The Government You Deserve
October 23, 2004
It has been said that people pretty much get the government they deserve. There is more than a little justice in the
Pat Buchanan, long my choice as symbol for all that is wrong with America, has given a last-minute endorsement to George
Bush's re-election. One is tempted to class his words, qualified as they are, with the grovelings of John McCain at Bush
After spending a couple of years successfully peddling columns attacking Bush for repeating the bloody stupidity of
Vietnam, Pat has come to the conclusion that Bush isn't so bad after all. He says that while Bush is wrong on the war,
he is right on just about everything else.
I suppose Pat's list of things that are right with Bush includes Jehovah's receiving a seat on the National Security
Council, some of the Patriot Act's finer points on human rights, sending individuals secretly to places like Syria or
Egypt to be tortured, insulting and alienating friends and allies, squandering a hundred billion dollars without
managing so much as a patch-up of Iraq's smashed infrastructure, and laughing off world environmental threats far more
deadly than anything dreamed of by terrorists.
Pat perfectly represents America's noisy, pointless "culture of complaint," something which mimics the effects of a bad
gene pool, endowing America with ridiculous trash like Crossfire or Rush Limbaugh or whole networks like CNN or, indeed,
the grotesque practices of its national elections.
Recall Emerson's advice, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Certainly, no one can accuse Pat of
consistency, foolish or otherwise. When war served his career, his rise to White House speechwriter, war was a very good
thing. He defended it, or should I say he defended others being sent to it, fists flailing and lips flapping. Later, as
failed presidential candidate for the re-born Know Nothing Party, being against another war provided some limited scope
for still being listened to by some of the party he had opportunistically turned against.
Pat, not being an evangelical in religion, is very much one in politics. Much like Bush, but with far more showmanship,
he always displays an evangelist's sputteringly obnoxious and insistent tone of certainty about what he is selling: if
you don't listen to me, you're doomed to a horrible fate. The evangelical tone is common in America's politics and
contributes to the massive sound and fury of its political campaigns. The same dead certainty and implicit threat are,
after all, the underlying message of so much of the television advertising in which Americans are immersed day and
night: use our product or risk the torments of social hell.
Pat is typical of so much of America in his efforts to claw his way to the top, embracing a bizarre distortion of
William James's philosophy of pragmatism. Whatever works for our own momentary self-interest, we do, a practice which
makes the moral relativism falsely-ascribed to liberals look deep by comparison. Likely, the near-absence of genuine
morals now common in the commercial and political life of America is partly responsible for the resurgence of
fundamentalism. Fundamentalism offers certainty where there is none and the sense of always being able to start fresh.
The Puritan brand also is long associated with notions of those chosen and those not chosen, a satisfying private
reflection for those who are less successful in clawing for the top.
How many Americans reflect on the stupid, needless death and destruction inflicted on Iraqis (families hiding in smashed
apartments without clean water, electricity, or jobs) while driving their air-conditioned SUVs, listening to the stereo,
on the way to a sale at the Crate and Barrel? Were they concerned with such things, the bloody, destructive invasion
could not have happened, but, then, neither could there have been ten years of organized murder in Vietnam.
Returning to Pat's pick for president, my first thoughts on the Bush "bulge" controversy (see the wonderfully
informative site, http://homepage.mac.com/c.shaw/BushBulges/PhotoAlbum15.html
) went to Shakespeare's hump-backed embodiment of evil, Richard III, but Shakespeare's character is fascinating, and of
course the historical Richard, so far as we know, was a genuinely heroic figure. Bush is simply a dull man with a shrill
voice. The next comparison that came to mind was a marionette, only an updated version with radio controls and
servomotors instead of strings and hinges.
Whatever the best analogy, the fact that the American president wears a radio device of some kind during important
meetings and national debates has been sufficiently established for people of a critical turn of mind. The revelation
seems almost an over-the-top parody of what we already knew of Bush's capacities, an absurd editorial cartoon about an
inadequate man walking through responsibilities he doesn't understand, leaving in his wake terrible damage to decent
government and peace. Where do the voices in his ear piece come from? Lynne Cheney? The Boston Strangler? Franklin
Graham? Jesus? The Wizard of Oz? All of the above?
America, you elected this plodding creature, and it appears you are about to do so again. Never mind the narrow focus on
stolen votes in Florida, nasty stuff that it is. Stolen votes are an enduring part of the great chaotic noise you call
national elections. Stolen votes in Texas got Lyndon Johnson's political career going, and stolen votes in Texas and
Illinois put Kennedy into office. We usually do not hear much about stolen votes in America because the two parties are
satisfied with the calculation that the damage inflicted is roughly equal.
Are stolen votes more contemptible than the absolutely corrupt practices of powerful politicians like Tom DeLay? Are
stolen votes more contemptible than an election campaign in which the genuine issues of the day, matters of life and
death, do not receive a sensible airing? Since those same great issues are ignored by most Americans between national
elections, just when are they considered? The truth is that there is no national debate in America on almost anything of
genuine importance. The most narrow self-interest continues relentlessly under all the superficial noise and cheap
tricks that pass for politics, and, so long as that remains the case, America will continue to kill and maim and
overthrow whenever it serves the needs of clawing for more and the heat of evangelical fervor.
Only empty slogans are heard, a billion dollars worth of slogans on television, a billion dollars obtained from the
people who actually do run the country.