Friday, January 20, 2012

A Foreboding Sense of Doom

On Friday evening, I went to Powell's City of Books again to attend my FOURTH lecture / booksigning of the year. I know, I know...excessive, right? Well, Powell's City of Books usually schedules one event per night every month, so there's a huge potential that they will get an author of interest to me. This time, it was Thomas Frank, who I saw at Powell's the last time he was here, promoting his last book, The Wrecking Crew. I first heard about him when his book, What's the Matter With Kansas?, was released several years ago. It was his attempt to answer the question that has baffled liberal political thinkers for the past couple of decades: why do Americans vote against their own economic self-interest? Its a phenomenon unique to America. People voting in favour of what the wealthy class want because of the belief that one day, they will be rich too (through the miracle of a winning lottery ticket) and they'll want to benefit from the low taxes on the rich. Now, Frank is back with Pity The Billionaire, which could be considered a sequel of sorts to that previous book.

But first, I wanted to point out that the universe is definitely playing with me. When I went to the Amy Chua booksigning, I was on the Portland Streetcar when a cute Bohemian Bicyclist lady got on board. I liked her look and style and hoped that our paths would cross again. I wanted to talk with her then, but the Streetcar was too crowded and I don't like private conversations in small, public spaces. So, I simply made a request to the universe that our paths would cross again soon. Having lived in Portland for five years now, I know that request is not too difficult to accomplish. Well, after work today, I disembarked the bus at the 82nd Street MAX station. On the platform was...you guessed it! The Bohemian Bicyclist lady!! Wow. I was stunned. Ten days later, the universe honoured my request. But the platform was crowded, so I didn't say anything. When the MAX arrived, I boarded it and saw her making her way into the train. The door started closing, so I held out my hand to prevent the doors from crushing the rear wheel of her bicycle tire.

She struggled to hang the bicycle vertically on the hook, so I volunteered to help her. In my mind, I kept thinking how brilliant it was for the universe to set things up so that I could play "the hero" for this lady who captivated my interest. She said that she wasn't strong enough to lift the bicycle up to the hook and thanked me for doing that for her. I heard a faint trace of an accent. I told her that she was brave to ride her bicycle in such rainy weather. When she said something and I was about to ask where she was from, she walked to the far side of the MAX train to look at the route map.

When she returned, she sat in a seat . The distance was too far to engage in a conversation. I felt a lost opportunity. Then she started talking with some guy in a wheelchair who sat in the space next to her. I'm not sure if this means anything, but I was a little miffed that she had walked off when I said to her, "I like your accent. Where--" She probably did not hear me, but it felt kind of rude. I saved her bicycle tire from being crushed by the MAX door (twice!) and I help hang her bicycle on the hook, and I can't even manage to engage her in a longer conversation? I know two people who met their spouses on MAX and I want a story like that! So, universe, I'm asking you. Please have our paths cross again and let her remember me. I would like a longer conversation. She's adorable. Lean, short, a uniquely Bohemian manner of dress, short dark hair (like a flapper), and an accent (I kept thinking in my mind that she's Portuguese or something, but I have no real idea). She is what I'm looking for in a Lady Love. So, universe...please make it happen!

Now, about that lecture. As is usually the case, anytime there is a political lecture, the space fills up quickly to standing room only after all the seats are taken. I wish our church could inspire this many people in attendance! Thomas Frank spoke about the latest agenda of the Republican Party and their billionaire backers. He said what I believe from all the stuff I've read. The goal of the Republican Party is the complete destruction of the New Deal. They want to turn back the clock to the Herbert Hoover era. You can see it in each Republican president. They manage to undo some things (financial regulations, union busting, budget cuts, etc.), and each president pushes a little bit further towards the right. In Bush's second term, he had wanted to privatize social security but was not able to do so, probably because he squandered his "capital" on the Iraq war and then after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, his presidency was effectively over. His popularity never reached the 50% mark again. When the economy crashed in 2008, people were relieved that social security was still safe and not moved into privatized accounts, otherwise there would've been a lot of hurting seniors. But, Americans also have a short term memory, as witnessed in 2010 when voters returned to power a mere two years after a stunning defeat the political party that had brought so much ruin to our country.

Why are Americans so much like Charlie Brown and the Republican Party is Lucy holding the football? The Republicans have proved time and again that they cannot be trusted with power. They are grossly incompetent when it comes to government (not that they are all that great at business. Look at Enron for a case example). As Frank said, the current crop of Republican candidates for president is amazing in terms of ideology. Our country will not survive another Republican presidency because they intend to privatize social security and medicare (remember Congressman Paul Ryan's voucher plan?).

Frank had things to say about Democrats, as well. He explained how Washington works because that is where he lives and he talks with major Democratic Party personalities all the time. His frustration is that Democrats never argue in favour of government, but they need to because the other party is trash talking government, which means the message that voters pick up is that government is bad. People did not think so in the FDR through LBJ years. It was the Vietnam War and Watergate that broke Americans trust in government. We've been cynical ever since. But maybe not cynical enough. Seriously...why would anyone vote for a person who says that they hate government? Would a corporation hire a person who said that they hate business? It doesn't make sense. Government is only as good as the people who serve in it, and obviously Republicans love government if they are willing to spend millions of dollars for an office that pays between $100,000 and $400,000 a year.

According to Frank, the Democrats base things on the "experts." When they debate, when they make a case for an idea, they always quote "the experts." Who are "the experts"? Frank said that Washington, D.C. has the largest concentration of people with PhDs. With all the colleges, think tanks, military bases, media stations, and government agencies, there are plenty of experts to choose from. But this creates a bubble in which "thinking outside of the box" does not exist. As we've seen with the way the Iraq War was sold, "the experts" were wrong. They all supported the war and the execution of it. Experts being wrong is like a meteorologist on the local news. You don't have to worry about losing your job for being wrong most of the time.

Frank said that the reason why Democrats refer to the experts' opinions and are all about "consensus building" and bipartisanship is because they don't want to be frozen out of the lucrative employment opportunities after they retire or lose an election. Frank said something completely stunning. He said that a Democrat will maintain the experts' opinion or strategy, even if it means losing an election because they are seen as out of touch. They won't fight for the common person and vote on what's best for the country as a whole. They want the exclusive and high paying jobs, too. While the corporate monies that are buying members of Congress wholesale prefer Republicans in office, they know that they have Democrats where they want them. Frank even said that the Republicans who aren't off the deep end (the non-ideological ones who actually value logical thinking and facts) admit that Obama is essentially an effective Republican president.

Another thing Frank mentioned is that one of the things Republicans like to say is that "real conservativism hasn't been tried." He said that the only reason why Bush is ignored in the GOP is because he was unpopular. Had he left office popular, they would be touting his presidency the way they still do with Reagan. Well, at least we can give them some points for honesty. Its refreshing that they aren't trying to spin history regarding Bush, but I imagine at some point in the future, the propaganda machine will kick up to rehabilitate Bush as a successful presidency. They are counting on the American habit of forgetting the past.

During the Q & A session, someone in the front row asked Frank this question: "Why did no Democrat primary challenge Obama?" Frank said that he did not know the answer to that question and asked the audience if anyone knew. No one offered an explanation. I was stunned. Really?!? No one knows why Obama did not get a primary challenge? If my voice could carry in a large room, I would've answered the question, but I kept quiet. I'm amazed that no one knows why Obama did not get a primary challenge. It is so obvious! Really.

Here's why Obama did not get a primary challenger. No Democrat wants to be the one that made our first African American president a one term president. During the Clinton years, I learned one of Clinton's worries was that a Democrat would challenge him in the primary. This is considered a curse. If a president is challenged for his party's nomination, then his presidency is doomed, even if the challenger doesn't win a single primary. Pat Buchanan challenged Bush in 1992. Ted Kennedy challenged Carter in 1980. Ronald Reagan challenged Ford in 1976. Eugene McCarthy challenged LBJ in 1968. Its a curse. Any Democrat who did that to President Obama would face the wrath of African Americans all over the country, 90% of whom voted for Obama in 2008. This is the most loyal and one of the largest voting blocks within the Democratic Party. Why do that to our historical president? Despite disappointment about the centrist nature of his presidency (and capitulation to Republican demands), his victory in 2008 is still worth remembering. There was so much happiness and hope, and we were a witness to history. Obama has been far better than Bush, and if someone like Bush could win a second term, then of course Obama deserves a second term. If Obama was a white man, he likely would have faced a Democratic challenger. If Hillary was president, she would not have faced a primary challenger, because her presidency would've been seen as historical as well, and no Democrat would want to raise the ire of female voters. It would be the kiss of death for their political career.

Frank's lecture was interesting, but far from optimistic. It appears that he believes America is heading in an unstoppable direction. We only have one way to go: down. The viciousness of the current crop of Republicans for president, the amnesia-quality of American voters, and historical trends all seem to be pointing in the same direction. America is on the path of self-destruction. I left the lecture feeling icky. It makes me want to meet a foreign woman so I can marry her and move to her country. I wish I could be optimistic about our future, but when Americans keep thinking that Republicans can be trusted, like Lucy with the football, then I don't have any hope for our country. After what the Republicans did in the Bush years, this political party should be completely shut out of government for the next generation. They are and deserve to be the permanent minority party. I swear, if America returns Republicans to the White House this fall, I'm done with this country. I just don't have a heart big or strong enough to watch as my fellow citizens, in a masochistic display of ignorance, vote for a party that keeps wrecking our economy and laughing all the way to the bank. You won't find me pitying any billionaire. They can all go straight to hell for what they are doing to our country.

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