Address to a Joint Session of Cyberland, the Blogosphere and the Voices in My Head, held Somewhere Out There on the First Day of January in the two thousand tenth year of the Common Era.
Your Royal Lizness , Ladies, Gentlemen and Kinnars:
Happy New Year.
Much as we’d all like to forget the steaming pile of compost that was the past ten years, we are forced to be mindful of it. In much the same way that the survivors of the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are mindful of a possible recurrence of the disaster that befell them, we too should be aware of the causes and effects of the past decade and how they will affect us in the following years. Past is prologue, so forgive me if I recapitulate.
I wish to congratulate the American People for managing to become both the main winners and losers of 2009. Winners, in that they managed to shrug off twelve years of right-wing fainéant dominance in both legislative houses and eight years of stupefying incompetence in the Executive Branch to elect a President and representatives who more closely represent the majority of the population. Losers, in that the self-same elected representatives have managed to act as if they are still a disregarded minority.
Political Boss Mark Hanna, back in the late 1800s, is reputed to have opined that William McKinley had “the backbone of a chocolate éclair.” To apply such an epithet to the current majority leadership in the United States Senate would be an insult - to chocolate éclairs.
To be fair, however, it would be wrong to deride the previous twelve years of conservative dominance as ‘fainéant.’ Urged on as they were by such stellar intellects as Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and others, they stripped the country’s regulatory machinery down to nearly nothing, lowered taxes on the wealthiest of the nation while increasing the burden on those who had less, and turned their backs on corporations in the belief that the ‘free market’ would look after itself and automatically prevent excesses.
Freed from such restraint the ‘free market’ succumbed to the unbridled greed that is as much a part of human nature as is altruism, with the inevitable result that we are now mired in a deep recession. The government that conservatives despise saved the economy from complete collapse, although it was a very close-run thing. Fortunately, there are indications that we have reached the bottom of the pit; now it remains for us to dig our way out, and it shall be a long and painful process.
We can expect no help in this matter from the former conservatives, who are even now forced to either embrace the more radical fringes of their Party or abandon all hope of reaching political office again. This radical fringe, composed of (I am sure) well-meaning Americans of the middle and lower-income classes, has apparently adopted cognitive dissonance as a normative behavior, actually spending a good part of last summer protesting the imposition of higher taxes on the rich. A small minority have even abandoned the standard rhetorical slogans of “My Country, Right or Wrong” and “America, Love It or Leave It” in favor of seceding from the Union, with hardly a thought to the repercussions of such an action or aware that the last time secession was attempted it ended very badly for the seceding states.
Greater restraint and regulation of greedy and needlessly extravagant corporations must be imposed, but again we are faced with a concerted lack of will in the legislature. Depending on how the Supreme Court may rule, there is a possibility that the next Congress will be even more beholden to these same corporations who have driven us into recession than they are to the people they supposedly represent.
I can see it now – “This session of the U.S. Senate is brought to you by the makers of Brown 25, building block of the future, another fine product from Uranus.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, of course; we have it in our power to make things better. The first step, of course, is letting our elected representatives – our employees – know that they are obligated to do something rather than sit and moan about any loss of comity in the chamber. I will tolerate a certain lack of comity so long as things get done. The party out of power has decided to opt itself out of the process despite all attempts at a bipartisan outreach. Very well, then; we should frankly disregard them. If they want no seat at the table, we should not keep holding it out for them. The executive branch of the government needs to be more actively engaged as well.
For much of the past decade we suffered a President and Administration who openly lied to us and thought nothing of ignoring the Constitution and common human decency. Thanks to them we are embroiled in two wars that are sapping our armed forces, killing our troops and dragging our economy down. Paying for these conflicts with borrowed money helped deflect the attention of the taxpayers away from any sacrifices, and the media blackout on Dover Air Force Base helped close peoples’ eyes against the human cost of the conflict.
Another casualty of the previous Administration’s actions was a degradation of our moral standing in the global community. No one trusts us any longer to do the right thing.
The current Administration, faced with the choice of the dagger or the bowl in Afghanistan, opted to escalate our presence in hopes that saturating the affected parts of the country will finally suppress the Taliban. However, several provinces have Taliban ‘shadow governments,’ people are paid to fight against us on a seasonal basis, and the flow of drug money to the Taliban in their safe havens in Pakistan continues unabated. The “as long as it takes” argument will not work – the Soviet Union tried for ten years, with many more troops than we have available and more force than we are willing to bring to bear, and failed.
The world is less safe, thanks to the efforts of the previous Administration, and the current Administration is constrained by the actions and choices made by its predecessor. The withdrawal from Iraq is proceeding, albeit very slowly, and we must be painfully aware that we are ceding the stage to Iran, the largest player in the region. We were not invited there, and had no cause to go, but the previous Administration lied and their media sycophants blustered, and we went to war against a country that had never harmed us and had no intention of doing so.
I mentioned earlier in the previous year, that the true heirs of Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite are not to be found on any of the so-called mainstream information media outlets. Subsumed within the budgets of vast business conglomerates, these once important organs of the Fourth Estate have been politicized and trivialized to the extent that they are now considered entertainment rather than news-gathering organizations. Rest assured, though, that the heirs of Murrow and crusading journalists, the new Muckrakers, are among us even now. They have learned to eschew the sycophantic mainstream and will, eventually, supplant it.
Now we stand at the threshold of a new year. What awaits us in the next twelve months, nay, in the next decade?
We can expect the prison at Guantanamo Bay, that suppurating pustule upon our morality, will be eventually closed despite the fear-filled rhetoric of the radical fringe. We can expect more attempts to destroy aircraft and buildings, and even assassination attempts against our elected leaders. Despite the heated rhetoric that greeted it, the Homeland Security report of 2008-9 was correct – disaffected military veterans returning from the wars will be targeted by various extremist groups and the number of domestic terrorist groups will far outnumber the foreigners who seek to destroy us. Fed on hateful rhetoric, these domestic groups are a source of constant danger yet are frequently overlooked, often deliberately so, in favor of an enemy that is far easier to demonize.
We can expect further progress in the slow and painful process of finally facing up to the fact that the political center of gravity is inexorably shifting east and south. The previous Administration mortgaged this country to the People’s Republic of China in order to finance their military adventures, and we no longer have the moral primacy to dare face the Chinese on human rights. The consequences of China calling in our debt to it are monstrous to contemplate.
Unless there is a political shift leading up to the election in 2010, we can expect a radical right-wing surge against a disaffected and disappointed incumbent base, with the possibility of the current Party in power losing at least one of its two legislative majorities. While I do not foresee the loss of the House of Representatives, the loss of the Senate would spell disaster. It was hoped that something – anything – could get done with working majorities in both chambers, but an obstructionist Senate would cripple the current Administration for the remainder of its term.
I personally do not foresee the loss of the White House in 2012, so long as the following conditions obtain: The economy improves to the extent that unemployment decreases, Guantanamo is closed, we are fully withdrawn from Iraq and several other domestic priorities are satisfied (to include the repeal of ‘Don’t ask, Don’t Tell’). That includes health care reform, which for all its faults and weaknesses still represents the high-water mark in attempts to rein in the unbridled rapacity of insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
Turning to foreign policy, I see us drawing closer to the rest of the world. Unilateral action has not served us well; we must reach out, particularly to regional powers like Iran. Issues such as terrorism, energy policy, global climate change and other problems demand a concerted, multilateral approach to problem-solving. Getting other nations to respect us again is another matter for respect, once lost, is hard to regain.
We must turn away from the concept that we can maintain our place in the world without educating our children. Education accounts for a slim, almost penurious segment of our gross domestic product, and teachers are poorly paid and heavily overworked. Education is the only thing that will enable us to raise and train new generations of inventors, researchers, innovators and scientists. Information is the currency of this era; we must never devalue it in favor of superstition, pseudoscience or cant.
I said earlier that we were giants once, and in truth we have been. We said we would go to the Moon, and did. We conquered the atom. We have it in us to be giants again, and lead the world in science, technological innovation and energy. As John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” But it is easier to sit back and let others lead. It is easier still to crawl back into the comforting, dark womb of superstition and rely on magic to somehow produce a deus ex machina that will solve all of our problems. Yes, it is easy, but that is not America.
What awaits us in the next ten years? The future is never clear, but we know that we must work. We must work to ensure a better future for our descendants; we must work to correct the mistakes of the past and to guarantee that those mistakes do not happen again; we must learn from the past, in order to build the future.
Like the card player in Gorky’s Lower Depths, we cry out for “something better.”
I thank you all for your attention. I yield back the balance of my bandwidth and reserve the comment box to revise and extend my remarks.
Thank you, Happy New Year, and Goddess bless America.