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In which an older and wiser yet terminally earnest former liberal struggles to come to grips with the cynicism, hatred, and paranoia that plague both sides of the American political spectrum. "Can we all get along?"

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And I quote:

"The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered."

Edmund Burke, 2nd speech on conciliation with America, Mar. 22, 1775 (Bartlett's 16th ed., p. 331)

Mrs. Powel: "Well, Dr. Franklin, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"

Benjamin Franklin: "A republic, if you can keep it."

After Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Sept. 18, 1787. (Bartlett's 16th ed.)

"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other, and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves."

James Madison ("Publius"), The Federalist Papers No. 10 (1787)

"Of the three forms of sovereignty [autocracy, aristocracy, and democracy], democracy, in the truest sense of the word, is necessarily a despotism because it establishes an executive power through which all the citizens may make decisions about (and indeed against) the individual without his consent..."

Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)

"To act successfully, that is, according to the rules of the political art, is political wisdom. To know with despair that the political act is inevitably evil, and to act nevertheless, is moral courage. To choose among several expedient actions the least evil one is moral judgment. In the combination of political wisdom, moral courage, and moral judgment, man reconciles his political nature with his moral destiny."

Hans Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (1946), p. 203

"Thus, whenever a concrete threat to peace develops, war is opposed not by a world public opinion but by the public opinions of those nations whose interests are threatened by that war."

Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations 6th ed., rev. by Kenneth Thompson (1985), p. 288

"The texture of international politics remains highly constant, patterns recur, and events repeat themselves endlessly."

Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (1979), p. 66

"Men wiser and more learned than I have discerned in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalizations, only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen."

H. A. L. Fisher, History of Europe (1935), p. vii [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 80]

"Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favour."

Robert Frost, 'Black Cottage' North of Boston (1914), [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 86]

"My thoughts encompass divinity, therefore divinity is. The divinity that my thoughts encompass is associated with the order that arises out of chaos... As we expand our knowledge of this realm, we ... see it in terms of one sublime order that awaits full realization."

Louis J. Halle, Out of Chaos (1977), p. 646

"Here, then, is the complexity, the fascination, and the tragedy of all political life. Politics are made up of two elements -- utopia and reality -- belonging to two different planes which can never meet."

E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939 2nd ed. (1946), p. 93.

"My biggest blunder in life was attempt to seek common ground with Keynesians, based on the naive thought that by putting my ideas in Keynesian language that I would make any dent on the Keynesians."

Milton Friedman, New York Times, July 4, 1999

"War made the state and the state made war."

Charles Tilly, The Formation of National States in Western Europe (1975), p. 42

"Americans like to mock Kuwaitis as rich and pampered and lazy and decadent, which is exactly what the rest of the world says about Americans. Actually, we shouldn't mock Kuwait at all. It represents the hopes and dreams of Americans of all political persuasions. For liberals, it's a generous welfare state with guaranteed employment and a huge government bureaucracy. For conservatives, it's a country with no taxes and plenty of cheap maids who aren't allowed to vote."

Peter Carlson, "Castles in the Sand," Washington Post Magazine Jan. 14, 1996, p. 32-33

"[Bill Clinton's] greatest strength is his insincerity... I've decided Bill Clinton is at his most genuine when he's the most phony... We know he doesn't mean what he says."

Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman, in a speech in Indiana quoted by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post Apr. 27, 1996

"Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton, his opponents [*] must be thwarted. They are enemies of democracy and of the Constitution that insures its possibility. We long ago lost the luxury of choosing our allies. This is war."
* (referred to elsewhere in this piece as "mad dogs bent on political annihilation")

Eric Alterman, "Democracy Disappears" The Nation, Jan. 11-18, 1998

"There are no enemies in science, professor. Only phenomena to study."

From the movie The Thing, 1951 (a Cold War sci-fi allegory)

Julia Roberts: "Can you prove any of this?"

Mel Gibson: "No... A good conspiracy is unprovable. If you can prove it, someone must have screwed up somewhere along the way."

From the movie Conspiracy Theory

THE 16 WORDS: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Pres. George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Jan. 2003

"When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out."

Pastor Martin Niemõller

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana

"Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, to have approached global warming as if it is real means energy conservation, so we will be doing the right thing anyway in terms of economic policy and environmental policy."

Sen. Tim Wirth, 1988

But we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can, uh, find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."

Nancy Pelosi, March 9, 2010

"However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."

George Washington

"And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?"

The lead character "V," from the movie V Is for Vendetta

Father (watching a falcon fly) to his daughter: "Nothing is more important than freedom. ...
You don't know what it was like before the thinking people mucked up everything."

from the movie Great Day (1944)

"Julia, there is truth and there is untruth. To be in a minority of one doesn't make you mad."

The lead character Winston (played by John Hurt), from the movie 1984 (1984), based on George Orwell's book 1984.


June 17, 2022 [LINK / comment]

Watergate: the 50th anniversary

Among people of my age group, I had a rather "precocious" degree of interest in politics since I was 12 years old or so. The Vietnam War and social conflicts related to the civil rights movement were obvious reasons why anyone would become absorbed by politics in the late 1960s, but in my case I was "following in my father's footsteps." (He was a professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.) So, by the time the Watergate scandal erupted in June 1972, I was already a "seasoned" observer. The Vietnam War was heating up again, and Nixon ordered the bombing of North Vietnam in response to the Communist spring offensive. Would these events threaten Nixon's prospects for winning re-election in November?

On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for burglarizing the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex in Washington. Eventually it became clear that they were working for the Nixon White House, which you might think would be a pretty big deal. For first several months, however, Watergate elicited little more than a big yawn from most Americans. It was just a "third-rate burglary." To my dismay, Watergate had virtually no effect on the presidential campaign, and Nixon beat South Dakota Senator George McGovern by a landslide. After all, Henry Kissinger said "peace is at hand" in Vietnam, severely undercutting McGovern's main issue. (After the election, Nixon started bombing Hanoi again, but that's a whole different story.) Vice President Spiro Agnew blamed the Watergate hubbub entirely upon the "nattering nabobs* of negativism" in the media, a theme which came to dominate Repbulican political discourse in the decades that followed. Whenever something went wrong, they just blamed the "mainstream media." But thanks to the relentless investigations of Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in January 1973 the case broke wide open. Numerous administration officials were soon facing criminal charges, and President Nixon was obliged to declare that he was "not a crook." Presidential advisers H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman resigned in April, and Attorney General John Mitchell did so in October, the first step in what became known as the "Saturay Night Massacre." (Hooray for Archibad Cox!) During the early months of 1974, congressional inquiries led to the subpoena of the White House tapes of Oval Office conversations, and when the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 on July 24 that Nixon had to turn them over, it was all over. He resigned effective at noon on August 9, at which point Gerald Ford was sworn in as his constitutional successor -- the first man ever to serve as president without having been elected to national office.

Contrary to what many people think, there is nothing "inevitable" about the way historical events unfold. Were it not for Woodward and Bernstein's determined efforts, or John Dean's noble "betrayal" of his boss, or for the conscientious leadership of men such as Senator Howard Baker (R-TN), Nixon might well have weathered the storm and served a full second term. But the truly decisive factor that tipped the balance against Nixon during the first half of 1974 was public opinion: the American people shifted from being sick and tired of hearing about Watergate to becoming sick and tired of the lame excuses for criminal conduct coming out of the White House. Why did public opinion change? People might not like to admit this, but then as always, "it's the economy, stupid." The United States was experiencing the worst bout of inflation since the years following World War II, while the economy was in a deep recession. They even coined a new word for it: staglation. Like it or not, that played a big role in the widespread popular discontent leading to Nixon's resignation. it is interesting to consider how economic conditions affect the current controversies surrounding the investigation of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

But there is another contemporary factor is one that frankly offers very little hope for holding future U.S. presidents accountable to the law. Whereas in the 1970s there was still a strong print newspaper industry and three major commercial TV networks that pretty much dominated the air waves, today we have a weak and declining newspaper industry, coupled with a television industry that has become so fragmented that there is no longer a common factual basis for discussing politics. Cable TV and new streaming services have resulted in news operations that "narrowcast" to specific audiences, reinforcing their pre-existing biases, rather than broadcasting to the masses. That being the case, the possibility that the minority (in this case pro-Trump) faction that is so skeptical of the congressional hearings that they just ignore what Rep. Liz Cheney (W-WY) and Adam Kinziger (R-WA) have to say.

To illustrate the problem of fragmented news, this past spring I gave an assignment to my students in which they were required to watch two or three different TV news live broadcasts and provide their impressions about the content and any perceived bias. In most cases, however, students didn't even bother to watch live TV, they just used YouTube to pick and choose from a few recent broadcasts. That contradicted the whole purpose of the exercise, but it made me realize what a big barrier there is to getting people tuned in to "mainstream media." Streaming videos has accelerated the trend toward "narrowcasting," making it very unlikely that many people will ever get the full picture about what is going on in Washington, or in their state or local governments. The ruthless exiling of Liz Cheney and just about any Republican who deviates from the pro-Trump party line is one of many signs that they Party of Lincoln has become captured by a cult whose members believe all sorts of absurd conspiracy theories. It is a very worrisome trend.

Are we better off with more news sources? According to standard economic theory, increased competition among producers (in this case, news outlets) will lead to higher quality and more efficient production, hence lower costs to the consumer. Paradoxically, however, it seems that we had more accurate news reporting back in the days when television was basically an oligopoly consisting of ABC, NBC, and CBS. It would be worth the effort to unravel why the theory seems to be contradicted by the facts. By the way, it is no secret that Walter Cronkite -- "the most trustworthy man in America" back in the 1970s -- turned out to be a strong liberal, after he retired. Did his bias affect his reporting? Probably yes, to a degree, but that did not mean that you couldn't believe the news that was being reported.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that if he had to choose between a government and no free press or a free press with no government, he would opt for the latter alternative -- anarchy? Well, that was just rhetorical excess, but it does illustrate the predicament that "government of the people" finds itself in today. If we can all pick and choose which "facts" to believe, there is almost nothing standing in the way of a ruthless future president clamping down on dissenters and turning the United States of America into some kind of an authoritarian regime.

* According to my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, nabob originally meant: "a native provincial deputy or govenor of the old Mogul Empire in India."

U.S. Cabinet, current

Department Secretary
State: Antony Blinken
Treasury: Janet Yellen
Defense: Lloyd Austin
Justice: Merrick Garland
Interior: Deb Haaland
Commerce: Gina Raimondo
Labor: Marty Walsh
Agriculture: Tom Vilsack
Health & H.S.: Xavier Becerra
Housing & U.D.: Marcia Fudge
Transportation: Pete Buttigieg
Energy: Jennifer Granholm
Education: Miguel Cardona
Veterans Aff.: Denis McDonough
Homeland Sec.:Alejandro Mayorkas
Other cabinet-level posts:
W.H. Ch./Staff * Ronald Klain
U.S. Trade Rep. Katherine Tai
OMB Director Neera Tanden
Dir. of Nat. Intel. Avril Haines
EPA Admin. Michael Regan
Small Bus. Adm. Isabel Guzman
Amb. to U.N.Linda Thomas-Greenfield
NOTE: The official positions considered as cabinet-level may vary slightly from one administration to the next.
* = not subject to Senate confirmation.

Last updated: 21 Jan 2021

117th Congress

U.S. Senate
(Web site)
Post Republicans Democrats
Pres. Pro Tem--Patrick Leahy
Leader Mitch McConnell Chuck Schumer
WhipJohn Thune Richard Durbin
Seats5048 + 2
Two independents caucus with the Democrats.
U.S. House of Representatives
(Web site)
Post Republicans Democrats
Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Leader Kevin McCarthy Steny Hoyer
Whip Steve Scalise James Clyburn
The real leaders in each chamber are in bold face.
NOTE: As of January 2021, three seats are vacant.

Last updated: 21 Jan 2021

Virginia Government

Executive branch
Post Name Party
GovernorGlenn YoungkinGOP
Lt. GovernorWinsome SearsGOP
Attorney GeneralJason MiyaresGOP
Virginia Senate
Post Republicans Democrats
Pres. Pro Tem -- Louise Lucas
LeaderThomas NormentRichard Saslaw
Virginia House of Delegates
Post Republicans Democrats
SpeakerTodd Gilbert
LeaderTerry KilgoreEileen Filler-Corn
The real leaders (as opposed to ceremonial) in each chamber are shown in bold face.

* In the November 2021 elections, the Republicans won all three statewide executive offices (names in parentheses above, pending inauguration) and gained 7 net seats in the House of Delegates, going from 45-55 to 52-47; one seat became temporarily vacant in December. In the November 2017 elections, the Democrats gained 15 net seats in the House of Delegates (with one tied election being resolved in the Republicans' favor by drawing lots), going from a 66-34 to 51-49. In the November 2015 elections, the Republicans retained a 21-19 majority in the Senate, while the Democrats gained two net seats in the House of Delegates.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2022


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