Few of the above planks have anything to do with actual policy. The Republicans have been in control of the federal government for a decade, and of state governments for that long or longer. They've controlled the presidency for a half a decade. Across the country, they are clearly in control, and have been for quite a while. Yet all their positioning is still as though they are an oppressed minority, having government imposed upon them. In other words, blaming others got them to power, and they're neither ceasing the blaming nor accepting their own responsibility.
This is understandable; beating up the Democrats is the only thing they've proven much good at doing. The budget deficit is growing; employment numbers are fine, but benefits and pay are down, and jobs continue to go overseas as the U.S. economy goes through a major evolutionary transition. The trade deficit is outrageous, the dollar is weak, and the ground seems to be ripe for another bout of inflation, while the national infrastructure (roads, security, regulating industries) is facing budgetary problems. The administration admits that Iraq has already cost $300 billion. What more will be spent and what about Afghanistan?
Many of the most traditionally Republican philosophical positions have been abandoned. There's bigger government than ever, only it's Republican-dominated. Government spending continues to increase, without substantial budget-cutting. There's no hint of fiscal responsibility. Powerful Republican and Democratic legislators are still getting plenty of government pork at taxpayers' expense. The burden of funding the country has been inequitably shifted to working Americans, who can't afford the unfair share they are being asked to bear so the very, very rich can be even richer. Legislators have discovered that cutting social-safety-net programs affecting education, job training, health, and family care doesn't do all that much in terms of balancing the budget. These costs are all relatively modest compared to military, security, big-project, and pork spending.
The continuing, aggressive anti-press, -free-speech, and -thought campaigns of the religious right continue to pick up steam as Americans across the board embrace them, desperate to believe in the simpler, more moral, less chaotic world they promise. Speaking out and not conforming are no longer just unpatriotic but downright treasonous. The separation between church and state is being hammered away. Homeland security and a bevy of restrictive laws (such as the new driver-license law), as well as continued efforts to destroy a woman's right to choose and anyone's right to get married, are part of a successful, ongoing assault on personal freedom.
Republicans are not accepting dissent in their own party: They are forcing all their legislators to march in lockstep or face the consequences (and there are consequences). I don't recall any party demanding such unquestioning adherence at any time in the past.
(An aside: Since the great defense on many issues is, "Well, the Democrats did the same thing, and they did it in a much worse way," I must point out that Democrats couldn't cross the street together, even with the light in their favor. No one has ever accused them of being overly regimented.)
Longtime conservatives, libertarians, free-thinkers, and the like seem to be reveling in the Republicans' powerful smashing of the Democrats. They are not raising genuine, nonpartisan concerns about how the democratic nature of American government involving discussion, compromise, minority-party considerations, negotiation, and manipulation is being replaced by cohesive, one-party rule. They seem to believe defeating Democrats will solve all our problems, so whatever hurts them must be good. Meanwhile, we are all losing freedoms, as the country's constitutional gyroscope is being shoved to the far right.
Determined to dance with the one who brung them, the congressional Republicans rush back to D.C. not to actually confront any of the serious, complex problems facing the country, but to strut their stuff before TV cameras about a right-to-die case in Florida. Instead of doing any serious work, they attack the Democrats over the lack of confirmation of fewer than a dozen judges. Despite the hysteria, this number of unconfirmed presidential appointees, whether held up in committee or by filibuster, killed behind closed doors or by compromise, was not uncommon among previous administrations. They are doing this because it is what sells: attacking Democrats.
And Americans are buying this crap. They're not only being conned, but are deliriously participating in their own fleecing.
Don't even start me on illegal immigration, one of the greatest nonissues of our day being embraced by right-wing demagogues and hate-radio talk-show hosts because it has bad guys (ethnic, non-American, non-English-speaking ones) and good guys (free-thinking, right-wing, flag-loving patriotic Americans, some of whom have even been here for more than a couple of generations). As it becomes all too apparent that most other hot-button issues are so complex as to offer no easy solution, illegal immigration as a target continues to grow in popularity because of its simplicity and almost undisguised racist nationalism.
Republicans are not governing. They are cutting taxes, but not cutting spending. They are cutting services, but not special interests. They are cutting into the bone of government services for the American people, but increasing, rather than trimming, the pork. At some point we are going to have to pay for all this, and it's going to be very, very ugly.
On Music: As noted last week, I'm listening to Frank Zappa's "Trouble Every Day" on the Mothers' maiden album, Freak Out!, over and over. I've been thinking about why it is that I listen to certain songs so obsessively. Where, how, and what is triggered?
Sure, "Trouble Every Day" is powerful rock: almost unexpectedly focused, meaningful, and driving for Zappa's released work of that period. But why, as the song winds down, do I get so excited to know I'm about to listen to the whole piece again? Why do I listen over and over?
In the next few columns, I'll be thinking about this, as well as telling some stories.
Exactly as a set designer might have imagined it, the large attic studio was an office and living space, cluttered with the artifacts of a life in music. It must have been late 1971 or early 1972 when I tagged along with my friend Phoeb, a brilliant blues picker and singer, to visit this Boston-based manager. Something of a legend, he was of that first generation of American music fans and scholars traveling the back roads of the rural South, tracking down the legends. Son House, a music myth for a couple of decades, is probably still his most thrilling discovery.
He was also Bonnie Raitt's manager and had guided her since early in her career. At that time, she had a couple of albums out, but her first was the cult hit that every multiroommate apartment had at least one of in their collections. He seemed very old to me, but was probably in his 30s (keep in mind that I was in my early 20s and a total idiot). The relationship with Raitt had not been just business, it turned out, but also romantic, though that had recently ended.
The advice he gave my friend ended up being excellent. On the way home, however, she cursed his name with a vengeance, because basically he had said that before preparing her remarks to celebrate her Gold record and first Grammy, she had a lot more work to do. Now, throughout the entire meeting, more social than business, on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder he was running a long-playing tape of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" single, recorded over and over. At least 25 times in a row, maybe double that, the song played. And at exactly two minutes and 36 seconds into the song, it started to skip, each and every time. While recording it he must have pushed the needle, as the song then continued. As soon as "Brown Eyed Girl" finished, the song began again, the skip ready to happen not that long after.
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