Friday, March 9, 2012
All right. I’m done with political predictions. I was wrong when I said Mitt Romney would wrap it up on Super Tuesday, but I still think he’ll get the nomination eventually, and that no one will seriously threaten that. Tuesday night on MSNBC the commentators were in a particularly good mood. I wondered for a second why they were reporting the doings of the Dark Side with such enthusiasm, bordering on giggly bravado. Then I realized that of course they’re happy. The longer this clown show goes on, and the crazier the Republican Party gets before it finally gets behind someone, the better it will be for the incumbent. Well, let’s hope so.
Where I’ve erred is not so much in terms of understanding who will eventually get the nod from the GOP to run against Obama. My mistake has been in drastically overestimating the power of the Republicans to police themselves and put together an organized campaign for the presidency. Could it really be that this party, which has had such a fearful and mendacious grip on the country since 1980, whether its president is in office or not, is starting to come apart at the seams? Such things do happen when power becomes too entrenched, but I hesitate to feel very confident of it. Certainly they continue to have a decent hold on the airwaves. I wonder whether their most valuable asset—the easy boredom of the public that has let them simplify their message to a few infantile refrains—has finally become their undoing.
Then I think again. Without a doubt the legacy of the Republicans remains intact, and strong, and will be there no matter who wins in November. Obama’s victory in 2008, in fact, has proved to be only the hesitant promise of change so far. The legislature stays in the hands of the most venal and conservative elements in the nation, even when they operate as a minority, as in the Senate. What we now take for granted—the naked prerogatives of the wealthy and of big business to comport themselves as they see fit without any checks by the government, and the complete insinuation of radical right-wing Christianity into the national debate—will not change any time soon. Only those of us old enough to remember such shining beacons of rationality and progressivism as the graduated income tax, the Warren Court, the Civil Rights Movement, and Roe v. Wade will ever know the difference. Younger folks will only feel, as they seem to do, the vague sense of unease that has produced the Occupy Movement, a mishmash of discontent signifying relatively little, with great potential as yet unleashed because it has no single solidifying issue other than malaise. It is like a child’s tantrum, which the parents (smarter now than the parents of a generation or two ago) wisely and indulgently allow to go on until it is finally spent.
The lessons this country learned from the Vietnam War have been solid ones—not with respect to the foolishness of military adventurism, to be sure, but in terms of how to handle unrest at home so as not to create a situation where the whims of the public can interfere with national policy. First and foremost, the government must control the press and if possible get them on board. Embed them. Make them feel as if they’re part of the team. It doesn’t hurt that the press of the 21st Century came of age during the right-wing revolution of the Reagan Administration and doesn’t know the difference. If the media feel they are important to the war effort they will bend over backward to report favorably on the war. Propaganda is essential here. No one believes their own bullshit as much as the news media do. Just give them the right crap to disseminate and the job is done. The second lesson is don’t draft anybody if at all possible, and keep the body count down. That one is simple. Third, honor the returning soldiers, whether they're alive or dead. Never mind how much it might insult the intelligence of even the dullest of wits, tell the nation that every national guardsman and jarhead who comes back from the bumpy, mine-laden roads of Iraq and Afghanistan is a HERO, who has been over there PROTECTING OUR FREEDOM. Thank them profusely. It was this lack of thanks that disgruntled so many Vietnam vets. Today, in addition to the sober pronouncements of the news heads, it’s the little products of the propaganda machine, like the fawning banners hanging on small town streets, lauding the unfortunates who have no option but to serve in the military, that help to maintain support for and fuel our country’s permanent volunteer imperialist army, fighting endless wars to maintain the Pax Americana, propped up heroically by stable dictatorships all over the world. Looking back, it’s really hard to believe that news reporters actually helped to sow discontent for the war in Vietnam. Today they are, in a manner reminiscent of the era of the all-out effort of World War II, simply tools of the government, endlessly repeating a Big Lie--in the present case that the systematic hunting and killing of Muslims somehow protects the United States from selective airline hijackings. There’s a bizarre disconnect there that few people have ever commented on publicly.
The final lesson from the mistakes of Vietnam is to ignore the protesters to the greatest extent possible. If you take them seriously they might start to take themselves more seriously and organize better and around specific candidates, and the press will eventually pick up on that and the next thing you know a bunch of kids will be telling the country what to do and what not to do, which we all know is a bad idea, because for the most part kids don’t have a lot of money or property and are filled with idealism. For now, fortunately, there’s no real coherent politics involved in the Occupy Movement, just a few slogans, and furthermore, they've focused mostly on domestic issues, primarily because they just don't know much about what we're doing in other countries.
Extremely important to this entire effort, and never to be minimized, is the fact that almost every person in American now possesses a hand-held info-tainment device whose power to draw attention away from anything meaningful cannot be overestimated. In some places, like in the Arab world, these little i-thingies have been the very instruments of revolution, allowing otherwise disenfranchised and heavily censored people to tweet and twit and blog their way to organized opposition, and tell the outside world what’s going on. But not here, never here. We’re not the people who tell the world how messed up things are where we live; we’re the people other people tell things to. When we seem to the rest of the world to be complaining we get reminded that we’re far wealthier and freer to spout off than they are and should therefore be thankful. And we (quite rightly) host a constant stream of the wretched refuse of various teeming shores who, compared to us, really are a lot worse off. We’re like a person who runs a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or a home for battered women, whose own life might be falling apart but who is nonetheless better off than the people he serves. And we do have games and apps to keep us busy.
How did I get from Mitt Romney and his party to this point? I’m asking myself the same question. But look here. Maybe the Republicans can’t get it together enough to rally around a single viable candidate for the same reason or reasons the Occupy Movement can’t gather much steam in any pertinent direction. Perhaps the answer is that our phone gadgets and the many instant opportunities for entertainment throughout the day have robbed us of the need, or the will, to be mentally organized around an issue or a handful of issues. Poor and middle class people are losing money to the wealthy, and poor kids are going to war, but how bad can that really be when we can instantly post our frustrations on Facebook or just forget about them and play Word Whomp or FarmVille instead? Aren’t the Republicans prey to the same technological seductions as the Occupiers? They know they’re discontented and they sense that the government is somehow not behaving the way they want it to and is too sympathetic to people whose skin isn’t the right color. But they don’t really have any idea of what to do about it, other than to conduct an endless series of debates, hoping some ideas and issues will shake out. And how really steamed up can they get when at the end of the day they can just tweet their frustrations for all their fans to see? Perhaps eventually the voters will ease this crop of Republicans into the background the way the city fathers shooed the encamped protesters away from their parks and from in front of their public buildings.
And everyone will just go home and blog about it.