Wednesday, November 30, 2011


November 30, 2011:

The Times reported this morning that Herman Cain is losing support--too much sex, Herman!--and thinking of getting out of the race. He won't be the last. One by one the clowns will drop out as their prospects dim, the money dries up, and they keep on making dumb mistakes when they debate each other. But I'll miss them. They've given American politics an entertainment value it seldom has and Gail Collins wonderful ammunition for her columns, and they've also made it possible, if anything has, for Barack Obama to be re-elected. If this circus goes on long enough Obama will look more and more like a savior, the only sane, practical one in the bunch, the only one with enough intelligence to be President.

Truly I have never seen such a pathetic collection of political wanna-bes in my long life. What are Republicans eating these days? I come from a Republican family, I grew up among people for whom the business of America was business, just as Calvin Coolidge said it was, but I'm pretty sure even my grandfather would have gagged on Rick Perry or Herman Cain, neither of whom seems to know anything about the world outside the borders of the United States, about history, about the intricacies of foreign affairs or the balance of powers, who devalue science and would gut Federal expenditures on education and who get economic theory wrong on a regular basis, and who seem to think that all it takes to become President is a high-school level course in civics and tax cuts for the rich. Bizarre. Michelle Bachman is even worse, a joke, Ron Paul wants to live in the eighteenth century, Rick Santorum is one of those moralistic jerks you're pretty sure will be exposed sooner or later as having concealed some scandal of his own, and that leaves Mitt Romney, whom we all know to have no center at all, besides being a member of a church with one of the weirdest belief systems ever dreamt up, founded, appropriately enough, by a man who appears to have been insane. Oh, and there's Newt Gingrich, rich lobbyist. That's just what we all want, a lobbyist as President. The man who brought us the Contract with America, and shut down the United States Government for a few days out of pique. You can look it up; it's all true.

How did American politics get to such a pass? It's a complicated story, worthy of a Gibbon, but it will probably be a few hundred years before it finds him. Before somebody can write the Decline and Fall of the United States of America, it has to happen; right now we're only on the brink. My own view is that the Founders were right about republics--to survive, they have to be small, with relatively homogenous populations; and they require an educated elite to run them, men like the Founders themselves. I return to Jefferson so often in this blog because he's the one I know the best, having edited an anthology of his writings from France when he was the U. S. minister to the French court; but they were all like him to varying degrees, men with a deep grounding in history, the classics, and the theory of government. Jefferson read everything--Hume; Gibbon; Pufendorf; Montesquieu; Cicero and Caesar; Thucydides; Locke; you name it--and he sent books to Madison, and the Constitution of the United States came out of this reading. He prepared, they all did, for the leadership roles they felt obliged to assume, or wanted out of ambition to assume. John Adams wrote treatises on government and constitutions; Madison wrote the Constitution itself, and much of the Federalist papers to defend it. And we know this about them, but we have too little sense of the level of intellectual dedication it took; and we have trouble imagining what it meant. What it meant was that they knew how things worked and how they might work better, even while they understood how difficult it was to maintain liberty under any form of government and how much dedication it would take from the public to keep their own small republic from drowning in greed, ambition, and corruption, which are a few of the things that Gibbon thought brought down Rome.

Drowning in greed, ambition, and corruption is what the U. S. is doing now, except that it's not small, it's huge, it encompasses multitudes, both Texas and New York, Kansas and California, and these places truly don't speak the same language. I have thought for a long time that it should be mandatory that every citizen of the United States should spend a year in New York City or L. A. or San Francisco or the like, and vice versa--every East or West Coast liberal should spend a year in the heartland. Think of it as a kind of national service, or as walking a mile in the other guy's shoes. Get to know the locals, find out where their hearts are, why they think and believe what they think and believe. We only get cartoon views of these things from TV; we get fantasies, not reality. I remember my landlord in Oklahoma, when I was in the Army, telling me that they've got everything in the city of Lawton that we had in New York City. Oh, really? I wanted to drag him by the neck to Times Square, or the New York Public Library down the street, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and abandon him there for a week.

It is fantasy we get from our politicians, too, and not reality. They pander shamelessly to the myths Americans live by, and you wonder if they believe any of them and you wind up hoping they don't--better hypocrisy than stupidity. We have come a long, long way down from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Obama is smart, but he can't match either of them for depth. And he can't manage the country; he's not enough of a leader. But the Republicans are far far worse. They're not smart, and of the ones who are, Romney and Huntsman, only Romney has a chance and no one knows, including perhaps the man himself, whether he would govern with his brains, or merely pander as he does now to what he sees his constituency as wanting. But the folly, the clownishness, the indifference to substance of what passes for political leadership on the right is both sad and frightening. I am a skeptic by nature, I don't hold a high opinion of humanity in the mass, and this bias no doubt infects my judgment. But I despair for my country. How are we all going to feel when we have a clown in the Oval Office?