Bill Clinton wasn’t the first to do a political two-step. From a strictly liberal point of view, we haven’t had an actual liberal president since LBJ (though some would say Eisenhower, or maybe even FDR was the last. Sorry, but Truman never quite made the grade.)
You may wonder what I’m talking about when I talk about a political two-step. Its a dance where a politician delivers wonderful sounding rhetoric to throw red meat to the base while at the same time leaving themselves room to spin it later. “What I meant was…” is a red flag if you are looking for politicians playing the game.
Some call it “Walking back” their comments. I call it trying to get a second bite at the apple – trying to convince their base that they weren’t lying through their teeth when that is exactly what they were doing. Catering to one side with words while kissing the collective ass of the other with action.
While Carter had liberal tendencies on the domestic front, his decision to allow weapons and ammunition to be sold to Indonesia when he knew full well that they would be used to commit a genocide in East Timor ended any claim he might have had to be called a liberal.
As far as I’m concerned, that one sweep of his executive pen forever lost him any right to be called a “liberal” or even a “progressive” when the number of the dead rose to a point where they finally outstripped the killing fields of Cambodia and positively dwarfed Hitler’s efforts. Let’s face not mince words: The title of progressive should be made of sterner stuff than supporting mass murder for money.
I know that little detail isn’t about to be taught in American High Schools any more than giving them a heads up about Watergate…but it happens to be one that students should know something about. Knowing that your government supports genocide is at least as important as knowing how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, calculate interest, or balance a checkbook. None of which are required for graduation anymore.
I know that teaching history and civics aren’t things that Republicans want to be taught, but there are a lot of benefits to be had from a population able to recognize a mental patient running for office.
All that most people know about Carter is that the formation of OPEC resulted in a blowback for the forced installation of the Shaw of Iran by the United States back in the 1950’s (not to mention our support of the military expansionist policies of Israel). The butchers’ bill came in the form of an oil embargo from OPEC, which Carter responded to by telling American’s that we are addicted to oil, but there are alternatives.
Unfortunately, nobody wanted to hear the facts about alternative energy while was being rationed and they were sitting in long lines waiting to fill up gas cans for cars that depended on the kind of liquid love that only petroleum could deliver. Carter was screaming into the whirlwind, though.
Not only does the United States lack an infrastructure capable of delivering energy by wire instead of road and rail, the non-existence of commercially available passenger vehicles, coupled with the nuclear meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant facility turned Carter’s support of nuclear energy into a running joke.
Thanks to an endless hostage crisis which, apparently, Reagan exacerbated by cutting deals with our enemies in Iran, Reagan rode a wave of anger and frustration all the way to the White House, where he did two things:
Carter had put Solar panels on the roof of the White House to help lower its reliance on energy from fossil fuels. The savings in taxpayer dollars amounted to over $50,000 a year. Ronald Reagan didn’t care about the additional tax dollars that would be spent by taking them down – he ordered them ripped from the roof of the White House anyway. What mattered was the optics of advertising to fossil fuel companies; the United States government was going to roll the nations support of technology back the clock to the days of Nixon, even while while energy costs were being jacked up.
The second thing he did was to put an end to the decades-old policy known as the “Fairness Doctrine” (put in place by Roosevelt.)
The nuts and bolts of the Fairness Doctrine, as some may recall, said that the White House would not allow any media to attend Press briefings whose policies on ALL stories were not fair and balanced. If they published a story, they had to have two sources from both sides.
That policy blocked openly biased media for decades from being welcome at White House press briefings. Sure, there were still ways to slant media a bit to the left or right – just as there is now – but unlike today, accuracy mattered. The competition to be the first and the most accurate was such that one of the winners, CBS News, saw the anchor of their nightly news report repeatedly given awards and named the most trusted man in America.
Throwing the fairness doctrine out the window helped the right wing move further towards the fringe while ignoring pesky little details like…facts.
There is a very old saying in the newspaper game: If it bleeds, it leads.
As the right-wing media moved further to the right, they gained more ears and eyeballs, which meant that Republicans who ignored the lies and moved with the fake news they supported got elected. Yes, even the idiots. As more Republicans got elected, Democrats became afraid and became less interested in anything beyond progressive rhetoric and more interested in edging towards supporting more conservative positions; hoping if they did, they might pick up a few more voters.
It didn’t work.
As Democrats edged to the right, that increased the insanity of the media, which consequently toggled a domino effect of Republicans moving ever further towards extremists, which excited the fringe media, which provided free advertising for less qualified Republicans who were easier to manipulate by big business, which attracted more large corporate campaign “donations”, which meant winning more elections, which convinced Democrats they needed to move still further to the right…and the vicious cycle continued.
After forty years of that, accuracy is out the window and nobody in Washington gives a damn about anything but money, power, and parroting any crazy crap that comes out of the mouth of shock jocks. At this point, it is no longer about what is true, it is about whatever shit sells ears and eyeballs. Couple that with gerrymandering, and you’ve got a political environment that only needed the United States Supreme Court to add a cherry on top in the form of their now infamous “Citizens United v. FEC” decision.
The chief justice at the time, Anton Scalia, cast his deciding vote in the case after being handed thousands of dollars as part of a “speaking fee” at a large, corporate-sponsored conservative convention. His tie-breaking vote in the case became the cherry on top of a legal principle called “Corporate Personhood” that the United States Supreme Court had been working on since 1866. It is a legal principal tailor-made for fascism. Thanks to the Supreme Court, it was finally complete.
And that, my dear, is how we got Trump.
And what was the first thing Trump did in the White House? Attack the most accurate journalists by calling them “Fake News”.
When debate fails, the loser resorts to insults. When debate fails the powerful, they attack the press. When that doesn’t work, they get really nasty.
With Trump, we get President “Hold-my-Beer”.
“Mr. President, NOBODY would be crazy enough to jail people for trespassing on their own property, then install a pipeline they don’t want just to make a quick buck. That would almost be as bad as putting babies in jail…something only a fascist would do!”
“hmmm…Hold my beer.”
If the nation survives, it will not survive without a few scars. If we are lucky, though, enough people will wake up enough to realize that there is a crying need to make changes to the constitution to prevent this from ever happening again.
I’m not saying that there should be limits to freedom of speech…at least not for residents of the United States. But certainly, we need to revisit the issue of Corporate Personhood and deal with it once and for all.
If we ever eliminate corporate personhood, I can’t guarantee an end to conservatism as a concept…but I’m almost certain that the nation will start doing a Left-Wing Two-Step until we reach somewhere around a sane, centrist position:
Fiscally responsible enough to not want to tax people to death, yet caring enough to want to do all we can to help “Make America Great Again.”