As the nation get ready to celebrate Richard Nixon’s 100th birthday, let’s reflect on how much our fragile democracy has devolved over these last few decades. Understandably, anybody under forty years old who depends on mainstream media for their information may not know that Richard Nixon was the only president in our history who resigned in genuine disgrace. Several of his top officials did jail time. He carpet-bombed Hanoi on Christmas, oversaw brutal, secret wars in Southeast Asia, lied about it, lied some more, then finished his political career with his classic whopper, “I am not a crook”. To be fair, he didn’t actually go to jail, but he did almost single-handedly cynicalize an entire generation of young Americans who were just beginning to realize that our planet was in grave danger from the brand of politics Tricky Dick was selling us like used cars. That alone, while not certifiably crooked, was at least a curve ball thrown to all future generations—you and I included. Many of us who watched our young friends--or our young selves--being fed into Nixon’s meatgrinder wars viscerally recall the pain of the imperialists’ sucker punch aimed at our patriotism, the gut-wrench realization sinking home that our country could not—and should not-- ever sink any lower.
Now, of course, Roosevelt is a communist and Nixon is the subject of a special exhibit entitled “RN. Patriot. President. Peacemaker”. President Obama, who during the Vietnam-War-era would have been considered a Nixon-era Republican, has sent a wreath. Military jet flyovers have been scheduled.
I guess you can call me an Old Hippy, although I actually volunteered for Nixon’s Wars(*) and came out the other end decidedly less-than-hippyish in the strictest definition of that indefinable term. That leaves me to sit here contemplating legacy vs. makeover, Nixon vs. Roosevelt, reality vs. the last decade’s worth of Montana legislative sessions, and I can still feel the sucker punch that leaves me obligingly breathless. As the thought of another tea-soaked session in Helena sinks home, the question much-asked in these post-reality days by those who yearn nostalgically for …reality (!) comes begging. How on earth, this cliché question goes, did we get to this truly-bat-crap-crazy point in our political and moral evolution where Nixon looks like up? Is there really an Old Testament God, and, if so, did we piss Him off? Or is it possible that the inventors of Democracy, the ancient Greeks, weren’t kidding when they claimed the heavens were populated by horny, sociopathic super beings with a sick sense of humor when it came to their human toys? No matter what your views on religion, given the results of forty years of for-profit revisionism where Nixon is now a peacemaker (!), we can’t rule out magic. Or could it simply be that since we don’t deal rationally with our past, we’re therefore incapable of recognizing our present? There’s more than a hot-dog bun’s worth of Greek Tragedy wrapped around that possibility, but simplicity is what I’ve come to prefer these last few decades. Maybe I’m an Old Hippy after all.
If you’re inclined to contemplate that annoying panhandler of a question of how we got here, consider just one recent aspect of the answer. In early 2009, 60% of the American people supported a Single Payer health care system. On top of that, 72% not only supported a “public option” of some kind, they thought they’d voted for it in November of 2008, and were flabbergasted and then dispirited when they didn’t get it. Conversely, the one-quarter of our population who are apparently genetically-modified to simultaneously express love for the current health insurance model while demanding an Obama birth certificate signed by Rush Limbaugh were energized to the point of, well, teabaggery for lack of a more polite phrase.
In early 2009, I was organizing in Western Montana for Single Payer, seeing and hearing nothing but support from all sides for that humane, good-government solution to our cruel, broken system. Sure, Baucus and Emmanuel told us “children” that Single Payer was off the table so run along and play, and we cursed them roundly for that. But we on the ground could see with our own eyes that an alternative to the health-insurance protection-racket everybody not richer than Marcus Daly was suffering from was not only a transcendental coalition-builder in our divided country, it was a no-brainer. A large majority of We The People voted for it, expected it, needed it. Nobody thought that Obama would be so foolish as to take the Public Option off the table, and take it off so quickly. The day he signaled that he would was when the so-called “Tea Party” movement was born. I saw it happen right here in Ravalli County, in spades. The D.N.C. cut our legs off, unilaterally, their working base, to appease a political entity so fearful to them I still have a hard time identifying what that entity really is (**). The plutocratic sharks, always on the lookout for shills to fund, smelled blood. We The 72% were the ones spilling it, the “Tea Party” movement was nurtured and energized with it and the poster child of reality’s antithesis--the last three Montana legislative sessions—were left for us in our weakened state to deal with. Alone. This, in my opinion, is why we are currently being tugged, twisted, appalled and--yes--ruled, by the bat-crap crazy and outright venal 25%. We simply are letting ‘em get away with it.
Let’s start doing better, shall we?
(*)Through dumb luck, certainly through no fault of my own naïve trying, I ended up in Spain rather than Nam. Lucky me.
(**)My best sad guess is that they were afraid of the N.R.A. and all those assault weapons with 30+ round clips we’ve allowed our society to be infested with. If so, it should be clear by now that appeasing that faction has been ineffective, to say the least.