I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
July 26, 2016 - 11:48 a.m.
I should have watched the Democratic Convention last night. I didn't because as much as I love Hillary and the speakers it's just an infomercial. I usually don't watch speeches either. But apparently last night was special. Maybe I'll watch tonight. And it wasn't like I was doing anything special. I watched The Simpsons. They were showing the Sideshow Bob episodes so it wasn't like it was a waste of time. I'm going to get back to politics but I have all important traveler's tales to tell.
On Sunday I left Jean Rohe's birthday celebration at Rockwood early so that I could make the last bus back to City Island. The subway was not running great but I left enough time for that … barely. It was very bad. But I did arrive at Pelham Bay at 11:50 just when the last bus was scheduled to leave. I was at the stop on time and I knew it probably wouldn't be close as the last bus got there at 11:40, 20 minutes behind schedule I waited, and I waited and I waited. I looked at the Bus Time website. It said no buses were scheduled. I checked to see where the bus was. It was nowhere. The 11:40 bus wasn't the 11:20 being late it was the 11:50 leaving early. It's not supposed to do that. I have to write the MTA and complain. Fortunately, someone else was in the same boat as me and we shared a cab back home. By chance he lives on the same block as me. That made things easy. We had a real New York cab driver. He's lived in the Bronx all his life. He knew exactly where we lived. He gabbed. That was great.
So now on to politics, but not current politics but my personal history in presidential elections. Of course that is about current politics; it is also a traveler's tale. It's about how I got here.
I became politically aware in time for the 1968 primaries. I was 10; I turned 11 in July. My mother became very active in the McCarthy campaign and so did I. I distributed literature. I was Clean for Gene. I still had my campaign buttons till I lost my stuff in storage. This set the politics of my life. It was a far more bitter race than this year. We were fighting over the war in Vietnam. Humphrey was a hawk and McCarthy and Robert Kennedy doves. We would not have minded a second President Kennedy but objected that he threw his hat in the ring after McCarthy and split the anti-War vote. Then in that year of bloodshed RFK was assassinated at the celebration of his victory in the California Primary. We all mourned.
That was the last election before the current primary system. There were primaries but for the most part the candidates were chosen by the party bosses. The Democratic Convention in Chicago was brutal. The Daley machine dominated events. The city was filled with protesters. There were bloody riots. They were not started by the protesters but the police. The investigation called it a police riot. Hubert Humphrey was picked. We were crushed. I now see that Humphrey was a far better man than I gave him credit for. His 1948 Civil Rights speech at the Democratic convention was a masterpiece. But he had been co-opted into supporting the war as LBJ's VP.
Still we supported Humphrey. We didn't work for him, which was a mistake, but we knew he was far better than Nixon. My parents never considered voting for anyone else and as an 11-year-old I could still see that he was best choice available. I was very unhappy, and even fearful when he lost.
Nixon was of course a disaster. Yet he did a number of good things, the GOP wasn't crazy yet. He started the EPA, the protecting the environment was something both parties could agree on then. Nobody wanted to live with poisoned air and water. But of course he continued the war to a tragic and pointless end. He violated Civil Rights. He was corrupt. He brought dirty tricks to a new level and permanently shook people's faith in government. He set the Republican campaign model of a platform of protecting America against the other. He started the dog whistle appeals to the racists, the Southern Strategy. It was as bad as I feared.
In 1972 the Democrats revamped the nominating process. The power was taken away from the bosses. George McGovern helped write the rules and took advantage of his understanding to win the Democratic Nomination. He was helped by Richard Nixon. People forget that the point of many of the dirty tricks was to attack Muskie because McGovern would be the weaker general election candidate. My family, and I, enthusiastically supported McGovern. He was he heir to RFK. He was by far the most liberal nominee in my lifetime. I was older and worked harder on this campaign than for McCarthy even. I didn't like McGovern I loved him. He was crushed in the worst Electoral college defeat in history. He was just what I wanted but he was not just what the country wanted. We got four more years of Republicans. Not of Nixon of course as he resigned when his crimes were found out. Ford became president.
In 1976, a year when I could finally vote, I supported Ted Kennedy. My least favorite Democratic candidate was Carter, the most conservative. I had learned my lesson from '68 and supported him. We had 8 years of Republican presidency and that was too much. Carter won! I was disappointed that after the scandal of Watergate that he didn't win in a landslide.
Carter was the unluckiest president. He inherited a terrible president of the Fed and inflation spiraled out of control. When he appointed a good Fed president, Volker, he did what was needed to break the inflation. That was raising interest rates to unheard of levels. It put the country into a recession. It was necessary but painful medicine. Carter got blamed The price of gas skyrocketed. Then came the taking of the hostages in Iran. I knew these things weren't his fault but faulted his lack of leadership. He used the term, "national malaise," and I blamed him for that. This led to the only election where I look back and I'm ashamed of my actions. I voted for Anderson. Yes New York went for Carter and I knew it would. It was just making a protest. But all those protests add up to creating a mood that Carter was not fit to be president and affected the election in states that were not locked up for the Democrats. We know what happened. Reagan won.
Reagan was not a crook like Nixon. He was not as bad a person; but he did more long term damage to the country. He took the loss in confidence in the government created by Vietnam, Watergate, and the failing economy and turned it into the message, "The government is the problem, not the solution." That marked the end of the progressive era started by Roosevelt. He didn't move the Overton Window, he bricked it up and cut a new window far to the right. We are still digging out way out of that hole.
I forgot who I supported early on in the 1984 election but soon turned to Mondale. He had good liberal credentials and was a good man. He was crushed in another huge landslide, the second the Democrats suffered in 12 years. I was despondent. Reagan was a terrible president. So many members of his administration ended up convicted of crimes. He was a disaster for the environment. He started the tax cutting craze. He supercharged the rise of inequality.
I figured the Democrats could win in 1988. Bush wasn't a strong candidate. Reagan had overstayed his welcome. He was no longer hugely popular. I supported Dukakis from the start of the primary process and he won the Democratic nomination. He was liberal. He was competent. He as smart. Unfortunately, he was not exciting and not a good candidate. He started with a big lead and lost it. He tried to hide being a liberal which came off as wishy washy. Bush played dirty with the Willie Horton ads. He let white America know he was on their side against the others. Dukakis lost.
Bush came to the presidency and his popularity soared with the Gulf War. I was fine with that war. Iraq invaded Kuwait. I wasn't fine with much else that Bush did. The economy tanked. Ironically the thing that killed Bush was the one good thing he did, raise taxes when they had to be raised.
In 1992 once again Clinton was my least favorite Democratic candidate. I think that was the election I supported Tom Harkin. I loved Harkin. He was another true progressive. Clinton was a centrist. But when Clinton won the nomination I put more effort into his candidacy than I had for anyone. I had been politically aware for six presidential elections and lost five of them. I feared what would happen with another Republican. And on Clinton's side I really liked his wife. I wished that she were the candidate. But she wasn't. You fight elections with the candidate you have, not the one you want. I worked in the campaign office. I was on the streets. I organized people. I worked phone banks. Clinton won! I was rewarded for my hard work by being invited to the New York victory party.
Clinton had a lot of faults but was so much better than Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush. The Economy boomed like it hadn't since the 60s. For the first time since the Reagan revolution the real mean wage increased. Finally gains went to the 99% not just the 1%. I worked for him again in 1996. I think I skipped the party this time. I was invited but I was a poll watcher. I was at the polls from 6 AM to 9 PM. I was exhausted.
Clinton had to deal with Gingrich and a Republican Congress from '94 on. I felt he should have spent more political capital fighting them. He was so popular. My biggest disappointment was ending "Welfare as we know it." The crime bill was a mixed bag that I was against but I didn't hold that strongly against him. It was a compromise made with a divided government.
Then came 2000. Gore was perhaps the best candidate to run in my lifetime. He was not as far left as I'd like but he was enormously capable. His signature issue was global warming and we needed to take action on it. We needed a green candidate. Unfortunately, we got a Green candidate, Nader. I used to admire him but over the years that faded. He had fudged the numbers in the book that launched him into fame, Unsafe at Any Speed. You know that's a cardinal sin in my book. Now he was an egotist, hurting the environmental cause in the name of supporting it. If the Greens want to do good they should support major party candidates with good positions on the environment and only run their own people when no one has one. I sadly did not work on the campaign and I don't know why. I was sick during the primary season and still recovering most of the year. But still. So you remember what I said about my being wrong for supporting Anderson. That's what happened with Nader. Gore won the popular vote but it came down to a few hundred votes in Florida. Yes, he might have actually had more, we will never know. There were too many defective ballots, more than the margin of victory. I was crushed again.
Bush II was of course a total disaster. I figured he couldn't win in 2004. I was wrong. Kerry was someone I could support with hesitation. He seemed like a great candidate but the Republican lie machine was now a well-oiled machine. The term "Swift Boating" was invented. Bush was not punished for lying us into war. That will haunt us.
Then came 2008. I got my wish, Hillary was running. I had loved Obama's keynote speech in 2004 but he was a first term senator. That was not a lot of experience. He had two positions I strongly disagreed with. His plan for universal health care did not include the mandate to get insurance. Without the mandate the program couldn't work. When he became president he included the mandate because it was necessary. That's good but it was not a good sign that he didn't see that when he was running. The other thing was rhetorical theme of a new kind of politics, a politics of consensus, working with the Republicans. Had he not been noticing what the Republican Party had become? Where was he when they shut down the government. Hillary knew better. Still when Obama won I worked hard for him. I went down to Pennsylvania, a swing state, on Election Day to hand out literature at the polls. I rejoiced when he won.
He took office in a crisis and spent most of the first two years digging us out of it. He got health care reform, barely, and left the fight tor the most part to Nancy Pelosi. But he did save us from a depression. As bad as things got they could have been far worse and would have if McCain had won. The Democrats lost their supermajority in the Senate after just one year and that was it. The Republicans pretty much wouldn’t let anything get done. The original stimulus was too small. That was part of Obama wanting to get Republican support, so he could be a new kind of president. He didn’t get it. It was no impossible to give a second stimulus. Then after the Republican wave election in 2010 Obama still wanted to win the love of the GOP. He agreed to almost all their terms, a huge dismantling of the welfare state. We were saved by Republican extremism. Obama agreed to huge cuts in social programs and all he wanted in return was a small raise in taxes. That was an anathema to the Tea Party. They demanded total purity. And so instead of getting 90% of what they wanted they got nothing. Still Obama bought the GOP narrative that the problem was the deficit. This was while we still had high unemployment and falling adjusted median income. It was the nadir of his presidency. Still we survived it and of course I strongly supported him in 2012 when he won. With the Republicans in control of both houses Obama finally learned that they wouldn't agree to anything and started working through executive actions. The economy finally recovered., Unemployment is low and real median income is finally rising.
Most of my life there's been a Republican in office. When there was a Democrat he faced a hostile congress for much of the time. Reagan changed things. It's hard to get a liberal majority. Perhaps things are changing now. There are signs it is but there's also Trump. One thing is clear, I don't want a Republican president let alone Trump. I get my candidate of choice and she's favorite to win. That's a first for me. She'll still face a hostile congress. But I'll remain cautiously optimistic. We have to change the voters before we change the country.
I just found Michelle's speech on YouTube and put it on Watch Later. That's exactly what I'll do.
So now you know how I got where I am. You know how much I love doing that. I should have used little graphic with pictures of the candidates like I do for the subway lines. Now for an omelet but first I feed the cats.
Brother Brothers in Arms - October 01, 2017
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