Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Amba's friends are lately glum:

With Naomi Wolf, my friends, my nieces, are convinced that America is well along the road to no longer being America; that we are consuming and competing ourselves into complacency, caring only about pleasure and the pursuit of wealth and fame, while democracy is dismantled under our noses and replaced with a bellicose protofascist authoritarianism. The companion grief to this (and a displacement of it?) is over the destruction of "the planet," the drowning polar bears. People continue to go through the motions of voting, perhaps protesting, and reducing their personal carbon footprints, but these often seem like mere magical gestures to ward off an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and futility. Exxon Mobil's carbon footprint is going to crush yours like a bug. The two griefs are blood brothers in oil, the addiction that drives the new American imperialism.

Why doesn't this cataclysmic vision seem like gospel truth to me? Hell, I felt more like that when Ronald Reagan got elected than I do now.

Long view versus short view. Being a little older than them has something to do with it, but knowing a little more does as well. The climate is not stable, and it has veered and shuddered worse than this in historical times. (Not that I'm suggesting Amba remembers the hot spell under the late Roman emperors.)

That's not meant to make them feel comfortable. It's a serious problem for us, and the brazen rapaciousness of energy corporations responsible only to their bottom line for the next 12 months is another. They're our problems and challenges.

But I spent the first half of my life basically expecting to be incinerated, along with every other living thing near a city in North America, in a nuclear holocaust with only minutes warning. In a way, climate is a harder problem. But that sure was some bad mojo. And we got through it, and we had people like Faulkner, in the depth of it all and staring destruction in the face, and saying, " believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail." We can do this.

As for the other half of it, all I can say was, "where were you all this time?" If you think this a Dubya problem, you're not paying attention. The long view, again.

Americans have been trading sovereignty for license and security for more than a century. Dave, commenting on this, makes an interesting point:

By the time World War II broke out, the America envisioned by the Founders, that of government by enumerated and delimited powers and extreme decentralization was gone for good (or ill). That’s not coming back.

A question that I think that the progressive critics might consider is whether they really think that the America of 1820, with legal slavery, hatred of and legal discrimination against non-Protestants and non-whites, women firmly ensconced in the home, and the only social safety nets being the family and the church, was better than the America of today?

But at cost.

This is a picture of Mount Vernon. The white one, on the left, behind the tree. The red brick one is an old saloon.

Don't be fooled by that pretty place in Virginia they often show you as the home of the founder of our country. This is the real home. I pass it every day on my way to work. It's where Thaddeus Stevens lived and worked in his political career. The man who wrote the Fourteenth Amendment, which radically and forever changed the relation between the federal government, the states, and the people. It's where modern America, the nation under which we live, began.

Madison was right: The Bill of Rights was a mistake. Not because of the rights, but because it got us in the habit of thinking our rights were things the federal government gave us.

The Revolution started in the townships. For the first half century of America, people paid far more attention to local than to national politics. That's where the locus of power lay.

Nowadays? I bet most people couldn't tell you where and when their local government meets. They never show up unless they have an immediate problem within 50 yards of them. Then, when they do, they don't recognize the local officials or the rules of order, and lawyers easily snow them under.

The politics of the 1830s seem quaint and incomprehensible to us. De Tocqueville's assertion that "The people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe" is as much a surprise to us as it was to his contemporary European audience.

If Amba's friends think the system set in motion in 1787 has been humming along til George W. Bush took office, they're wrong. In 1787, we got a federal government strictly limited and clearly divided into prescribed powers and roles and given just enough of authority to prevent anarchy or invasion, to guarantee the continuance of society. The Founders girt it about with warnings against those who would mix it or extend it. Washington pleaded on that point in his Farewell Address.

Which nobody reads any more.