Wednesday, November 05, 2008

THE ELECTION

Obama has won. It was the only rational choice We had at this point.

We may allow Ourselves a brief moment of rejoicing.

But I look back to a very clearly remembered moment 8 years ago when I heard that nobody really knew who had won. On top of everything else, the election-system was now going wonky. Only recently do We find out that it wasn’t ‘wonky’, it was being deliberately jiggered. Like the economy. If only the Beltway shrewdies had been as successful in trying to jigger history and reality. But of course, history and reality fought back – and well – every place.

Every place but here. Everybody fought back. Except Us. We let ‘history’ and ‘reality’ be defined by those who were shrewd enough to manipulate Us. When Our own elected politicians began to treat Us like advertisers’ herds, simply waiting to be penned or stampeded or marched across the desert – when that happened, things began to go really bad. Reely, reely baaad. Until now.

This is a huge Moment in American History. As I’ve said before, Obama assumes the Presidency (and he is frakking NOT Our ‘commander in chief’; only the Army and the Navy and the federalized Guard can call him that) facing as great a challenge as Lincoln. The country is long gone toward coming apart, has hugely loosened at the seams, and along multiple axes of fracture.

Identity politics and all its pomps and all its works has wrought terrible damage to the American sense of communion and commonality, hence to Our commonwealth and Our common weal. But all of that damage, after 40 years so deeply incised into the body politic and the body social and the body cultural, served as well to mask the return of an ancient foe: Greed and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.

Whatever justifications and encomia its adherents and hangers-on may seek to wreathe upon it, Identity Politics never did consider and cannot now address the greatest danger that the Founding generation clearly foresaw in their darkest nightmares: the degeneration of the Republic and its democracy into an Oligarchy.

And this degeneration has taken place under the cover of 40 years of agitprop masquerading as ‘liberation’ and democratic politics. And on top of the dangers inherent in a militarized national government (also a danger foreseen by the Founders), the Malefactors of Great Wealth have returned and taken up their old places, and Our last condition is now worst than the first.

This President-elect faces huge challenges, and fulfilling the dampdreams of Identity-Politics are hardly among the most urgent. To let Our attention drift to the soapish agitations of decades past is to ‘fight the last war’ and worse; We saw this a year and more ago when the new President of Harvard, being not male, celebrated a ‘victory’ in a bad war of decades before, declaring that her main goals would be to ‘increase diversity’ and work for gender rights. This, when her Law School and her Business School were still flooding the Beltway with toxic minions, when the economy was teetering toward a now-realized meltdown, and the war policy of the Beltway banditti was driving Us toward the fate of Rome and the Soviet Union.

Whether her recent undergraduates can accurately place Lincoln or Rome or the Soviet Union in their correct eras or provide even a one-paragraph précis of their significance is anybody’s guess.

I have said (borrowing from Churchill) that We might allow Ourselves a brief moment of rejoicing. The media are continuing down their well-trodden paths, calling this a great victory in some variation of the Identity Politics vision. At the very least, what Obama will need to 'change' is not the past eight, but the past sixteen, years' worth of 'policy' and 'business as usual'.

But it is or should be hugely sobering that the popular vote in this great victory broke 51-48. There are still many many citizens who did not vote for him and thought – God knows how – that McCain would have been a better President. Or perhaps that any white man is better than a black man as President; but I don’t really think that there are still that many 1950s-type Southerners around.

There are a lot of reasons for that 48%, and simply casting them all as ‘racist’ or ‘backlashers’ is going to avoid the complexities of American politics and the citizenry’s concerns now as it has for almost four decades.

The economy has yet to hit bottom and there may be a depression and this whole mess may go on for several years; and at the end of the time America might emerge as Britain emerged from World War 2, and I don’t think that that’s a challenge that any of the currently ambulatory cohorts of Our citizenry are prepared to manage, let alone master. For sixty years American youth have grown up in a country that was ‘Number 1’, whose economy – in real or perceived terms – was either ‘expanding’ or ‘bound to expand’, and a culture that considered itself the cutting edge of an eternally progressing Western cultural ascendancy.

We are in a multi-front war and not winning on either of them, and at this stage cannot afford to stick around until We do ‘win’ them – for which in any case there is no effective strategic definition. If indeed the military incursions into the Middle East were themselves simply a ploy to get America a place at the new ‘table’ in the casino of the Great Game – just as McKinley’s picked fight with Spain over Cuba was a pretext for grabbing the Philippines – then We can only sit at the table now with borrowed money, perhaps using the threat of military force – America’s last still-functioning industry – to do what diplomatic and economic muscle can no longer do.

More essentially – from the point of view of the Republic itself – Congress (Gongress, if you wish) is composed almost completely of cohorts who have never known a time without PACs, and never experienced an electorate that could not be distracted with the alarums of ‘culture wars’ and thus would not be focused and united enough to hold them to account for exercising with at least a modicum of disinterested seriousness their sworn responsibility as elected legislators. Their freedom of action to discharge their responsibilities is gravely compromised not only by their dependence on PAC money but also by the weight of their own deeply entrenched habits of mind and their – you should pardon the expression – ‘philosophy’ of what their role in modern American governance really is.

And surely, the malign, treacherous, and perhaps fatal influence of the PAC called AIPAC - shilling for an American war-ad-infinitum-on-many-fronts - cannot be excluded from the Augean list.

The President-elect has made numerous statements designed to re-assure them and their corporate paymasters that ‘business’ – such as it is – will continue as usual. In that sense, they will expect a ‘return to normalcy’ that will cast him as some combination of Harding and Coolidge, even as the Identities expect him to now ram along their still-unfulfilled agendas as if he were a combination of Lincoln, LBJ, and whatever they think Bobby Kennedy might have been had he lived to occupy the Oval Office.

Whether he intends to be bound by all those promises – express or implied – and whether if he doesn’t so intend he has the personal and political chops to embark on a rather different course … is very much the question. Carter was hamstrung by Tip O’Neill, who then sold himself and his Party colleagues both to the corporations and to the Republicans, who were in the process of self-degenerating under the guidance of Lee Atwater, whose professional spawn bethump Us still.

Mr. Biden has been a player in the tawdry Capitol Hill game for his entire career and knows nothing else. Whether he can – or will want to – assist in seriously addressing the great tasks lying before them and all of Us … is another question.

And whether We can pull together sufficiently to once again make Our interests heard on Capitol Hill is another question. The Advocacies of the Identities are not speaking for the interests of the American common weal and We have no time now to regret ever assuming that they were.

It’s been a long sixty years. This nation has made some stupendously bad calls.

The incoming Administration will indeed be ‘historic’. It will be the first Administration ever to preside in an America that is in clearly visible trouble and – it has to be said – decline. So much remains to be done.

That should be enough ‘history’ for anybody.

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