Thursday, January 26, 2006

The hesitant return of the Irate Codger

It's been six months since the Irate Codger last bestirred himself to rant, bellow, hector, and shriek in distress at the state of the world, his lot in it, and the fact that bestriding the globe and looming over all of us from the moment we awaken every morning and turn on NPR or the BBC is that malignant collosus, George W. Bush, whose presidency still has just a few days short of /three years /to go. And it's been more than a year since the old complainer was last in the habit of sounding off every few weeks. I'm out of voice and, after all the horrors of the last year, not so much irate as deeply miserable and terribly pessimistic. Rocks seem to fall on our heads and stun us anew every day.

I offer as an example the news that Bush, Rove, and most of the GOP are convinced that Bush's flouting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's requirement that a warrant be sought from the secret surveillance court for a domestic wiretap, and the Democrats' protest that this is illegal and unconstitutional, establish grounds for a big win for the administration and the Republican party, and, what's more, that early polls seem to show that they're probably right! Stupid me, I was dumbstruck when David Brooks blithely asserted this on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer a week or two ago. "Sure, the coastal blue states will holler," he said, "but in the red heartland, folks care a lot more about security than 'civil liberties,' and the president's stand will resonate with them." "Surely not!" I thought. Then, remembering Homeland Security and Max Cleland, "Damn, can it be that this smirkiing sonofabitch is not just spinning; that he's /right? /Yes, it can."

When the /Nation/ arrives in the mail, I always first turn to Katha Pollitt for principled and sober yet lively good sense and reassurance. The week after Kerry's defeat, for example, Katha advised against ganging up on the hapless Kerry. He'd run a dispirited but "honorable" campaign, she said (well, "honorable" only in the sense, I thought, that he hadn't demagogued) and, anyway, whom would we have preferred? Dennis Kucinich? "I admire Howard Dean," she said, "but face it, the Bush spin machine would have shredded him in a week," and one had glumnly to admit that she was right. So, in the Nation of Jan 9/16 '06, Katha looks back at 2005 in a column titled "It Wasn't All Bad." "Keeping you cheerful is part of my job," the dear woman writes. Let's look at the bright side: the Bush administration is on the defensive, the Republicans are mired in corruption and cronyism, the media are waking up [are they indeed?], Evo Morales won in Bolivia, Schwarzenegger's ballot initiatives went down in flames...

OK, but we still have three more years of Bush, and Roberts and Alito are going to take the Supreme Court all the way right, trashing the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment and the establishment clause of the First, turning the commerce clause of Article One, Sec. 8 back to 1935, dooming environmental law, expanding the "takings' clause of the Fifth, and what's that silly stuff in Article 2 about the executive having to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" among friends? Think of it, we're going to have five Catholics, a majority, on the Court, and these are not Catholics like Ted Kennedy, Leahy, and Durbin, but Cardinal Ratzinger Catholics, with the possible exception of the sometimes sane Anthony Kennedy, Catholics for whom Paul's epistle to the Romans forms the bedrock foundation of our jurisprudence!

Let's think for a moment (the subject is too frightful to linger over) about the "legacy" of the George W. Bush administration. This is not just the worst administration in the history of this republic, it's the worst by miles. What other even begins to compare to it? Harding's? Not even close. Harding, after all, appointed two distinguished men to his cabinet, Herbert Hoover and Charles Evans Hughes, and he not only pardoned Gene Debs, but invited him to the White House.(One feels sympathy for the garrulous old boy, banging Nan Britton in a White House broom closet.) Herbert Hoover? He looks bad only in comparison to FDR. I doubt that any of his predecessors would have done as much to combat the Great Depression as he did (RFC, the Commodity Stabilization Boards, "pump priming" on public works). You can go through the unlucky and unhappy ones (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Hoover) and the nullities (Fillmore, Arthur, Ford), the wicked one (Nixon), and who rivals Dubya? I'd say Reagan, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, the latter two servile copperhead Democrats in the pocket of the Slave Power whose treachery contributed hugely to the coming of the Civil War.

But presidents a century and a half ago, however bad they might be, had very limited powers to do wrong. Now, the mischief a low, cunning, lying rascal in the White House can accomplish is, as we see, world-dooming. Everything this administration touches---Afghanistan, Iraq, the IRS, NASA, the EPA, the FDA, Medicare, /everything/---/ /turns to shit, and it touches almost everything.

Change of subject and hasty conclusion. I'm made glum every time I see in the /New York Times Book Review/ that Tom Friedman's /The World is Flat/ has been holding its own at number three or four in the Best Sellers list for almost a year. It seems it will be around as long as /The Bridges of Madison County/ or /A Boy Called It./ Who reads it? I imagine they're business executives who turn to it on long flights when they tire of their desktops, getting the inside dope on how to stay abreast or even ahead of those bright boys in Bangalore, Singapore, and Shanghai. Tom the hot tipster. The unchallenged master of the perfectly fatuous epiphany. In today's paper his column is "Osama at the Kit Kat Club." Why is it so titled? Because Tom's "gut reaction" to bin Laden's latest statement is that he sounds like a "burned-out rock star" recycling his greatest hits in some seedy club. "If I seem to be taking this a tad lightly, it is because I'm certain that bin Laden is hurting right now." See, the guy is now almost irrelevant, "and while he still has some following, I don't think so many Arabs and Muslims are naming their sons 'Osama' anymore." Man, those crazy Arabs are/ hurting/, dig? History's on our side, see, if only Bush doesn't screw things up!

Malcolm Gladwell produced the /profound insight/ of 2005 in his best-selling book /Blink/, that, as I gather, "studies have shown"--as the phrase has it--that our first thought upon any subject is often uncannily accurate, and that further cogitation is likely to lead us away from the truth rather than closer to it. This would seem to confirm the rightness of Friedman's abiding faith in his "gut instinct" or "gut reaction" in response to almost anything. Except that Friedman's gut is as unpredictable, even to himself, as random, as wayward as the I-Ching or a Ouija board. And these brainstorms are so evanescent! He has at least one a week, and each of them in turn erases the last. Whatever happened, for example, to his nomination a few months ago of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for the Nobel Peace Prize?

I think it's better to write this stuff down, put it in a bottle, and cast it into the current from my desert island at 4032 Crown Point Drive, than simply to fume silently every day.

Cheers, whoever might read this. Ned