As I suspect a lot of us are experiencing, some of my closest friends like Bob Redford and Babs Striesland are convincved the world is going to end tomorrow or on election day or whenever the next planeload of homosexual-lesbian-Ebola-Carrier-Central-American-ISIL supported Islamo-Narco-Fiat Money-Bums lands in McAllen Texas and heads north to steal our precious body fluids. Or, perhaps when the next set of Troglodyte-Fascist-1%-Libertarian-Anti-school-Lunch-pro-gun-Creationist-Koch-Soul-Brother-Malefactors (of great wealth) enter Congress and the White House and the Supreme Court. Or, on Election Day. And only a vote for Jean Shaheen or that Iowan Pig Castrator, for Bernie Sanders' or Ted Cruz's favorite can save us so SEND US ALL YOUR MONEY.
Citizens United --One of the obvious unintended consequences, because I don't think the Conservative Cabal on the Court is that ironically subtle, of Citizens United is that Americans are getting more and more irritated with politics in general and election politics in specific. It's really a sad commentary -- the people doing this or allowing it to be done in their name are then going to have to have a complete psychological and spiritual makeover in order to not be totally incapable of working for the good of the nation or people or world through debate, discussion, imagination and compromise. There are Think Tanks and Special Interests to serve, because the next election is coming...and it starts all over again.
When I saw the Ted Toles cartoon, I realized that he'd nailed the situation in this country for those of us over 40, who grew up on 5:00 PM and Saturday Morning cartoons. I suspect that I'm not the only one who realizes that while much of my thinking might be influenced by priests and nuns, the Founding Fathers, St Augustine, Aristotle and Kierkegaard, Kennedy's Inaugural and Assassination, Vietnam and Watergate, the real drivers of my education were Bugs, and Daffy, and Foghorn Leghorn, and Rocky and Bullwinkle and Popeye and Alice the Goon. However, the real existential fifth columnist was the Road Runner and his ceaseless Sisyphean encounters with his stalker, the Wiley Coyote. What can I say -- the great cartoonists of the mid-2oth Century were literate social commentators who wrote for an audience far more sophisticated than the one today.
And so it goes; we are now faced with a set of situations that require cool thinking, steely determination and self-sacrifice with a more than a little bit of compassion and a combination of life experience and education that was pretty normal then, and is really lacking today. We have politicians instead of statesmen, who are like the Coyote, trying to bag that damned Coyote with the same level of tools, thought and commitment. We have presidents, candidates, and congressional delegations that flit around from idea to idea, problem to problem, issue to issue with the same causal negligence of the road runner. We have "leaders" from the school of Foghorn Leghorn and Fearless Leader; policy wonks like Henry the Chickenhawk and Wimpy; volunteer saviors who resemble Bullwinkle and Dudley Doright, Nell and Clementine. Texas is governed by Quick Draw McGraw who figures that he can go to a marvelous hospital and get marvelous treatment so of course, everybody can because they can all pay for it...yeah. We have a "war hero" Ghost who's response to international problems is the same as Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent -- MORE MOREMOREMORE BPMBS! Jesus could look down over the hill on this new Jerusalem and be torn, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
If I were Barrack Obama, I'd feel justified in asking God what the hell I'd ever done to him that merited this whirlwind of insanity. I think that smart, thoughtful presidents in the 21st Century aare at an awful disadvantage politically, and have been really since the Kennedy assassination. The guy is trying to do good things, but the world doesn't cooperate. It can't -- it's the world and consists of a lot of insane people with guns, money, lawyers, ski masks and a mass of contradictory hidden agendas and open manifestos. In some ways, ISIL is a nice change -- they don't have a secret agenda, they're pretty open. They don't report to the same God that most of us recognize in the 21st Century. A couple of Islamic friends from Teheran have told me that they regard ISIL as not Islamic but Satanist. I think that's a reasonable approach, not unlike the Pope condemning violence in the name of God. However, the fact remains that both Christianity and Islam grew by force, so there's at least a historical connection. The Crusaders killed more innocents in taking Jerusalem than the Romans did in razing it in 78AD or so. Still, they may call him Allah, but I think they worship Cthulhu or some other very dark overlord with a completely different agenda.
This is a good place to mention empire. We don't want an empire and yet history has handed us one. We really don't want to be bothered with the damn thing. Seriously, we'd like to say, we already have too many creatures in our petting zoo, go off and play with Canada or somebody else. Of course, Canada doesn't want an empire either. However, my buddy and occasional co-conspirator Eric Garland has a great piece up on the problem of denying empire in a situation that really makes empires make sense. It's laudable in some ways while hypocritical in others, denying the desire to run thingsto avoid taking responsibility, but then when everything goes to hell, we find ourselves going in to unscrew everything and then rebuild it. Since we planned on leaving Iraq and Afghanistan from the beginning, we didn't pay a lot of attention to making the places livable and functional. Oh, we spent money, and KBR, Haliburton and every other contractor swine in the world made money on it. Cheney made money on it, although nobody likes to talk about that. The Bush family through the Carlisle Group made money on it. Problem is, the money they made came from us and future generations of us. We can't even loot effectively in this silly model.
Eric is pretty clear; doing things in a half-assed way produces a half-assed result. The West needs to man up and decide what it wants to be when it grows up, and empires have been the solution since ancient Egypt and the freaking Sumerians. As a species we got pretty good at it, and what we're doing now doesn't work. Eric sums it up very nicely...
There is, unsurprisingly, zero endgame in sight and zero reckoning with past policies, such as, “Hey, maybe those moderate rebels we armed weren’t so moderate!” or “We are pretty terrible at establishing peaceful nation-states in the Middle East!” Still, we are headed back to destroy the thing that emerged after the last thing we destroyed. The tactics that are currently approved are airstrikes, meaning that once again we intend to destroy things, but building things will be beyond our purview – for now. One supposes that the preferred strategic outcome would be for stable, liberal, Western-style democratic nation-states to emerge in the places where our bombs just fell, (Jeffersonian Democracy anyway? Hamiltonian Federalism? The Third French Republic? )but the national security is far from broaching the particulars of our plan. I have a solution to offer which is out of the current Overton Window of political discourse: Empire...Today, America and its allies are really trying to do Empire on the cheap. There is no dirtier epithet in Washington than “isolationist,” which applies to all elected officials and policy-makers who are hesitant about invading other people’s countries. There is a broad consensus from Maine to San Diego that America’s interests clearly extend from our main streets all the way to the middle of Eurasia....And when they fail, as they usually will given such a design, we will be right back to bombing the newest bad guys. We essentially crave the geopolitical control that comes from Empire, but we skip the step where we keep the infrastructure working and provide security...Again, this has fallen outside of the window of political correctness, but someone needs to do a cost benefit analysis of how much it would cost to just run one of these countries, administer police, courts, roads, and hospitals and just call it East Texas, as opposed to spending thirteen years knocking down power structures and hoping for a suitable, friendly power to emerge. Surely the Rand Corporation can make a detailed model of the cost of running wars versus the cost of running countries. (Parentheticals and emphasis are mine.)
(To be continued)