With very sharp teeth and a sharper knife
Who can be found in political theater
Slashing and scalding and taking life
At times attacking some tribal group
Or meeting with ardent drummers
To target a meal or perhaps some soup
Outside the circle of comers
But inside the Capitol loop
Add some tea bags as the meal begins
And the lines for family erase
As they find that the closer the kin
The more compelling the taste
There is no hiding the fact that the GOP is not what it used to be. The GOP was once united through Nixon’s “southern strategy” that linked fiscal conservatives with social conservatives and the “religious right.” They are now clearly eating their own. Gone is the time when Reagan demanded the 11th Commandment that Republicans not speak ill of another Republican. Reagan perhaps employed the most skilled public relations crew in our national history. That is not true today despite FOX News providing media support. Unfortunately, as the GOP is embroiled in this internecine insurgency, they are also destroying the fabric of commonwealth that once held us together despite our party differences. It is largely those differences, exaggerated by the partisan energy of the Tea Party and its sub-groups, that resulted in John Boehner resigning as Speaker. More recently, Kevin McCarthy surrendered his quest for the speakership due to the Freedom Party Caucus within the GOP. Additionally, McCarthy blurted out the truth about one of about a dozen investigations about the Benghazi attack. Four Americans were killed in an attack that McCarthy used as opportunity to tarnish presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. More recently and still internally, the Tea Party has attacked a conservative member of the investigation, Major Bradley Prodliska, for openly saying it was a partisan investigation. This would not have happened under Reagan as we will show through 1983 Beirut. In 1983 Beirut, Reagan suffered two disastrous bomb attacks on Americans within 6 months and yet was not questioned about his intentions or his skills. The political climate protected leaders with the concept that political division ended at the water’s edge. Today, it never ends. I call this political cannibalism and there are two major varieties; intra-tribal and extra tribal.
McCarthy’s extra-tribal attempt at cannibalism of a Democrat made even a few Republicans squeamish, at least because he actually unveiled the nefarious intentions for his investigation. As a direct result, McCarthy was quickly consumed by his fellow Republicans who also commented that McCarthy was not conservative enough. In this essay, you will find a case study of two vastly different periods in American political discourse separated by only 30 years or so. Some of you may cringe at the facts, but we need to look at recent history to absorb some powerful lessons in our own political climate. In recent years, during the State of the Union Address, Republican Representative from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, yelled “You lie!” at President Obama during the speech. It was unexpected, lacked decorum and was grossly rude and even factually questionable. This is simply an example of the new way of doing business or more often, hurting business that requires restraint and compromise. Unwritten rules that provided a veneer of polite discourse have been replaced by insults and epithets in open theater. This new approach has only worsened political gridlock. It is difficult to find common ground over the shouts and recriminations of a political adversary. Dialogue is poisoned with invective.
It is ironic that we are approaching the anniversary of the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 Americans on 23 October 1983 after President Reagan ordered troops into Beirut barracks despite pleas not to by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. We had earlier suffered an April 1983 attack on the US embassy in Beirut where 17 Americans were killed among 61 slaughtered by a car bomb. While both Benghazi and Beirut were tragedies, the scale of the Reagan incident in the Beirut barracks was 60 times greater and more directly due to Reagan’s failure to heed the Secretary of Defense than Secretary Clinton’s oversight of foreign affairs. In my memory nobody of either party attempted to politically exploit the deaths of 241 Americans (and 57 French paratroopers) in that single incident in Beirut, but political cannibalism was not trendy in 1983 and we were at odds with Iran. In fact, the Reagan Administration armed Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons, including nerve agent, all through 1983. These weapons of mass destruction were used in the Iran-Iraq war. (Years later, this sale gave rise to the charge that Saddam had WMD). Reagan appointed a military commission headed by Admiral L.J. Long, but there was no congressional investigation led by Democrats or the GOP. George Shultz as Secretary of State never acknowledged the loss or attributed it to Reagan. Much later, Shultz blamed the attack on Hezbollah (not formed until 1985). Reagan retaliated by naval bombardment of Beirut and environs with the unfortunate loss of hundreds of civilians unconnected with the truck bomb. Surely, some lies and history revision happened in 1983, but there was enough good will to avoid witch-hunts and political cannibalism. Two days after the horrendous losses of our military in Beirut (the worst in one day since Iwo Jima of 1945 and Tet of 1968), we invaded Granada. Perhaps this was a well-timed distraction? A huge loss was whitewashed by “success” in Granada as we quietly retreated from Lebanon in the weeks following the truck bomb despite assurances by Reagan that we would stay. The events in Lebanon did not become a political feeding frenzy at home. In fact, Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan worked many compromises including a tax hike during their joint tenure. Compromise was good for the whole nation and political cannibals were scarce.
Insurgency within the GOP accounts for the overall gridlock although the GOP PR machine and much of the media reporting seem to place the responsibility evenly on Democrats and Republicans. It is really neither, but a GOP sub-caucus that is petulant and out of control. It might be humorous except that it has delayed any prudent law making in favor of hostility and constant wrangling, bickering and wasting taxpayer dollars on conservative political differences that defy the real definition of “conservative.” The Tea Party is more radical than conservative and the contest as to who can out-conservative whom is apparent in the presidential primary races that resemble bar fights more than political primaries. The media often refer to the gridlock as bipartisan, but it is overwhelmingly a GOP phenomenon led by one of their minority caucuses; hence 67 votes conducted to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act rather than crafting a few meaningful improvements that could get GOP support with a smattering of Democrats voting with the GOP. Conflict is now built into the process rather than constructive compromise.
Political cannibalism will leave long-term scars on the American landscape. It is largely responsible for failing to invest in our crumbling infrastructure. Our citizens challenge fate daily trekking to work and home as roads and bridges fail. Investment is essential to the future competiveness of our nation, but the idea that a small minority can prevail over the vast majority of Americans is anathema to investment when ideology trumps common sense. Smaller government is a myth thrust on us each election season. That code “smaller government” actually translates as less money for investment in America and more money for the military along with privatizing programs that make politically loyal privateers rich. Recently, Jeb Bush has promised to finish, if elected, what his brother George started on privatizing Social Security. Had George succeeded, can you imagine the personal and family pain and chaos of the 2007-2008 recession? We bailed out the big investors with the very tax income that the cannibals might have eliminated. Extreme conservatives trumpet this ideology so that many Americans feel that we can have it all and not spend money. These plans, however would give great tax breaks to the wealthy and will reprise the “trickle down” theory that has never worked in history although it has been tried repeatedly since the late 1920s. We now have scapegoats in Mexicans, Climate Change, and Obama. The myth is that we can have guns and butter; lower taxes with a bigger military and a Great Wall to compete with China. That errs on the ridiculous side of politics, but does nothing where it counts in manufacturing, the recovery of the middle class and returning to investment in our people through education and infrastructure.
We need to be alert again for the rising mythology that removing taxes and regulation will create wealth for everybody. The only stuff that trickles down is not wealth. Removing regulation on the excesses of Wall Street only exacerbated a financial meltdown that spilled pain and poverty on the middle and lower working classes. The mythology that surrounds Reagan gave rise to the notion that government was the problem instead of the solution. Replacing effective policies with a vacuum filled by privatized and unregulated financial mechanisms resulted in a widening income and wealth gap that often makes the USA the laughing stock of other developed nations. Bad government through political gridlock of the “Freedom Caucus” is merging with political cannibalism to damage our democracy. Of course, perhaps the Freedom Caucus will succeed. There is at least one example of an absolute minority taking charge of an entire nation through a beer hall putsch. We know how that turned out. Where is the Freedom Caucus beer hall? Are the brown shirts free? Is there a similar strong and paranoid leader in the Freedom Caucus? Should we get ready for parades and night rallies? We can replace progress with spectacles. Hollywood: move over.
12 Oct 2015