Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Cynicism of Politics, Welcome Back Joe McCarthy

Cynicism in politics is scarcely a something new under the sun, if you were to search back through our history as a nation there are plenty of eras with their own particularly egregious examples of phony issues, issues dressed up at something they're not, and just plain fear mongering. If you'd like one with some real contemporary parallels you need look no farther afield than Joe McCarthy, he even has a political period named for him, McCarthyism. Joe worked up some of the best confluences of all the worst of cynicism in politics.

There was an actual issue, the Soviet Union had an expressed disdain and hostility toward our economic model and our form of government. This was true to the extent that it was their expressed policy to destroy both - that would be pretty inclusive the USA. What was an issue became something else, a movement. One that tore the nation apart and was entirely political in nature and aim. The aim was political power and Party gain and to be attained at the expense of others.

The means were simple enough, start with fear of the USSR, throw in some actual espionage, dress it up as a national phenomenon, and then create the phony issue of Communist agents widely spread in the government, to the point of searching the entire nation for "fellow travelers." Quite a few did well from McCarthyism, journalists, politicians, political appointees, and even some actors in contrast to the many who were harmed. McCarthy eventually imploded but R M Nixon got his real start from the hearings. There was power to be had and it was gotten, it cost many it great deal but in the cynicism of politics the gains outweighed the loss of the citizens. Understand in the plainest terms that there were devastating consequences for individuals and also the nation's social and political structure. Un-Constitutional laws were passed and governmental - in fact Congressional - over reaching was endemic.

You could look at the War on Terror and find eerie similarities, there is an actual issue, a threat, from those outside this nation with an agenda of harm to it and the possibility of those within. What has grown from that threat is a war in Iraq, national discord, fear of attack, and governmental over reach. The political gains were large but the damage to the military and to the social discourse was immense not to mention Constitutional harm. It could be argued that the difference was McCarthy's deliberate and probably premeditated use of lies for political gain from the start. The so-called Blair Memo might raise questions in regard to BushCo. What cannot be argued is the amount of political gain for the Republicans and monetary gain for their corporate allies. The political gains, while significant, were short term, a near repeat of the history of McCarthyism. The damage to union leaders and the creative sector was longer term, the wreckage of personal reputations and organizational reputations lasted quite awhile. We may see similar consequences for media organizations and the military this time. The harm to the intelligence apparatus which was so blatantly misused continues and may have very bad long term consequences.

Possibly the most enduring damage may be to the fabric of the Constitution. The second Bush term, won largely on the strength of the fear vote, created the appointment of more Supreme Court Justices with mindsets similar to Bush administration officials and a disinclination to over rule the authoritarian measures they've instituted. This is a serious outcome, the Court is the last legal bastion of Constitutional protection, beyond the Court it falls to the Congressional delegations, which have proven nerveless and the people who have proven apathetic. Much is made of the current Presidential candidates and a probable Democratic Presidential win, however, any reaction from the candidates has been muted at best. Making an assumption that either Clinton or Obama would take on an anti-authoritarian agenda ignores both having clear anti-Second Amendment policies, which is authoritarian politics.

Because the Republican Party managed to so politicize the entire Executive structure the damage may take decades to undo. The political appointees can be replaced easily enough and because this is common policy can be done with minimal uproar. Where the rub occurs is within the ranks of career hires. These people may have been hired on the basis of political vetting rather than competence, but removing them on the basis of political orientation is rightly difficult. This creates a structural deficiency, these people will be in play, no matter the administration that replaces the current cynics. Where applicable, criminal prosecutions might encourage an out flow. Don't expect good results in the very near future, this may require a great deal of patient and dedicated opposition to the government and its arms. It will take people of nerve to fight these people every step of the way.

Oh yeah, Joe McCarthy died disgraced and drunk, RMN resigned ahead of impeachment and is still reviled, we might be able to hope for George II and his ilk to have unhappy futures - that won't fix the damage, but might serve as a warning post.


KISS said...

You aren't alone, Chuck. Cynicism is more rampant now than anytime I can remember with congress. While President's popularity ebb and flow, congress is usually steady in a plus vain. Here are latest figure I found on Congress..not a pretty picture, and for good reason: Approval
RCP Average 02/04 - 02/20 24.0%
Disapproval Spread
68.3% -44.3%
FOX News 02/19 - 02/20 22% 68% -46%
Hotline/FD 02/14 - 02/17 28% 63% -35%
AP-Ipsos 02/04 - 02/06 22% 74% -52%
No wonder so many are bowing out.
Good riddance to bad rubbish.

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