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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Conservative vitriol, liberal retrenchment, and historical revisionism

I don’t know that I should be surprised, but as far out of bounds as the political discourse had already been prior to the 2010 mid-term election cycle, it has recently moved the needle completely off the gauge. There are 3 main problems that affect the ability of people who differ in their political views to communicate in a manner befitting people who share one nationality. The first is the elevated vitriol coming from the right. While it’s not that unusual to find more anger coming from people who “feel” their beliefs rather than from those who actively research the facts and think, the accelerated pitch of the right’s vitriol has shut down any sort of amicable, constructive conversation. That anger isn’t directed merely at politicians of the opposite stripe, it’s being directed at anyone who doesn’t jump up and down screaming and shouting and wildly waving the American flag to the tunes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. I was recently shouted at by a woman who appeared to be in her 40s and called me a coward and traitor because I said that I was glad that combat operations in Iraq had ended. I pulled out my Veteran’s ID card and quietly pointed to the “Service Connected” identifier showing that my disabilities were incurred as a result of my service to my country. Her husband seemed pained and wouldn’t look at me as he pulled her away, but it was clear that he understood. When she rolled the window down in their pickup, I simply asked her “Ma’am, what branch did you serve in?”. I’m not sure what her response was after the initial glass-shatteringly-screeched “That ain’t got nothin’ to do with it”, but I do know that spittle was flying and her husband was holding onto her to keep her from getting out as he backed out of the parking spot and quickly left the parking lot.

She called me a coward and a traitor.  And that’s the thing; she had no idea who I am, not that I’m anyone special. She just knew that I had a different opinion and that sent her into a towering tirade. Why? Because the sheep have been flocked by the conservative-controlled media shepherds. The right seems lost in a maze of national scale, unable to do the simple math of subtraction that points an accusing, sharpened pencil at conservative policies that created the conditions for the Perfect Storm that lead directly to the Great Recession. When asked by others when the Great Recession began, I tell them that it began the day Ronald Reagan took office, and there’s truth in that that conservatives don’t want to see because they’ve elevated him to godlike status and any admission that the Great Communicator’s fiscal policies were anything but flawless causes the firmament to shake and the sky to darken in their eyes. But it’s true. They’re loathe to admit, if you can find one educated well enough to be able to do the research, that the greatest tax increase in American history – still to this day – was enacted by Ronald Reagan the year following his massive tax cuts. Why? Because even the Gipper could see that it was impossible to balance the budget when there was no revenue stream. But, when many of those tax cuts were repealed, a good deal of others were not. And it was those that were not that is the rub because 1981′s massive tax cuts remained in effect for the wealthy when in 1982 the middle class had their taxes raised not just back to the pre-1981 level, but even higher.   And that’s a fact.

These annoying facts are the inconvenient truth that gives the political right nightmares. But rather than deal with them, or even admit them, they have bent space and time to reinvent the truth and hammer it night and day with the bludgeon of conservative commentators to subtly, slowly, but certainly reshape it to their desires. The conservative political laity drink the wine and eat the flesh and the truth has been transmuted. The now-warped history as told by Beck, Palin, Rove, Gingrich, Limbaugh, et alia, has been swept clean of any right-wing wrongdoing, and in fact now points the fickle finger of fate at liberals, divesting the GOP of blame and casting it onto their enemies.

All of that would be bad enough of itself, but liberals have let them do it. Liberals have allowed conservatives to rewrite history and to relegate the very word liberal to the opprobrium normally reserved for felons. Liberal lawmakers – barring a few like Representative Barney Frank who himself has faced down the name-callers and political backstabbers – shrink from the appellation ‘liberal’. Some, like the cowardly Jim Marshall, D-GA, try to distance themselves from Speaker Pelosi and President Obama in their mid-term TV ads going so far as to boast that they’ve voted with the Republicans more than with their own party. It’s disgraceful, the craven behavior of these political quislings who just 2 years ago were riding so high on a wave of political capital generated by the goodwill forged by Madame Speaker and Mister President themselves. Capital that they then squandered with infighting and intra-party bickering.

Liberals have turned out to be less fitting of the title of citizen than in a long while. It used to be a liberal notion that once the ball was rolling they would keep it rolling and roll right over opposition to programs which benefit those of lesser means and let the success of those programs show over time that they were indeed the right things to do, e.g. PWA, CCC, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. FDR’s massive public works programs are a great example of what liberalism has done for our society. The biggest expenditure by our government at any time for any project not related to war resulted in a stronger economy, vastly improved and extended infrastructure, and jobs for people when they needed them. It was a double bonus that the jobs many of the jobless got through those programs resulted in the magnificent, enduring structures in our national parks, built for pennies on the dollar and returning  an abiding profit from their initial investment in the forms of recreation, leisure, and appreciation of the grandeur of our parklands.

The times have changed, and now even a liberal president with the backing of both chambers of our national assembly helmed by those of his own party can’t get his own party’s programs enacted. FDR, JFK and LBJ would all be embarrassed to learn that he belongs to the same party that they lead to lift the country out of the Great Depression, to build a space program and journey us to the moon, and to establish the Great Society in order to help those who were mired in poverty.

So here we are. The Republicans will surely sweep to victory next month, and I can’t say that the Democrats deserve anything less than losing. A political xenophobia has set in, preventing people of either major party from even attempting to understand the points the other side tries to make or from having civil discourse about them. Both sides have painted themselves into opposing corners and like a couple of dogs who can’t quite reach each other, they bark endlessly, tiringly, annoyingly, and have forgotten why the first bark was barked anyway. While we’re on dogs, I just have to think that the poor scraggly starved and scarred puppy who came to our door a month ago begging for food after having either escaped a cruel master or possibly being thrown out has more sense than these politicians do; even a dog won’t shit in his own house.