Saturday, July 30, 2011

Politics. . . Where Has All the Fun Gone?

I used to think that politics are fun.  Back in the Summer of 1973, I would rush home from work every night, grab dinner, then turn on PBS for a replay of the day’s Senate Watergate Hearings.  I though for a while that I was the only nerdy person to be doing this until, one day, I was invited to a “gavel–to–gavel” party after work, at which a whole bunch of 20–somethings would have dinner together and watch the Hearings.  It was a blast.  Alone or with the group, the Hearings were more fun than anything else I could have done.

The characters!!!  Sam Ervin, the Chairman and an old country lawyer from North Carolina who seemed to know the entire Bible by heart.  John Dean, the whistle–blower, nervously giving his testimony while his gorgeous wife, Maureen, watched in a chair nearby.  Howard Baker, the senior Republican, who coined the phrase that has been copied frequently since: “What did the President know and when did he know it?”  Alexander Butterfield, the retired military officer who calmly told the Senate Watergate Committee and the country that President Nixon taped all his meetings and phone calls.  Sam Dash and Fred Thompson, the Committee’s counselors, who quietly but effectively kept things going and who seemed to work together so well.

The Senate Watergate Hearings, which led to the Nixon Impeachment Hearings, were amazing.  They were generally bipartisan and always well–run.  Senators Ervin and Baker made a seamless leadership.  For me, at the age of 25, this was political theater in the raw and politics working for the greater good.  As dangerous and deluded as I thought President Nixon was, the Senate Watergate Committee showed me what the U.S. really was like, what the U.S. stood for, and what the U.S. just would not tolerate.  Naive as I was, I thought this was what politics always are:  the eventual triumph of the good over the bad.

Now comes the Summer of 2011 and the Debt Limit Crisis.  What a difference 38 years have made!!!

Evil seems to be winning out over the good.  Admitted ignorance is valued highly, much more highly than hard–gained knowledge and understanding.  Racism is barely hidden.  Religion is trumpeted from the housetops by know–nothings who claim a love of Jesus but who seem never to have studied his teachings.  Sam Ervin quoted the Bible, but applied the Constitution.  Michelle Bachmann and others quote the Constitution incorrectly, but apply their skewed and inaccurate understanding of the Bible.  The federal government is being held hostage by people who were elected with the belief, and on the basis of the belief, that any federal government is evil, except the part of the federal government that goes to war.

Nixon was a dangerous president, even, in the end, the arch–conservative Barry Goldwater admitted this fact.  President Obama is a good, decent, psychologically healthy, and highly intelligent President whom the Republicans want to get out of office regardless of the damage his removal might cause the country overall.  Tea Party members, in my opinion, see this President as the most egregious sign of the waning of the straight, white, male majority.  By eliminating him, they hope to return the country to its rightful owners:  straight, white, males. . . themselves.

I grew up valuing education, learning, and knowledge as the most important attainments for me as a person.  I have lived, and live today, a life based on the conviction that learning and knowledge free human beings of superstition, error, prejudice, and intolerance.  I value the diversity of American life because that diversity has so enriched my life—in music, in films, in literature, in religious practice, in food, in language, and in patriotism.  Seeing a political playing field in which a significant and powerful percentage of the players value none of these things—hate them, even—makes politics something that depresses me, saps my energy, erodes my hope for the future.

I cried the night the President Obama was elected.  I never thought I would see the day.  An accomplished, intelligent, and eloquent African American was President of the United States.  All my optimism for this country was affirmed by that election.  Then it started.  Even before he was inaugurated, Rush Limbaugh and others were hoping that Mr. Obama’s presidency would be a failure.  The racism, the cynicism, the hatred. . . it’s evil.  Where is Senator Ervin’s idealism (“God will not be mocked,” he told one of Nixon’s young henchmen, “that which you sow, that also shall you reap.”) Where is Senator Baker’s collaborative and conciliatory spirit?  Where is John Dean’s bravery?  I hate to think that the best politics were practiced in 1973, and that all we have left is the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Michele and Marcus Bachmann, and Rush Limbaugh.

Politics are no longer fun.  They are deadly and depressing.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Ed. I agree, having grown up at that time as well. The value of education then was at a stage we may never repeat. It shows now.