dollars aside into such a category in order to assure xxx-amount of dollars for actual war-fighting, from Congresspersons who are still trying to pander to Identities while demonstrating how much they support the troops. A two-fer where only the frontline loses; ‘collateral damage’ of the Revolution, comrade sisters – some eggs must be broken to make any great omelette – though we may be thankful that it’s mostly sperm that are being broken … but let us keep that among ourselves, because only the vanguard is strong enough to hear the truth.

“A global legacy of women’s priorities already informs policy debates about a new strategy for U.S. security. For decades, women the world over have championed the safety of people through positive social change.” The usual glorious, self-serving boilerplate. And men’s priorities have been to champion the non-safety of people? Or is it that ‘women’ simply are doing what ‘men’ are also doing? Or ‘men’ simply doing what ‘women’ are doing? Or is this thinking too much?
And just where in all this ‘safety’ does Janet Reno fit in? Madeline Albright? Nancy Pelosi? Condoleeza Rice? The rest of Bush’s bobby-sox and roadie squad, whether wielding pom-poms or bomb-bombs? Hilary Clinton who apparently didn’t mind what hubby was doing to Iraqi children with his bombing strategy? The (female) Army Major-General who didn’t think wounded troops at Walter Reed were getting bad treatment? Or are these just a few feminist bad apples? Or am I being too harsh because really women are no better than men and shouldn’t be held to a higher standard of morality – even if they claim to be operating by such higher levels of principle … ?

But … if that’s the situation, and women are no better than men, then what have We been going through for the past thirty frakking years? And: why? Was Jesse Jackson right that when all is said and done it just comes done to slicing the pie?

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Friday, October 17, 2008


I’ve read Sheldon Wolin’s latest, “Democracy Incorporated”. It’s good, but it might have been much more.

He does an incisive and acute job, explaining how the corporate mentality and the now-monster-sized corporate network have synergized with the ancient foe of wealth-seeking-political-power-and-control, and all to the detriment of democracy. In this regard Chalmers Johnson’s thoughts about the great and ultimate value of the book (see my immediately previous Post) are absolutely correct. So far as they go.

Because Wolin has not told the whole truth here. To hear him tell it, the Republicans are responsible for the whole thing (echoing Mussolini’s final defense in front of the now gimlet-eyed Fascist Grand Council at that last meeting: ‘I tedeschi sono responsabili di tutto’ – The Germans are responsible for the whole thing). As another World War 2 icon would say: Yah.

Although he ranges back to the Greeks and Machiavelli and up through the 17th century English political thinkers to the Founders themselves, he then jumps more or less straight to his chosen point of departure, 1980. With the exception of some hardly irrelevant port calls at the New Deal and the Cold War he moves pretty much straight to a year well-known for the election of Ronald Reagan and the inception of the Republican Ascendancy.

Yes, it’s his book and he gets to choose where to start it, but he was writing the book to help explain how We are in the very serious and real mess We are in, so that noble and urgent purpose ought to kind of … have an influence on him. Not quite.

He discusses the dangerous corrupting effect of concentrated money, especially when it’s made available to politicians and legislators. But he doesn’t discuss PACs themselves. There isn’t even an entry for them in his index. Of course, the PACs were a Democratic invention (a treacherously reverse image of ‘only Nixon could go to China’), invented and pressed upon the initially unwilling corporate bosses by Tip O’Neill (about whom, also, there is no mention in text or index).

He discusses the “inauthentic opposition” of “the Democrats’ politics” without once discussing Tip O’Neill who – as carefully limned by Walter Karp in his masterful book on Carter’s and Reagan’s Presidencies – purposely sought to gut Carter’s administration from the get-go. Nor is there any reference to Karp in the text or the index. Wolin doesn’t really go into this huge issue any further; yet if you have said that the democratic politics of the United States has been insidiously and treacherously undermined by – you say – the Republican party over the course of a quarter of a century, then you should feel yourself obligated to have some thoughts as to Where the frak the soi-disant ‘opposition’ Party was during the whole period. And – face it – in addition to becoming a banana republic (sans bananas) this country has reached its present state via the same route that France did in 1940: all of its Parties contributed their bit. That’s why even after the war went south, on top of 9-11 and all the dreck that flowed from that, it’s almost impossible to get serious light shone on things: NOBODY inside the Beltway wants any light beaming around anywhere – because no matter where the beam lands inside the Beltway, there’s gonna be ‘guilty parties’, Democrats as well as Republicans – nor am I just talking about the likes of Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller and Phil Gramm. And investigations of this economic catastrophe will wind up the same way.

He discusses the tremendously corrosive effects of a concentrated and corporatized media, controlled by the corporations (who are – in Wolin’s schema –allied with the Republicans, of course) and yet he has nothing whatever to say about the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (also not in his index), signed by Bill Clinton, that officially opened the floodgates for corporate plundering of ‘the press’. Or rather: treacherously opened the gates of the fort from the inside to let the hordes in – which was, back in the day, a hanging offense.

He makes reference to the hugely damaging practice of “splintering the citizenry into distinct categories” without once mentioning the huge wounds to the body politic and the American social compact wrought by Identity Politics and all its pomps and all its works. Nor is there any index entry for it, or for ‘deconstuctionism’ or ‘post-modernism’ or any of the ‘theory’ that has provided the cloak of intelligent rationality to the vast and hostile changes made in – and against – American society and American identity since the late 1960s.

He spends a great deal of energy dissecting the National Security State’s conscienceless use of “fear” to both motivate and control the citizenry, demonstrating at length how Cold War strategies for control merged political and corporate elites in a common task of reducing the American citizenry to a fearful and anxious rubber-stamp, to be taken out and dusted off only for the ceremony of ‘elections’. But there is nothing about the insidious replay of McCarthyite hysteria, and far more pervasive and ‘successful’ than McCarthy – that sodden, histrionic, mendacious wretch – could ever hope to have been: the victim-cloaked sex-offense mania that got started in 1996 under Clinton and that weird obverse of Hoover, Janet Reno, and still burns like a Southern California super-fire, having reduced much constitutional protection and jurisprudential praxis to desiccated cinders.

And yet he will from time to time make the most remarkably candid statements, only to abandon them on the launch pad. In the matter of the so-called “cultural wars” he says that “The point about disputes on such topics as the value of sexual abstinence, the question of gay marriage, and the like, is that they are not framed to be resolved [italics mine]. Their political function is to divide the citizenry while obscuring class differences and diverting the voters’ attention from the social and economic concerns of the general populace”.

Now yes and no. There is and always has been a strong flavor of ‘planned insolubility’ to many of the demands and agendas of the Identities. But the way Wolin frames it, the distracting elements were, you would have to infer, planned by the corporations. And that’s a stretch bordering on the absurd: the corporations ‘planned’ the Revolutions of the Identities back in the late-60s simply as an exercise to divert the citizenry from hugely relevant issues of class and economy? Phooey. The ‘distracting’ elements – including abortion (curiously not mentioned) and the ever-fuzzy ‘full equality’ of this or that Identity – were there all along, generated by the Identities and their advocacies themselves from the get-go. And embraced by the vote-hungry and vote-desperate and thoroughly terrified Democrats.

Yes, the Republicans (the repentant-on-his-deathbed Lee Atwater, of whom Rove is but the spawn, being the most notorious) took advantage of the situation that the Identities created. And that included making efficient political use of huge numbers of citizens who were doubtful, hesitant, skeptical, or resistant in the matter of yielding to those demands. But it’s beyond fantastical to imagine that the whole thing was a corporate-elitist plot to begin with.

And the “planned insolubility” is and always has been something of a guarantee that the vanguards and advocates of the assorted Revolutions would never be out of a job. A neat and hardly unforeseeable consequence of huge and fuzzy and vaguely-justified demands.

And ‘dividing’ the citizenry was pretty much guaranteed by the method of imposing these monster changes from the top down, and stifling general public discussion through the media-assisted muffling called “Political Correctness”.

And as far as ‘black power’ went, and as far as feminism of the Second Wave went, well –dividing was the game plan: the former wanted to separate from ‘honky’ and the latter were pretty much going after ‘men’. And the multiculturalists were after the both of them – white males, dead or alive.

He continues: “Cultural wars might seem an indication of strong political involvement. Actually they are a substitute.” I not only agree, I don’t think he goes far enough here. The gravamen of the Revolutions of the Identities was not only a substitute for a democratic politics, it was a revolutionary anti-politics. But I’m guessing that’s exactly not where Wolin wants to go. I think he’s echoing obliquely a current Democratic thought: if it hadn’t been for the Republicans’ naming and framing the ‘culture wars’ in the 1990s, then there wouldn’t have been any. And that’s just baloney. The Republicans may have named the thing, but the thing itself was going on from the get-go. Why else did all those sturdy blue-collar, New Deal Democratic voters suddenly become Reagan Republicans in 1980?

He points out that a “discouraged democracy” becomes a “demobilized democracy”. Yup, and that would play right into the hands of an elite seeking to turn the citizenry into an obedient, corporate peasantry. And it’s very baad news for this country. But – looking back to those Reagan Democrats again – the discouragement started before the Republicans and the corporations could even dream of it; the herd was stampeded onto their spread by Democratic cowhands a’whoopin’ and a’shootin’ to celebrate the myriad celebrations of the Identities. Only later were the stampedees thoroughly betrayed, once safely penned – as Wolin rightly describes – in the dual grasp of the National Security State and the National Nanny State. And that monster’s limbs fused by the blast of 9-11, fortified by a corporatized media.

And, as Wolin nicely observes, where the Nazis trumpeted a hard and hardened citizenry, the corporatized “inverted totalitarianism” of Our time and place finds it quite congenial to root in the less rocky, more mushy ground of a soft, self-indulgent culture, much given to fantasy and amusing distractions. And, I would add, absent any remarkable chemistry, the infusion of large amounts of ‘feelings’ and ‘sensitivity’ and youthful difficulty in distinguishing fantasy from reality will only make things go so much the better. And even ‘outrage’, usefully dissipated on insoluble problems not having to do with wealth or the actual wielding of political power, can be added into the brew. Better ruling through chemistry.

But to do all this, Wolin has had to take some mighty circuitous routes to connect the dots believably without stepping on any land mines. Thus, his schematic is that the Founders were really elitists, and their whole plan was to ensure that ‘democracy’ would never gain a foothold in American government; thus the Constitution (which in 1787 replaced the more ‘democratic’ state governments loosely connected under the Articles of Confederation) was actually an elitist power grab, both to prevent the ‘mob’ from running the states and to harness the huge potential of the new country to a centralized government. And in the present, the Republican elites and the corporate elites have joined forces and made their Pact of Steel (Paper, actually, but let’s not complicate things too much).

He asserts that the 1930s – FDR’s first two administrations – were the closest the country has ever come to ‘democracy’, the rule of the ‘demos’, rather than an oligarchic rule by wealthy elites. Not much objection to that.

But then he poses the entire decade of the 1960s as a re-birth of ‘democracy’ that was evilly subverted by the forces of counterrevolution. He only says this once, and doesn’t go down the land-mined road as to what it really means to call the 1960s a ‘revolution’, with all that such a term might imply.

Thus then the ‘democracy’ was crushed in 1980 by the Republicans, who were now a solidly fused corporate-political machine. And with that, as they say at Santa Anita, ‘they’re off!’. We are now free to set Our democratic jaws against the infamy and – in a curious temporal coincidence – head into the elections.

I don’t’ think it works. The ‘1960s’ were two distinct decades, the first ending in the first week of July, 1965, and the second having its high-noon in 1968, and a democratic rebirth the latter most certainly was not. This is not to imply that all of the initiatives of ‘1968’ and of the Identities were or are ‘bad’, nor to imply that there was prior to 1968 ever a golden-age in this country – or anywhere else. But to the extent that there was a moment when Titanic’s hull was intact, and then another moment not long afterwards when its hull was not intact, then I’d say that said 'moment' was somewhere between '66 and '68, and after that moment - well, it's all been mostly ungood. And it also appears that 'intactness’ – as was once said of potential wives – should be a kind of a national priority at the moment. No offense intended.

Finally, an observation prompted by Wolin’s remarkable Freudian slip that “the academy had become self-pacifying:”. He is referring, rather safely, to all of those academics who failed to speak out against the Iraq war. But from what I can make of this book of his, he has pretty much done the same thing. Except on behalf of the Democratic Party. And possibly – a much longer stretch – for ‘democracy’.

We are in the mess We are in at this point because a whole lot of folks upon whom We might have counted for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, gave Us much less – and increasingly – something else altogether. But Us no buts that it was ‘well intentioned’, or ‘in a good cause’, or that ‘the end justifies the means’, or that it was done ‘for the children’ or for ‘national security’ or ‘to spread democracy’ or ‘because the devil made me do it’. Well, OK, maybe that last one. ‘Greed’ and ‘Lying’ and ‘War’ have always been associated with the devil. Although War … well, that could go either way. And it takes a whole lotta Peopling to buck up a Congress to make sure that the Main Battle Tank of national military might only goes over bridges that can support its awefull weight.

Professor Wolin has not given Us what We might have a right to expect from someone of his experience and knowledge. He has given Us a lot, but not enough to completely grasp what is necessary for Us to undertake in order to save Ourselves. To read him is to imagine that if only the Democrats get elected, then the Republican pols and their corporate paymasters can be brought to heel.

And that just ain’t so.

Why he did this is a matter for speculation. Incompetence is out of the question. A desire to stay in the good graces of his colleagues? The Democratic Party? The probable winners of the election? A compromise with publishers?

Who can say?

But in the words of a former manager of the Baltimore Orioles, addressed to a disappointing umpire: Do you get any better or is this it?

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Sunday, October 12, 2008


Over on Truthdig, Chalmers Johnson reviews Sheldon Wolin’s new book “Democracy, Incorporated”. I’m reading the book myself at the moment, but Johnson’s review alone prompts several thoughts. (

Wolin recalls to Us the ancient Greek concept of the ‘demos’, the citizenry – whence We derive ‘democracy’ (and whence I derive my habit of capitalizing ‘The People’ and the personal pronouns ‘We’, ‘Us’, and ‘Our’ when referring to the American citizenry in that common capacity and role and identity as The People, as that ‘demos’ envisioned by the Greeks).

Johnson takes Madison and the Founding vision somewhat to task for its “elitism”, nor does he use that term in its current, queasy and almost mendacious Politically Correct term so favored by the Identities and so recently deployed by Hillary Clinton in response to a question as to why she was having such large ‘ideas’ for public policy without conferring with at least a few people who have dedicated their lives to learning the facts. “Facts”, famously, “don’t matter” to revolutionaries or inside the Beltway.

I wouldn’t go quite so far, although I respect Johnson’s and Wolin’s concerns. The Founders were ‘wary’ of direct rule by the demos, by the citizenry, but they were also very certain that they did not want to see ‘monarchical’ and ‘tyrannical’ rule by kings and aristocracies.

The huge loss of the Moment of 1968 – as I call it – was that the possibility of recovering the great democratic strides made in FDR’s first two administrations was quickly strangled and trampled by the Democrats’ mistaken (I would like to hope) embrace of the already bitterly divided ‘black power’ revolutionism of the post-King phase of what had been the marvelous ‘civil rights’ movement, and the outright ‘revolutionary’ content and method of feminism of the Second Wave, which was dedicated to warring upon the male half of the population and of grasping control of political power to carry that war on.

Neither of these first ‘Identities’ (not to be simplistically identified as ‘blacks’ and ‘women’ in general) were committed to anything less – whether they had taken the trouble to look at the hugely probable consequences or not – than the fracturing of the American communal ‘identity’. And that is precisely what has come to pass.

And it was as surely predictable and observable as was the march to financial catastrophe that could be seen as early as Nixon’s day, glared blindingly in any attentive eye in Reagan’s day, but has become so brutally clear in this most recent – and possibly irreversible – financial mess today.

How to avoid both monarchy and yet also the fathomless dangers of any Tom, Dick, or Gwendolyn simply stepping up to the controls and having a go? Jefferson hoped that We would be able to nurture and recognize a “natural aristocracy” of talented citizens, well-formed in character and dedicated to the rational pursuit of the common weal, free from selfish interests for enrichment in any form. That was a consummation devoutly to be wished, but flew (and flies) in the face of human nature, at least as it has been somewhat revealed throughout human history.

The Founders took a less hopeful, more prudent course. They built the checks-and-balances to prevent anybody from fully controlling the Branches. And they also provided not only a House with more popular election, but a Senate that would be drawn from those among the citizens who had at least some experience in ‘responsibility’ in managing earthly affairs – not a guarantee of character and virtue, surely. But they had not so many idealistic hopes for The People as would develop later on, although the concept of a truly competent People serving as the Ground of the Branches, the struts that anchored the entire ferris-wheel contraption of constitutional government … that concept was implicit in the era of the Founding itself.

Wolin and Johnson are both accurate when they advert to the accretion of political control around the propertied class that occurred over time – bolstered especially by the massive (for the time) centralization of the Civil War era, the erection of the ‘corporation’, and the massive amount of money that became concentrated in very few hands during the First Gilded Age, as the country began to tap its huge resources for industrial expansion. And – almost inevitably – for the expansion of its markets, leading in no uncertain terms to McKinley’s purposeful but cleverly-disguised war with Spain for the large purpose of securing the Philippine ‘enduring base’ (if I may) to position American business for the great China ‘market’, as Walter Karp so deftly describes.

Teddy Roosevelt’s deployment of the power of the federal government to counter the weight of the ‘interests’ – the now monster-sized corporations – on behalf of the rest of the citizenry was wise and almost noble in its way, but undercut by his equally cocky and adventurous determination to ‘show the world’ what America could ‘do’ – he was personally a perfect fit for American expansion, having willfully developed from a childish weakling to a more robust maturity (physically, at least) and – in a way not fully realized these days – having been too young to have participated in the ‘glory’ and ‘heroism’ of Union service in the increasingly hallowed Civil War.

Wilson’s almost maniacal self-importance led that gentleman, not twenty years later, to maneuver the U.S. into the Great War, on the pretext of warring to end all war, a Herculean task for which he felt himself most peculiarly and gloriously suited. A massive growth of government control over the American citizenry followed, symbolized perhaps by the rise of an obscure government clerk of curious sexual proclivity to become the head of a nascent Federal Bureau of Investigation.

FDR had to face the monstrous results of unbridled financial shenanigans by the propertied classes, now far and away mutated beyond the wealthy but educated landowners of the Founding era. The Depression raised the possibility that the ‘demos’ would rise up against the government that had failed to serve them in equity and justice, and yet FDR’s efforts actually resulted in a plot by the propertied to overthrow him (recently described by Alan Nasser on Counterpunch, “FDR’s Response to the Plot to Overthrow Him”, October 3-5, 2008); the plotters miscalculated by approaching then-famous Marine general Smedley Butler, who – in an act of civic courage not recently seen among the starred-set – reported the whole thing to the President, who nipped the plot in the bud, though he then quietly avoided exposing the assorted Rockefellers, Mellons, Pews, Duponts, and Heinzes and others who were behind the thing. Present Beltway approval of large detention camps and private military forces, as well as a militarized police, may not have simply jumped full-blown from the fetid minds of the Bush banditti. Absent Smedley Butler, it can be wondered how the Marines will behave themselves this time around.

The American citizenry, it is to be recalled, put up with a lot of tough times without recourse to overthrowing the government. Leaving the glorious wealthy – as a matter of historical fact – as the greatest threat to the constitutional government of the United States since the secession of the Confederacy. Lest We forget. In fact, since the Confederates saw themselves not as overthrowing the U.S. government, but rather as starting their own government, then the very-rich go to the top of the 'dangerous' column. Bets on whether Bush has put them on any lists?

Johnson notes that Wolin has termed Our present monstrous challenge “inverted totalitarianism”. By this Wolin means that instead of the overt imperialist and fascist governments of the last century, wherein the government took control and flaunted itself as having done so, the present ‘totalitarianism’ that has been brewing is sort of a ‘button-down’ affair whereby the now-engorged networks of corporations exercise control over the government and – with touching respect for the temper of the times – do so ‘benevolently’, as merely the next logical step in the working-out of America’s historical destiny to bring peace and freedom to all the world and closure to all its victims.

I had mentioned not long ago, following Walter Karp’s discussion of the years 1976-1988 in his “Liberty Under Siege”, that it was the Democratic leadership’s revulsion at Carter’s populist plans that caused them to undercut him – a President of their own Party – so as to preserve their own power. And with that, the Democratic erection of PACs, both to ensure their cash sources (the almost-immediate fracturing resulting from Identity Politics having convinced them that they wouldn’t be able to rely on donations from large numbers of voters) and to assure the corporations that they had a friend in the Democratic Party.

I’d add that by that time, it was already clear that America’s industrial capacity was falling both in relative and absolute terms and if there was to be any ‘economy’ at all, it would have to be whatever ‘business’ the corporations – and then the lords of the F.I.R.E. sector – decided to carry on, in whatever fashion they chose to do so. Reagan’s election in 1980 only intensified this dynamic.

“Market forces”, shrewdly and intensely advertised, began to drive Our national activity. And not in ways that would help the little people, the ‘demos’. The requirement then became for a citizenry that was really nothing more than a corporate workforce, taking its orders and settling for whatever wage it was decided to give them. The expansion of ‘credit’ in the 1980s allowed ‘ordinary people’ to buy luxuries and foreign cars while simultaneously keeping up the appearance that the great trajectory of American financial wealth and power for all its people was continuing – with Reagan’s MGM-ish stage management – even as the citizenry were being debauched into a modern-day enserfment.

But it was all smoke and mirrors – or, more literally, paper.

And in an echo of McKinley, who engineered the American ‘Griff nach der Weltmacht’ with the lubricant of God’s will to Freedom and Democracy, the now-debauched government continued its overseas machinations for expanded financial vitality under the banner of ‘humanitarian intervention’, saving the ‘victims’ overseas as it was riding to the rescue of ‘victims’ at home. Unlike at home, however, the erstwhile ‘victims’ overseas quickly figured out what was going on – and began shooting back.

Just as the ‘paper tiger’ (to think that Mao got that right, at least) began to choke on its paper.

Thus Our present situation.

The whole of the New Deal has been disassembled, not through outright class war but through the “selective abdication” of the government for the well-being of The People, and since the early 1970s behind the massive dust-clouds raised by the hardly-clear demands of the Identities, which were then also incorporated into the cloak by which “inverted totalitarianism” has continued to subvert the Republic and The People.


And in that regard, this country’s incomprehensible imprisonment rate, and the insinuation of ‘registries’ and restrictions of all sorts imposed on the utterly fabricated category of ‘sex offenders’ can be seen as merely the first-phase tests to establish a larger and more thorough control over the activities of The People, and as a mechanism for guaranteeing the acquiescence of The People in whatever it is that the corporate-government decides.

This is not an encouraging state of affairs. We are “meanly losing” this Republic, just as Lincoln feared. Just as Franklin intimated when he said that We had “a democracy – if you can keep it”. It may well be that this generation cannot “keep it”. And what may be lost on Our watch can never be regained.

Indeed, Johnson seems to feel that Wolin’s proposals at the end of his book are insufficient to save the situation. He says that “once the United States has followed the classical totalitarianisms into the dustbins of history, Wolin’s analysis will stand as one of the best discourses on where we went wrong”.


It seems to me that the first key change has to be disconnecting Congress from its enwhorement to corporate cash: repeal – by popular referendum or Constitutional Amendment if Congress can’t muster the character to do it legislatively – the PACs. A PAC is not a vehicle for individual ‘free speech’; it is a legal vehicle for bribing Congress away from its sworn allegiance and responsibility. Of course, the Supreme Court might reconsider its approval of the PAC – and I am loathe to presume that the Court cannot ‘find itself’ after its initial collaboration with the insidious forces corrupting Us. Slowly, now, the State Supreme Courts are even starting to put the brakes on the sex-offender mania, so who knows what is possible for jurists who can exercise reason and independence?

And in the matter of Law, I think it is also essential to worry about the militarization of Law – on top of so much else – in Our society. The military justice approach – an official ‘arm’ of the command, guided by the supreme objective that the ‘command’ will ‘win’ any case – has migrated into civilian law with noxious effects. The gravamen of the Patriot Act and all its spawn is not at all abhorrent to the military system, a hierarchical, top-down organization completely trained to obey orders and achieve that ‘victory’; no other consideration can be allowed to override that prime objective, to interfere with the hierarchy’s definition of ‘victory’ or its achievement. And that organizing-to-win destroys the checks-and-balances wisely and uniquely built into the system of adversarial justice. And it becomes militarized justice. And militarization is no guarantee of success, as We are seeing on the Eastern Front.

The second key change is to re-establish the independence of the media: no more centralization of ownership of large numbers of outlets, no more treating media outlets as ‘cash cows’ or ‘cost and profit centers’ for corporate owners that have no expertise in, or dedication to, the role of ‘the press’ in a free society.

By these two changes – if quickly effected – We can start getting accurate information and then start making Our mind known to a Congress that actually relies on Us rather than on corporate paymasters.

The danger remains that the dubiously grounded and toxic agitprop of the Identities – hiding under the oxymoronic “radical politics” of the past few decades – will simply be revived by those Identities and their engorged Advocacies, and thus the huge mistake following ’68 will be repeated.

And this is where We must exercise the common will to assert once again FDR’s ringing affirmation: “We are Americans”. Not black or white, not male or female, not ‘oppressed’ or ‘victims’ – but Americans, responsible for the flawed but marvelous gifts of the Republic and the Constitution.

So if you’re not planning to do much shopping this holiday season, I think there’s still a lot that could usefully occupy your time and energies. And if under the tree at Christmas there are not so many gifts, but there is the Constitution and the Republic in the flush of “a new birth of freedom”, well I’d say it’s a gift worth giving. Or getting back again.

Only a certain number of shopping days left now.

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