I’m taking a break from low-frequency snark for politics. If’n you don’t like the liberal variety, save yourself some time and blood pressure and look away now.
I don’t believe in political movements, and I don’t believe in Messiahs. As a general rule of thumb, I just want my bunch of crooks and liars to win, and the other bunch of crooks and liars to lose. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes you say, well it’s their turn this time. For this election, though, I genuinely want to see Senator Obama win.
I used to say that I became a US citizen because I liked the novelty of having a written Constitution, and because of the first, fourth, and fourteenth amendments. All of those reasons have been taking a battering over the last four years, as Andrew Sullivan sets out in a fashion that is clear, calm, and devastating.
Sullivan plainly understands something that it took me a while to grasp. At first, I was baffled by the American recourse to the law in order to resolve political questions, but when it became clear that Constitutional cases and precedent aren’t just a brake on progress, but on government control, then I was on board. There’s a lot to be said for the clear and public evolution of the law, so that as citizens we all know where we are and in some sense where we’re going, and where we draw the line about our sphere and the government’s sphere. This is the crux of liberty.
I don’t need to further dwell on the damage that the Bush Administration has done to the rule of law, but I am struck that it is characterized by the absence of transparency. The same lack of transparency was typified by the absence of regulations on financial instruments such as credit default swaps, so that when the music stopped, everyone assumed they had a ticking parcel. The Bush Administration wasn’t alone in that, but they were instrumental in making sure that the absolutely critical features of a well-functioning market – transparency and information – weren’t available.
The lack of transparency, sadly, was an instinct that appeared even when it wasn’t planned. Sullivan doesn’t place the same degree of importance upon the Federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina that he does on the Constitution, but they are both emblematic. In the case of Katrina, the urge to hide meant that inept relief efforts were rendered even more hopeless than before.
Some people will try and tell you that having New Orleans stand as the emblem of Katrina and the uselessness of the Bush Administration is to unfairly ignore the role of corruption and incompetence in Louisiana and New Orleans. I don’t doubt the local failures at all. But when Katrina hit, one of the administrative assistants at my office got tired of not being able to reach her family in coastal Alabama, so she set off with whatever supplies she could get in her truck and the money we had given in a whip-round at the office. She found her cousin dead from lack of insulin, her cousin’s children hospitalized from dehydration and lack of food while they waited for “Mommy to wake up,” her grandmother dead from dehydration. Fewer than 10 miles up the road, FEMA and the Red Cross were bickering over who was supposed to deliver aid.
Last week I went to New Orleans for the first time. I was surprised at how small a city it really is – ten minutes from downtown heading east on Interstate 10 for a meeting, it was practically the sticks. I have no clue – not one fucking clue – how everyone managed to so comprehensively fuck up rescue efforts in such a small space.
Last night I watched this old clip from Fox News wherein Sean Hannity tries to take up the line that reporters on the ground were exaggerating conditions, and Shepard Smith essentially told him he was full of shit. If you have 8 free minutes and low blood pressure, you can remind yourself of what a clusterfuck this was.
No-one knew what was going on, and the first thing the federal government did was to try and draw a curtain over what they were – and were not – doing. Perhaps I should be grateful that they were as bad at concealment as they were at managing a relief effort.
There are so many other elements to my view of the last 8 years, both common to the general public and specific to friends of mine – the NASA physicist whose funding, for the basic research that keeps the US economy ahead, is cut year in and year out; the lawyer who left his job with the environmental division at Justice because the political appointees were refusing to pursue cases where the government was actually enforcing the law and he could do more to promote ecological issues in the private sector – that I could go on and on.
But I won’t. At root, political preferences aside, I am tired of a government that fails both deliberately and on the basis of incompetence, that doesn’t respect the rule of law, and that doesn’t respect its citizens – the very people who authorize its existence. McCain and Palin have made it clear where they stand on that, by their rhetoric aimed those of us who aren’t real Americans and by false dichotomies that might have been valid if they were actually running as small “c” conservatives. I’d say they might as well whistle for my vote, but it wasn’t up for grabs anyway and when they heard the word “whistle” they’d just say something about terrorists and preachers.
If all I can get out of tomorrow’s election is a return to competence and, if not transparency, at least not paranoid concealment, then I will feel satisfied. I don’t want miracles, I just want someone who takes governing seriously.
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