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A Foolish Consistency

The Government You Deserve

by JOHN CHUCKMAN

It has been said that people pretty much get the government they deserve. There is more than a little justice in the observation.

Pat Buchanan has given a last-minute endorsement to George Bush’s re-election. One is tempted to class his words, qualified as they are, with the grovelings of John McCain at Bush rallies.

After spending a couple of years successfully peddling columns attacking Bush for repeating the bloody stupidity of Vietnam, Pat has come to the conclusion that Bush isn’t so bad after all. He says that while Bush is wrong on the war, he is right on just about everything else.

I suppose Pat’s list of things that are right with Bush includes Jehovah’s receiving a seat on the National Security Council, some of the Patriot Act’s finer points on human rights, sending individuals secretly to places like Syria or Egypt to be tortured, insulting and alienating friends and allies, squandering a hundred billion dollars without managing so much as a patch-up of Iraq’s smashed infrastructure, and laughing off world environmental threats far more deadly than anything dreamed of by terrorists.

Pat perfectly represents America’s noisy, pointless "culture of complaint," something which mimics the effects of a bad gene pool, endowing America with ridiculous trash like Crossfire or Rush Limbaugh or whole networks like CNN or, indeed, the grotesque practices of its national elections.

Recall Emerson’s advice, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Certainly, no one can accuse Pat of consistency, foolish or otherwise. When war served his career, his rise to White House speechwriter, war was a very good thing. He defended it, or should I say he defended others being sent to it, fists flailing and lips flapping. Later, as failed presidential candidate for the re-born Know Nothing Party, being against another war provided some limited scope for still being listened to by some of the party he had opportunistically turned against.

Pat, not being an evangelical in religion, is very much one in politics. Much like Bush, but with far more showmanship, he always displays an evangelist’s sputteringly obnoxious and insistent tone of certainty about what he is selling: if you don’t listen to me, you’re doomed to a horrible fate. The evangelical tone is common in America’s politics and contributes to the massive sound and fury of its political campaigns. The same dead certainty and implicit threat are, after all, the underlying message of so much of the television advertising in which Americans are immersed day and night: use our product or risk the torments of social hell.

Pat is typical of so much of America in his efforts to claw his way to the top, embracing a bizarre distortion of William James’s philosophy of pragmatism. Whatever works for our own momentary self-interest, we do, a practice which makes the moral relativism falsely-ascribed to liberals look deep by comparison. Likely, the near-absence of genuine morals now common in the commercial and political life of America is partly responsible for the resurgence of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism offers certainty where there is none and the sense of always being able to start fresh. The Puritan brand also is long associated with notions of those chosen and those not chosen, a satisfying private reflection for those who are less successful in clawing for the top.

How many Americans reflect on the stupid, needless death and destruction inflicted on Iraqis (families hiding in smashed apartments without clean water, electricity, or jobs) while driving their air-conditioned SUVs, listening to the stereo, on the way to a sale at the Crate and Barrel? Were they concerned with such things, the bloody, destructive invasion could not have happened, but, then, neither could there have been ten years of organized murder in Vietnam.

Returning to Pat’s pick for president, my first thoughts on the Bush "bulge" controversy (see this wonderfully informative site ) went to Shakespeare’s hump-backed embodiment of evil, Richard III, but Shakespeare’s character is fascinating, and of course the historical Richard, so far as we know, was a genuinely heroic figure. Bush is simply a dull man with a shrill voice. The next comparison that came to mind was a marionette, only an updated version with radio controls and servomotors instead of strings and hinges.

Whatever the best analogy, the fact that the American president wears a radio device of some kind during important meetings and national debates has been sufficiently established for people of a critical turn of mind. The revelation seems almost an over-the-top parody of what we already knew of Bush’s capacities, an absurd editorial cartoon about an inadequate man walking through responsibilities he doesn’t understand, leaving in his wake terrible damage to decent government and peace. Where do the voices in his ear piece come from? Lynne Cheney? The Boston Strangler? Franklin Graham? Jesus? The Wizard of Oz? All of the above?

America, you elected this plodding creature, and it appears you are about to do so again. Never mind the narrow focus on stolen votes in Florida, nasty stuff that it is. Stolen votes are an enduring part of the great chaotic noise you call national elections. Stolen votes in Texas got Lyndon Johnson’s political career going, and stolen votes in Texas and Illinois put Kennedy into office. We usually do not hear much about stolen votes in America because the two parties are satisfied with the calculation that the damage inflicted is roughly equal.

Are stolen votes more contemptible than the absolutely corrupt practices of powerful politicians like Tom DeLay? Are stolen votes more contemptible than an election campaign in which the genuine issues of the day, matters of life and death, do not receive a sensible airing? Since those same great issues are ignored by most Americans between national elections, just when are they considered? The truth is that there is no national debate in America on almost anything of genuine importance. The most narrow self-interest continues relentlessly under all the superficial noise and cheap tricks that pass for politics, and, so long as that remains the case, America will continue to kill and maim and overthrow whenever it serves the needs of clawing for more and the heat of evangelical fervor.

Only empty slogans are heard, a billion dollars worth of slogans on television, a billion dollars obtained from the people who actually do run the country.