Monday, September 29, 2014
The curiousness of politics
Not sure if curiousness is a real word. As I type it the automatic spell check is not highlighting it, but it sure seems like it may be made up - or has been made up in the recent past.
I just finished watching the end of an HBO special on Nixon. I didn't see it all, but I did see enough to feel an inspiration to post.
What struck me to write was the realization that Nixon won reelection in 1972 by a devastatingly huge majority; 63% of the vote. I assume all or the vast majority of the electoral college. (Perhaps McGovern won his home state). Yet, Congress at the time was controlled by the Democratic party. Similarly, President Obama recently won reelection by a comfortable majority yet the House is Republican controlled, and there is a very real possibility of a Republican controlled Senate after the 2014 midterm elections.
Curious how the nation has changed. We elect a Republican to run the country in 1972 yet rely on the Democrats to run congress at the same time. Other than a brief blip called Jimmy Carter, this pattern continued through the Reagan and Bush 1 years. One may say that at that time, we preferred a more conservative, traditional approach to running the country but wanted a more liberal perspective in terms of creating laws and allocating our monies.
Fast forward to Obama and, other than the first two years, he has had a Republican controlled House the last four and will so again in the next session. (Control of the Senate has not followed control of the House as closely, but other than the current 6 year run of a Democratically controlled Senate, the pattern has been similar). So, it seems we prefer a more liberal viewpoint to preside over the presidency but seem more conservative in our approach to establishing laws and spending money.
In 1972, despite the daily protests in the streets over America's involvement in Vietnam, Nixon bombed the heck out of the country, even, infamously, over the Christmas holiday of 1972. I don't know this for a fact, but I assume the Democrats in Congress were in tacit agreement with Nixon's handling of the war.
Similarly, President Obama has presided over an unprecedented increase in the use of unmanned drone bombings in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan, and now in Syria and Iraq as we chase down the ISIS scourge. While I do see some politicians from both parties questioning the use of drones, it says it all when Congress refuses to vote on the current campaign against ISIS. Republicans who support military action don't want to be on record of agreeing with anything Obama does, and Democrats who are against it are not to eager to disagree with their political leader.
It strikes me that when it comes to war, presidents generally have the support, spoken or unspoken, of Congress. And Americans, despite believing in our Christian heritage, and despite being the most generous nation on earth, are always willing to authorize killing when a case can be made for the evil nature of those we are attacking, regardless if the case has any merit. The fact that we continue to cling to the notion that might makes right when our spiritual leader preferred "turning the other cheek" says it all.
So maybe the title of this post should be the curiousness of American politics; or merely the curiousness of Americans.
Finally, and I am not about to quote Nixon because I have any love lost for him, but the HBO special ended with a quote from his farewell speech to his staff. He said it, I assume, from a very personal perspective, consistent with the egocentric personality that enabled the bugging of the Democratic office in the Watergate Hotel at a time when he fully expected to win at least 60% of the votes. But what he said should resonate nationally, especially considering our reaction to the horrible events of 9/11/01, the continued incendiary actions from a small minority of the Muslim community, and the recent beheadings of American journalists in the Middle East.
"Always remember others may hate you but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself."
Perhaps he was reminding those who served him in the White House and the country in general, that it is OK to be hated by those who do not, or refuse to, understand you. Or, that it is OK to be hated by those who may even envy you or wish to bring you down out of jealousy. But to return that hate only serves to justify their hatred, and not only brings you down to their level, but inspires actions that beget further hate, or worse, inactions when a dissenting action is required.
In the end, Nixon was on record as despising all kinds of people, all kinds of Americans that disagreed with him and his policies, or engaged in activities that he did not approve of. If you listen to any of his tapes you are left with the impression of a brilliant politician with a huge persecution complex.
Yet those words, "those who hate you don't win unless you hate them" should be a reminder to all of us who are all too willing to give credence to the vilification of a religion or culture or race or ethnicity, and to tolerate the killing of our perceived enemies. And, whether Richard M. Nixon is watching us from above or below, he may be wagging his finger in rebuke and warning that our problems may be self inflicted, our potential for destruction may be self generated.