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Page Two: The Message

Republicans try to rewrite a history of privileging party over principle

By Louis Black, Fri., Feb. 6, 2009

"Clear and sweet is my soul ... and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.

"Lack one lacks both ... and the unseen is proved by the seen,

Till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn."

– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

"Do I contradict myself?

Very well, then, I contradict myself;

(I am large – I contain multitudes.)"

– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

This Particular Leg of the Journey Began With Six Characters in Search of a Dance and Several Tiny Dance Steps Searching as Well. A Dance From the Middle of Winter.

This is the second column in an interlude between the "Page Two" that appeared in the Jan. 23 issue and whenever this reverie ends, when we will return to the "Page Two" previewed at the end of that aforementioned column. In order to get to a beginning, it felt as though certain underlying thoughts, basic assumptions, and structural constructs should be suggested.

Going back to last week's examination of the differences between a principled position and a partisan one, I want first to clarify that these are somewhat arbitrary terms: They align with dictionary definitions but are being used here in perhaps a broader sense.

As was presented last week: "A principled position involves commitment to a law, a rule, and/or a code that is applied essentially in the same way in every situation. A partisan position is one for which ideological and/or party loyalties are the guiding principles. The latter is more a makeshift definition, though one that can be driven as intensely by different moral and/or policy beliefs as by party loyalties."

The first six years of the Bush administration saw all branches of the government essentially fall into Republican hands. This resulted in a partisan privileging that not only affected legislation but was accompanied by both official (government staff) and unofficial (lobbying organizations) purging attempts to clear out as many Democrats as possible and replace them with Republican loyalists. This campaign was carried to such extremes that candidates for overseas governmental positions were routinely asked about their position on legalized abortion, even though that opinion was in no way germane to the jobs for which they were applying.

It is important to note that the unity of message, goal, and purpose here was partisan and not ideological. Certainly, political philosophy was part of the package, with much of the inappropriate questioning emanating from specific party planks. The gist, however, was not the triumph of ideas but of party. Although now he claims he was misquoted, this was the time when GOP strategist Karl Rove was predicting a one-party government into the future. It was obvious to Rove that party, and party dominance, was always more important than ideology and philosophy. His strategic emphasis was always on good guys and bad guys; his maneuvering was designed to facilitate that scenario more than to convey a message.

The end result of all of this was not that Republicans stayed sharply focused on message or used the opportunity to aggressively advance their vision of this country. Certainly, there was some of that – but only some. What caused such systemic, economic, diplomatic, and social devastation was the triumph not of ideology but of party. It was not the appropriateness of the Republican Party message that was most aggressively advanced but rather the inherent correctness of Republicans. More than a little of this was because there were many who wanted to beat up on Democrats even more than they wanted to disenfranchise that party's ideological beliefs. In these terms, what became most important was that Republicans won (dominated) and Democrats lost (were humiliated), with specific policy implementation a concern but not as important as partisan politics.

Still, though the emphasis was elsewhere, an enormous amount of legislation in tune with the Republican platform was passed. Interestingly, whereas business regulations were loosened, environmental restrictions neutered, and much of the social safety net gutted, most of the more important issues, even according to Republicans, were ignored.

There was nothing substantial done by the administration on Social Security and Medicare reform. There was the largest expansion ever of those enrolled in Medicare. The addition of a prescription-drug benefit was supposed to help ease the financial burden of millions of seniors and the disabled, but the ranks of the uninsured grew from 38.4 million in 2000 to 45.7 million in 2007. In terms of the future, especially in regard to funding, there were no substantial reforms or innovations.

Nothing was done about immigration reform. Instead of balancing the budget, the administration's tax cuts and wild spending created the greatest deficit ever. There was virtually no movement toward energy independence, with the administration defeating all attempts to institute the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard. About the only noticeable energy ploys were desperate, second-term Hail Mary passes, such as pretending that more offshore and domestic drilling would solve all problems. By the end of the Bush administration's second term, the American economy tanked and the dollar weakened.

Currently, the Democratic majority seems more interested in wallowing in dominant party privilege than accomplishing all that much. Still, given the Republicans' own track record and the lockstep, anti-economic-recovery-bill vote, when they bemoan the lack of bipartisan cooperation in the current Congress, it's hard not to do spit takes. Moreover, as they heatedly pant over a trillion-dollar bailout budget, it is impossible to see this as anything but pathetic posturing, given the Bush administration's trillions of dollars in deficits with nothing to show for it – except that it is easy to demonstrate the rich have grown substantially richer. When Republicans' solution to the economic disaster is anchored to the pillar of tax cuts, there has to be some questioning of all the tax cuts passed that at least partially lead to this problem.

Republican priorities still seem to be more about partisanship than anything to do with what is best for the country – but perhaps this view is just a reflection of my biases. Regardless, the proof is in the pudding. Whereas many are trying to claim that only weeks into this new administration, the pudding has been rendered inedible, the truth is the ingredients are barely lined up in order to begin the preparation.

But back to the future: The question about the first six years of the Bush administration is whether its problem was about the policies being pushed (principles) or the aggressive way they were being pushed and the government was being positioned (partisanship). Maybe it was mostly the way those two were married: bad policies being pushed in an aggressively partisan manner? Obviously, that discussion is exactly rearranged when it comes to those who approved of the Bush administration: Were they fonder of the policies or the strident partisanship by which they were advanced – or equally taken by both?

I feel I may be in the minority in that I found both disagreeable but was probably more distressed by the lack of respect for precedent and bipartisan interaction than by the specific policies, no matter how much I disagreed with them.

Now, when I say I feel in the minority, I suspect at first many will shake their heads, claiming to share my concerns. Whereas lip service to the Constitution and its basic trust in bipartisan conflict, debate, and compromise, even at its most extreme, is easy to come by in the abstract, when specifics are the concern, that lip service often fades to silence.

Without beating my usual and beloved dead horses, the main reasons for supporting either Ralph Nader or Ron Paul for president cannot even be distantly claimed as a passion for bipartisan interaction. These two candidates both represent not only extreme positions but ones with precious little interest in cooperation and/or compromise. The idea is that the difference between the two parties is either nonexistent or at least not very great, so it is time to openly advocate extremes. If these candidates were elected, the purity and success of their accomplishments would not only require that certain policies be passed but that the government be less expansive and more partisan.

Clearly, I have a point of view on all this, but I suggest that some of those who violently disagree with me but champion the necessity of purer partisan vision think through exactly what they believe and would like to see happen. Frequently, it seems as though people passionately committed to politics embrace conflicting and contradictory beliefs that, since they exist as beliefs rather than realities, never have to be reconciled.

An aside: The above at least tries to deal in the rational and the logical. But in many ways, our lives are guided by miracles and magic, regardless of however we each individually label those: the unexpected, the unprepared for, the euphoric moment, the aesthetically caused climax, the accessing of vision whether holy or mundane.

It doesn't happen often – there is no way it could – but sometimes, just sometimes, when everything aligns right, you get to watch the heart of the revolution beat in front of you: not just beat, but beat anew. I'm not talking about a political or human revolution of liberation, oppression, or aberration. I'm talking about the personal yet visionary revolution, about the pumping of your blood when the rate speeds up or transcends just the heart to integrate with the pulse of dreams or of the cosmos or of mundane, daily life reimagined with awe. The pumping through your body, the greater pumping of the spirit, the heart beating as one with the culture and the world.

Lots of people, when speaking of these moments, drape them in God and religion, in the blessing of the holy and the grace of the lord. Why not? That could be right. Who the hell knows exactly what it is? But to claim you do know is propriety, not generosity; is restricting, not liberating; is staking a territorial claim rather than surrendering to a grander, yet accessible, glory.

There is a moment when the holiest of spirits explodes through you matched to the body electric, racing at the speed of light, love ricocheting around in the confined space of your body as though the craziest pinball the Nazz ever blessed is hitting everywhere. Hitting everywhere inside you, including memory and the metaphysical, as well as absolutely including the physical. Hitting for every point and striking every secret bonus target, setting off bells, clangers, and whistles till steam is coming out of your ears, and out of your ears is coming steam electric.

It might be during love or sex or love and sex, maybe when dreaming or reading, when watching a movie or listening to music, or maybe just when walking up the stairs. It might be when anticipated or completely unanticipated, when expected or entirely unexpected.

Now, those who are so wrapped in their egos that any moments of extraordinary magic have to be defined by points on their linear biographies often take these experiences as though they are speaking to God. The lightning that thus electrifies one's life is reduced from its illogical, nonspecific, explosive wonder to a known and familiar motif: The grandeur of the universe is restricted to a thimble of holy water used to anoint oneself.

These strikes can come in magnificent gowns or just wearing a hoodie. They come as angels sing or cats fight or tires go flat.

Almost 30 years ago, at Austin's Municipal Auditorium, I attended a rap show, though I knew almost nothing of rap at the time. The next-to-last act was Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. They were electrifying, eye-opening, different, and magnificent. At the end, Grandmaster said to the audience, "Remember, we are not a band; we are seven men and two turntables." It was not the revolution, but it was a moment of revolution. It was a column of light blasting through me to skew every navigational tool I had always used to get by. In the middle of writing, I thought of that evening. I was overwhelmed again – and because it is that moment and an endless series of similar ones that inform whatever I do; I figured I should share.

"The highway is your girlfriend as you go by quick"

– Jonathan Richman, "Roadrunner"  

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