The first rule of American politics is that presidents get elected by promising to keep the American people safe from one peril or another, real or imagined.
The converse of that rule is that no American president ever got elected by promising to keep the American people safe from themselves. Carter tried and lost. Mondale tried and got stomped. Others tried and were crushed before they got out of the gate.
It doesn't work, which is unfortunate because, sadly, the problem with America these days is mostly...us Americans.
Half of us can't be bothered to pay the slightest attention to what our country is doing or why, and more or less half of the rest get our ideas of right and wrong piped directly into our heads from Rupert Murdoch or Glenn Beck or "Focus on the Family" or all of the above.
This situation is not sustainable: as I wrote elsewhere (stealing shamelessly from our 16th President), our nation cannot endure permanently half-Fox and half-free.
And so we must face our real problem: that America is currently too fucking stupid, spoiled and hateful to make good, long-term decisions.
And so we make bad decisions, like deciding to get our Reality from bald-faced liars and lunatics because they tell us what we want to hear; or deciding to scream "Commie!" at people who try to tell us the truth because the truth is not what we want to hear.
The problem that blew a hole in health care reform and the Obama Agenda this year wasn't "death panels": it was that there are millions of Americans who are stupid enough to believe that wingnut fictions like "death panels" are real.
The problem with President Barack Obama is not that he is a socialist or a communist or a secret radical or a Muslim or Kenyan Usurper: it is that there are millions of Americans who are racist enough to swallow this bilge and ask for seconds.
The problem with Fox and Hate Radio and Regnery Press and all the think tanks and all the websites is not that they churn out utterly toxic lies 24 hours a day: it is that there are millions of Americans who are too weak and too cowardly to stop listening to their Siren's song
And the problem with America is not that we have these vast numbers of stupid, frightened and racist people scattered in our midst: the problem with America is that -- at great expense -- they have all been methodically gathered into the same political party, and they are pointed like a gun at our heads.
And now, a parable...
Some number of years ago, I worked as a technology honcho in a college department where the curriculum depended heavily on the very expensive hardware and software that was being "rode hard" 14 hours a day staying in perfect working order all of the time, from the first day of the semester to the last. It was hard work, and there were some tricks and trade-offs involved, but for the most part my most serious problems boiled down to a handful of students who felt they should be able to abuse the equipment however they pleased, and a handful of teachers who told them this expectation was their absolute right.
They were creative geniuses after all! And they paid tuition!
Keeping up with escapades of this reckless minority began soaking up huge amounts of my staff's time. Like dealing with Fox News viewers, I tried reason, but they didn't have much use for that. Like trying to get Harry Reid to grow a fucking spine, I tried imposing some discipline, but only with much excruciating persuasion could I get our weak-willed administration to stand up for anything that might make tuition-paying students unhappy.
And so, as I developed ulcers trying to do an impossible job because of the clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right, I quietly started Operation Shrug (only named by me as such years later.)
For the fourth semester in a row, you fucked up and burned through a semester's worth of expensive supplies in a week?
A teacher decided to have a midnight class kegger and bong-a-thon in the server farm and now the hard drives are all sticky with pizza and PBR?
For the second semester in a row -- without telling anyone -- you took cash in advance to book some Adult Ed class into a room without the right equipment, during a time when the department in closed? And you want to make that my problem?
Yell all you want, complain all the way up the chain of command and...shrug. If someone else wants to come in a undo all this fuckuppery -- while at the same time making sure everything else runs smoothly -- bring them on.
If not...then I guess that equipment is going to stay broken for awhile. And I guess those Adult Ed patsies you conned out of the cost of your trip to Majorca are gonna get their money back.
I wasn't doing it to be cruel, or because I was lazy. I did it because my staff and I were being held hostage to our work ethic and our sense of responsibility. Because rather than focusing on the real fucking problem -- the dickish minority who believed it was their right to foul the nest every night -- our weak and feckless administration chose instead to bring more and more pressure to bear on those of us who were cleaning up their nightly midden piles.
Because having tried everything else, it was all I had left.
And when I took this wisdom with me to other jobs, to my delight I found that it works pretty well everywhere: when pricks with power insist on smashing something precious to bits, rather than trying to mitigate the pain and clean up their mess, sometimes it is a fine thing to let the ruins lay there and rot for a good long time.
Let the stink fill the halls. Let its absence become an acute pain.
You wanted it broken? Fine. Now its broken. Now what?
The problem with America is not Barack Obama or Mitch McConnell or Rush Limbaugh.
The problem with America is the American Right. The problem is not in the White House or in Congress: it is in the cubicle next to you at work and in the pew behind you at church. It is picking up its kids at school as you pick up yours. It is looking for the sale-paper coffee filters one aisle over from you.
These are the people who went to the polls on November 2nd and voted to effectively stick a knife through the heart of the Obama Agenda, and turn the fate of America back over to the same scumbags who wrecked it in the first place. These, our fellow Americans, are the stupid people. The frightened people. The racist people. And if Barack Obama spent the next 20 years walking from one end of America to another and back again with a copy of "Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)" under one arm, and a print-out of AmericaDad's "An Open Letter to Conservatives", using all of the rhetorical skills at his command and spending as much time with each person as necessary, I am firmly convinced that at the end of his two-decade sojourn the very best he could hope for would be to have persuaded maybe 20-30 individual Conservatives that he might very wall not be a Communist at all.
Not that he shouldn't be trying every day to do just that. Not that I am not hugely disappointed in this President's Fabian Strategy of American politics:
The Fabian Strategy derives it’s name from the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus. He ran away Lemon, rather than engage in battle, he would retreat and retreat until the enemy grew fatigued and eventually made a mistake. Though I abhor it as a military strategy, it is the basis for all my, uh, personal relationships.But I must acknowledge that if a person came through the Clinton years and the Bush years with their Fox News Conservatism intact, they are by definition beyond the reach of reason and impervious to fact.-- Jack Donoghy, "30 Rock"
Which means that convention political warfare is useless.
I have not one clue what the President was thinking after the November 2nd "shellacking", but I know what I would be thinking.
I would be thinking that, just like in 2004, a dickish minority on the Right who believe it is their God-given right to foul the nest over and over again and never pay for their foolishness had once again rallied themselves, not to help fix our nation's problems, but to make those problems much, much worse.
That the Number One problem facing America is not high debt or high unemployment, but what to do about those millions of Americans who are stupid, frightened and racist enough to use their collective political power to petulantly smash something fragile and precious to bits.
And rather than trying to mitigate the pain and clean up their mess, it is quite possible that I would coldly and rationally remember that sometimes it is a fine thing to let the ruins lay there and rot for a good long time.
Let the stink fill the nation.
Let its absence become an acute pain.
You wanted the country broken?
Now its broken.