Friday, June 7, 2013

Closets are for hangers, winners use the door

We live in interesting times. Perhaps not as interesting as many moments in the past, but interesting nonetheless. Incidentally, the expression "may you live in interesting times" is often characterized as a Chinese curse, not unlike "may you always get what you want." There's no evidence that either expression is specifically of Chinese origin, but that doesn't lessen their meanings in the least.

Both expressions appear to be blessings, not curses, at first blush. Who wouldn't want to live in interesting times? Who wouldn't want to see their every desire fulfilled. But curses they most certainly are.

"Interesting" means not boring, therefore exciting and--reality being reality--dangerous, scary, or both. The 1930's and 40's were--without a doubt--interesting times for much of the world in this sense. So were the years of the Russian Revolution if one happened to be in Russia, and those of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) for most all of continental Europe. Telling someone they should have to live through such a period is most assuredly a curse.

As bad as that now sounds, telling someone that you hope they always get what they want is even worse. For such a state of existence means taking all of the mystery out of life, all of the hope. It's condemnation to a life without surprises, wherein effort is pointless and accomplishments simply have no meaning. Worse still, it also carries another implication: the idea that we idealize objects of desire, to the extent that getting them--especially with little or no effort--is never fulfilling; oftentimes, there are unexpected consequences that go along with such "getting" as well.

History is a funny thing. As we live the here and now, we form opinions on what is transpiring, of course, And we expect those opinions to be reflective of how future generations will view the same moments, the same events, the same history. The presidencies of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy provide the perfect examples. In the moment, both Presidents were lightning rods. Their immense popularity was always countered by a deep-seated hostility--if not outright hatred--towards each from a smaller portion of the population. And for what? Not for their accomplishments, not for their policies per se, but for their supposed ideology and their evinced identities as human beings. Of course, the popularity both enjoyed was not all about policy, either. Far from it. Much of it was more about how both looked, spoke, and acted. Kennedy especially benefited from the cult of personality that surrounded his political career from start to finish.

Make no mistake about it, President Obama is getting the same sort of treatment, by and large. There are people--lapdogs is a better characterization--who cannot and will not accept any criticism of the the President's actions or those of his administration. Similarly, there are also those who will not give the President or his administration any credit whatsoever. And yeah, the card-carrying racists are there. They always have been. They were around for JFK too, because he was a Catholic (something many people seem to have forgotten). But their numbers are just not that significant, in my opinion. Most of those who object to Obama as a matter of course are not racists, they're ideologues, just as was the case for Reagan, JFK, and to some extent every President, even (especially?) George W. Bush.

But it's the "interesting times" that occupy historians and its the "interesting times" wherein such ideologues rise to the forefront, again as was the case in the Kennedy and Reagan eras.
Historical analysis of such past times often involves judging such ideologues and their evinced criticisms, because they are not always wrong. The standard history--the analysis of the times generally accepted as correct--of the Great Depression was, for a long time, the story of how the policies of FDR saved the nation from the Depression (along with the idea that WWII was the ultimate economic catalyst). That narrative is no longer taken as a given; many historians who focus on the period now see FDR's policies as far less helpful to the economy than had been assumed.

Such is the nature of historical analysis, of the search for truth.

The presidency of George W. Bush was criticized as illegitimate from the get-go by some ideologues. The response to 9-11 and the resulting War on Terror led to ideological opposition from many quarters, from the far left to the far right to the libertarian factions. And in the immediate aftermath of the period--the last five years--Bush has been "ranked" by various historians, would-be historians, and pundits as one of the worst Presidents in history.

But how will his presidency fare into the future? That is the real question, will the current narrative hold sway or will a more even-handed look back on the period result in different conclusions? It is difficult to make a guess in this regard; those who maintain the current narrative is correct are largely driven by ideology, while those who maintain that Bush will be judged less harshly in the future are as well.

Which brings us to the presidency of Barack Obama. Already--since the day of his election, actually--he has been heralded as a transformative figure, someone whose leadership has created widespread and positive changes in the U.S., if not the world. Remember, he's already won a Nobel Peace Prize. And ideologues on the left take it as a given that Obama's policies and actions saved the nation from another Great Depression.

But what about those aspects of Obama's reign that parallel those of his predecessor? Here, his sycophants have a major problem. For the spat of scandals now plaguing the Administration are ones rooted in activities by the Administration that were roundly condemned by the ideological opponents of George Bush. True enough, many with strong libertarian leanings suffer from no inconsistencies in this regard, whatsoever; they criticized Bush for the same sorts of things for almost eight years. But the remainder of the hard-core Bush critics--who have become hard-core Obama supporters--have a problem. To defend the current President, they must either play the part of the blind fool and pretend none of the things that have been happening are actually happening, or they must change their own narrative of the Bush years.

Check out these two articles by William Saletan at Slate Magazine. The first is from yesterday, the second is from back in 2004. In the first, Saletan essentially argues that the current wiretapping "scandal" is no big deal. In the second, appears to be in agreement with Kerry, with regard to the possible excesses of the Patriot Act, when it comes to domestic surveillance. Saletan has called himself a "liberal Republican," but it's tough to understand such a label, given his conflicting positions above. He comes across more like a typical Obama panegyrist, who is determined to protect the current Administration no matter what.

He's far from alone here. Other media people, along with members of Congress, are busy making excuses for behavior from the current administration that they once loudly condemned during the previous one. And to be fair, there are those on the right who defended this behavior under Bush, but now are critical of it under Obama (of course, those pointing out the hypocrisy of the first group shouldn't be lumped in with the second; they remain on solid ground).

Through all of this, the Administration remains aloof and uncooperative. It either ignores the scandals or increasingly claims ignorance with regard to the things going in agencies under its direction. As I said in the above piece:
The Administration was ignorant of the changing dynamics and growing dangers in Libya prior to September 11th, 2012 (despite the reports of Chris Stevens detailing such changes). It was ignorant of goings on at the IRS and at the Justice Department, despite the fact that both agencies answer directly to the executive branch, despite the fact that Holder is an Obama appointee who has been under heavy scrutiny for years and that the former head of the IRS--Doug Shulman--made more trips to the Obama White House (over one hundred) than any other IRS chief in recent history.
Add the NSA wiretapping to the above list, for the Administration clearly has no intention of speaking frankly on the issue, given some of the statements emanating from it.

And here's an interesting thing about all of this, about past scandals and questionable actions by past administrations: when Presidents--or their underlings--really believe they are in the right, they tend to be upfront about what they were doing, once such activities come into the public eye. For better or worse, George W. Bush made it clear in a State of the Union Address that he was going into Iraq. He pushed for the Patriot Act because he deemed it necessary for national security, given the events of 9-11. Bush even made it clear that his administration was willing to push the envelope as far as possible, when it came to interrogating (i.e. torturing) enemy combatants. Can't say that I agree with him with regard to the last, but at least he made an argument.

"Yeah, we knew the IRS was going after far right groups. We approved of this because we believed those groups were trying to game the system."

"Yeah, we ordered forces to stand down and not assist in Benghazi, because we judged it to be the correct diplomatic response."

"Yeah, we went after journalists connected with leakers with every means at our disposal because those leaks were affecting our intelligence-gathering abilities."

"Yeah, we knew Obamacare wasn't going to actually save everyone money, but we believed the deception was justified in order to repair the nation's healthcare systems."

We're not going to hear any of these statements from the current administration. Why? Because Obama and company know they can't actually make sound arguments, arguments that most people would accept, to defend their actions. So they remain in the shadows, hiding and feigning ignorance, afraid--and rightly so--to step through the door into the light of day.

But history will ultimately bring about a reckoning in this regard. Ten or twenty years from now, the Obama presidency will not be trumpeted as a glorious time for the United States at all. It will be characterized for what it was: a period of widespread incompetence, corruption, and political posturing, wherein the ends were used again and again to justify the means. And we'll all be worse off for it, make no mistake about that. Interesting times, sure enough.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. A local hospital is looking at being $18,000,000 in the red because of pieces of Obamacare that "kick in" in 2014. This is not my story, I do not own it. The people responsible for that number are also the people who are going to have to administer their way through it and try to hold the hospital together. They are rightfully afraid of belligerent repercussions of a tyrannical state should they give voice to their dilemma.

    But that is just one piece on a very large board. I bring it up for example, but it looks much the same everywhere I can see.

    I am not so certain that the escalation of depravity in our government will ALLOW another 10 or 20 years for future historians to analyze.

    This post-apocalypse preview is, I hope, completely wrong. I will simply get in my Tardis and wait it out. Maybe.