The gerbil in charge of my brain on Fridays has decided not to go long on Imagination today, so I am following the thoughts of The Anchoress, adding my own impressions and inviting our readers to do the same. The Anchoress’ fine article is here, and basically it addresses how things have changed since 1977. The Anchoress is herself building on a piece at CBS by Dick Meyer, but I see no reason to advertise for a Communist agent if I can avoid it, so that’s all I will say here about CBS. Basically both Meyer and The Anchoress are discussing what they call Civic Immaturity, and frankly I chuckle at the notion that this is something new; I’ve certainly seen this before, but never mind, the topic is worth discussing.
People have been nasty about politics for as long as the word has existed. I remember reading quite a bit about what the media of their day had to say about President Lincoln, about President Truman, about President Adams. It has been quite common, even within their own political party, for accusations of incompetence, malfeasance, even treason, to be leveled against one person by another person or group. It seems to me that to some extent we are fooling ourselves to believe that people have changed to such a degree that anyone may expect to be treated with respect and decorum. What seems to have changed, however, is how the mainstream disrespect manifests itself, and for that, I think I have a different answer than Mr. Meyer or The Anchoress. Simply put, look at what has changed, most significantly, in the United States since 1977; It is no longer unreasonable or impractical to serve the public with a Conservative worldview. The reaction to this sea change has been hostile and bitter, in the extreme, and this can best be seen in the treatment and expectations of the President.
In 1964, life was good for a Democrat and for liberal policy advocates everywhere in America. The Democrats controlled Congress, held the courts in ideological orbit, and Democrats had won 7 of the last 9 Presidential elections (4 by FDR, then Truman, Kennedy and LBJ one apiece, against only Eisenhower’s two wins). In addition, Johnson’s last victory was a landslide by any measure, and so it appeared that nothing would happen to change that condition, least of all that the hated Richard Nixon would show his face on the national level again. By 1977, a few bumps had occurred, so that Republicans could now claim 4 wins in the last 11 elections, but with Nixon having been forced to resign, control by the Left appeared even more sure than ever. Then it all came tumbling down.
In 1980 President Carter became the first sitting President running for re-election in a general election to lose since Hoover. In 1984 Reagan won an even bigger landslide, slamming home the fact that America could get behind a Conservative leader. When Reagan’s Vice-President, George H.W. Bush, won in 1988 in an electorally-impressive fashion, the GOP could claim 5 wins in the last 6 elections, and 7 of the last 10. The Republicans effectively owned the rights to the White House. This was one reason for the emergence of the ‘Must Hate Bush’ pandemic; the destruction of the Liberal Dominance Myth.
A campaign of smear tactics, media misinformation to attack the President, and a false face for the public allowed Bill Clinton to claim the White House in 1992, in a fashion not unlike the way Nixon took it in 1968. While Clinton was able to win two terms, he never managed a popular majority of the vote, and never established a commanding sense that he was in control of the issues or the policies. Bill Clinton sort of rode the flow and played for the public, like a stand-up comedian hoping not to get booed off the stage. So a great deal depended on the 2000 election, whether another Democrat would get a shot to actually do more than sit in the office, or else whether the public would put the Republicans again in the White House. The election was controversial, but in historical terms the focus was decided by the events of 9/11. Essentially, one either understood the significance of 9/11 and supported President Bush, or else one went into prolonged denial and gradually (some not so gradually) lost sense of reality. Such dementia is evident by the repeated denial that the election counted, demands for impeachment on the grounds of Presidential actions directly authorized by Congress, or fantasy films which misportrayed historical events or fantasized about assassination.
When President Bush was re-elected in 2004 by several million votes, the effect on the political sphere of existence was to amplify and polarize existing fights and bias. The dementia I noted earlier has reached such a detachment from reality, that President Bush is now being blamed for events and effects which he could not possibly control or affect, and he remains the object of intense personal hatred, the fact that he will never run for any public office again having completely missed the comprehension of the haters.
Moving forward, it is difficult to know what sort of results in the 2008 Presidential election would serve to relieve this condition. Democrats are expecting a great deal, as if the wins in the House and Senate in 2006 will guarantee a White House win in 2008. Certainly there is something to the so-called ‘political party fatigue’, yet it should also be understood that the 2008 election will be held in the context of the Democrats’ actions in control of Congress for two years. The public will like, dislike, or be apathetic to the actions of the Democrats’ Congress, but if fatigue plays a role, it could well hurt the Democrats more than the Republicans. Also, there is a reason why the GOP has won seven of the last ten Presidential elections, and some of that reason – frankly – is that few of the Democrats’ offerings for the race have struck Americans as a good leader. While the Republicans have shown a similar failing at times, at the Executive level only the Democrats can consistently blow their opportunities so often. But in any case, it is difficult to imagine that a Democrat President aligned with a Democrat Congress would care to even make the slightest attempt at respecting his colleagues on the other side of the aisle. And if the Republicans continue to hold the Oval Office, the feuding and bitterness is bound to continue, especially if the GOP begins reclaiming Congressional and Senate seats.
It’s ugly, and it’s going to stay ugly, is how I see it.