Back in 1967, when I was still basically a kid, a 24-year-old graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, freshly aflame with notions about social justice and the proper role of America in the world, I visited my parents in Phoenix and got into an argument with my father over Vietnam.
It would be unfair to try and recreate it; I’m older now than he was then, and memory often serves our egoes more faithfully than it does the truth. But I can say for sure that he finally grew so exasperated that he proclaimed to me that he was ready for another World War to end the horror and, by God, we should start it and get it over with.
I told him I had nothing more to say to him about that tragic war. But even then I knew this was not considered a radical notion among many, many Arizonans.
American politics has long accepted the notion that its only radicals are on the left. My father, being an adult when he took his kids to Phoenix, had long since become a Goldwater Republican.
And of course, it was Goldwater who famously proclaimed, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
The extreme clarity of that statement never quite made it into the cerebellums of the press and politicians; most of the country for the last 40 or so decades have accepted the notion that it is Democrats, Socialists, blacks and browns (don’t even mention Native Americans) and anti-war, anti-gun, pro-choice citizens, union laborers and craftsmen, feminists, gays, envioronmental protectionists, professors and students… activists of all kinds, the Irish in Boston, MexAms in San Diego, Hollywood stars, rock and rollers and hipsters, smooth midnight hustlers and atheists, the what-have-yous … who are the radicals.
Now we know better.
It’s the Right in America that is radical. The Gingrichs and Cruz’s have shut down the national government after trying unsuccessfully to launch impeachment of the twice-elected Obama. They try to undo federal law by attaching amendments to the funding of government that effectively overturns that law, and fashion House rules adapted to their immediate purposes. Their Representatives feel free to scream “Liar” during a presidential address on the floor of the capitol, or to accuse that president of being a “Terrorist” at their rallies. They appear at rallies and encourage drivers to shut down the Capitol beltway with semi-trucks.
This sort of behaviour has made enough noise as to enable Big Media to redefine the political center of America so far to the right that it can include the undoing of modern social legislation passed during the terms of Teddy Roosevelt through Woodrow Wilson’s and on to FDR’s and Eisenhower’s and LBJ’s. According to Big Media, so long as this retrenchment is done in a bipartisan way the reduction of Social Security benefits, the privatizing of local primary and secondary education and the maintenance of a minimum wage at poverty levels are all okay with today’s moderates and centrists.
This manipulation of standards has been so effective that Lindsay Graham and John Cornyn in the Senate have been called moderate Republicans simply because they’ve spoken in the hallway to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid. Even a good Democrat who writes for this site can define North County’s rep in Congress, Scott Peters, as “left of center,” another marker of how far this distortion has reached, willed or not.
Another wild card in the radical agenda– maybe still a trump – is racism. Certain people will look at a black president not simply as an historical anomaly, but as an injustice. They’ll figure that he was elected because he violated some law (his foreign birth, say) and if that bucket leaks they’ll launch an impeachment try (on grounds I can’t describe because I’ve never clicked on the popups at the occasional (Liberal!) website I’ve encountered).
My friend John Ratajkowski, an artist/teacher in North County, says this naked reaction to color was caused by a kind of neural fault line; a trip wire snapped when certain people stumbled over it.
“It (Obama’s election) just unleashed all these Civil War fantasies, that America had been lost, and anything they could do, no matter how crazy and destructive, would be justified to regain it. They just can’t help themselves.” In other words, their fantasies gained the status of reality.
To be certain, the leaders of the Republicans probably don’t share these fantasies; they just make their livings off them. Do the Republicans have an African-American Congress member? No, they don’t. The last was Allen West, defeated by voters in his Florida district in 2012. That same year, Tim Scott won election to the Senate, from South Carolina. That’s it. That’s all they’ve got; one of the nation’s legislators of the 535 in the House and Senate is black and Republican. One.
Republican leaders are forced to take race into consideration when they appeal to their party’s lessers. Over the weekend I was listening to NPR when Paul Ryan, the GOP’s most recent nominee for vice-president, repeatedly referred to Barak Obama as “This president,” accent on the modifier – THIS – like the strike of a certain gong. “THIS president” will not negotiate, will veto (would kill your mother if no one was looking). He never used the president’s name. Obama is still unrecognizable in that fantasy world Ryan was invoking.
But, back to Goldwater.
“I have little interest in streamling government,” he said, for I mean to reduce it’s size… My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
And there’s not much distance between Goldwater’s message of the 70s and that of Newt Gingrich. Of course, it was Gingrich as House Speaker who engineered the shutting down of the federal government back in the 90s, the only other injection of paralysis in the nation’s history. More recently he swelled thusly on Glenn Beck’s radio program of May 17, 2010:
“The goal that the Obama team has is to fundamentally replace the historic America of self-reliance, independence, the work ethic, the people who go out and achieve because they spend their lifetime doing the right things. And they want to replace it with a politician-dominated redistributionist bureaucracy. Which in the essence would mean the end of America as it has been for the last 400 years.
Let’s leave alone the fact that the “redistributionist bureaucracy” doesn’t exist. In its absence banks have been bailed out after they created monstrous investor traps and brought on the Great Recession. They’re reporting huge profits now. Today, the incomes of 1 percent or 2 percent of Americans exceeds half the country’s, and the middle class has been shrunk in size. In San Diego, you have to be earning $75,000 a year to get a mortgage allowing you to buy a 1000-square-foot house.
This is radical. But keep it to yourself.