Monday, September 3, 2012

Regarding Tampa and Charlotte, Trim you Expectations

Wednesday, November 5th, 1952 was a bleak day in the Rapp household in Clinton, Illinois. The ballots had been counted and the Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, was the overwhelming victor in the Presidential election, bringing to an end two decades of Democratic dominance under the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

Eventually Dad would bring himself to vote for Richard Nixon and later for Ronald Reagan, but in 1952, memories of the Great Depression and World War II were too fresh to allow him to vote for anyone associated with the party of Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt was bigger than life in our house, and Truman’s gritty insistence that his way was the right way evoked admiration among Democrats, unmatched until the recent love affair between conservative Americans and their tough-talking, Reaganesque, Tea Party politicians.

Despite the sense of doom – the fear of a return to the hard times of the late 1920s and 1930s – the Rapp kids all went off to school that day to face the taunts of our mostly Republican classmates who knew well our political loyalties and were glad to make us pay for them.

But little changed, then, or in the days and years to come. The New Deal reforms enacted under Roosevelt and extended under Truman were actually enlarged and extended under Eisenhower. They would continue to be expanded under most succeeding Presidents, Democratic or Republican, despite the perennial Republican campaign rhetoric promising to abolish them and return to a laissez faire economy and a bare-bones national Government. The American people, it seemed, liked a touch of socialist sweetener in their capitalist tea, and even the Republicans liked to be re-elected. Often Republican administrations out spent the Democrats, running up larger deficits and expanding the size and reach of the Federal bureaucracy.

Soon both parties were declaring themself against big government and large deficits when campaigning as the “out” party, but were pro-government and pro-spending when they were incumbents. A new form of bi-partisan agreement had arisen; “what’s good when I’m in, is bad when you’re in, and what’s reprehensible when you are in will, nonetheless, be allowable when I’m back in.”

The conclusion I’ve arrived at, observing these things over the last sixty years, is that the nation is either not as bad off as the “outs” would have us believe or, even if it is, the “outs” will not significantly change its trajectory if and when they achieve power.

So trim your expectations folks. No saviors will be found in Tampa or Charlotte this fall.

For all that they claim they can and will do – much of it “on the very first day in office” – we must remember that these who speak to us with golden tongues are mere men. More to the point, they are mere men hedged in by a thousand restraints on their power, not the least being their own short-sightedness and ignorance of the forces that work against any man or woman accomplishing what they set out to do.

They are billiard balls aiming to rearrange the configuration of their world; buffeting, and being buffeted by, those they hope to displace; hoping to advance their career at the expense of another, bumped out of the way by their success; influenced by the forces that brought them into being AND by the environment in which they are confined; subject to all the laws of political, social, and economic gravity. Don’t expect too much of them. Especially, don’t expect them to be able to accomplish a tithe of what they claim they have the power to do.

So what’s an ordinary citizen to do with all the rhetoric and banners and press releases and celebrity endorsements? One choice is to swallow, wholesale, the promises and claims of one side or the other. Another is to reject it all and bury oneself in “reality” TV and Extreme Sports. A third, and better way is to listen to both sides, fact check anything that ordinary intelligence tells you is “over the top,” keep track of who is lying most and most egregiously, pick the candidate whose lies are least onerous and whom you believe is most likely to accomplish things you count as valuable, and then cut your expectations by about eighty percent. Then go and vote in November.

If your side wins, just remember that your champion is only a man of clay. If your side loses, remember that the man you feared, but now must endure until the next election, is also only a man of clay. Too much optimism, or too much despair ultimately leads to the same place because there is, realistically, only one place to land; in the real world. And the real world is, to a major degree, beyond the manipulation of mere men – blind and largely impotent men – men, made of clay.

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