Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More from Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich is worth reading and here is some more from his book, The Limits of Power.

"Victorious in snowy Iowa the candidate proclaimed...that 'our time for change has come.' If elected president, he vowed to break the power of the lobbyists, provide affordable health care for all, cut middle-class taxes, end both the war in Iraq and the nation's dependence on foreign oil, and 'unite America and the world against the common threats of the twenty-first century.' In an earlier age, aspirants for the highest office in the land ventured to promise a chicken in every pot. In the present age, candidates like Senator Barack Obama set their sights on tackling 'terrorism and nuclear weapons, climate change and poverty, genocide and disease.'

"The agenda is an admirable one. Yet to imagine that installing a particular individual in the Oval Office will produce decisive action on any of these fronts is to succumb to the grandest delusion of all. The quadrennial ritual of electing or reelecting a president is not an exercise in promoting change, regardless of what candidates may claim and ordinary voters believe. The real aim is to ensure continuity, to keep intact the institutions and arrangements that define present-day Washington. The veterans of past administrations who sign on as campaign advisers are not interested in curbing the bloated powers of the presidency. They want to share in exercising those powers. The retired generals and admirals who line up behind their preferred candidate don't want to dismantle the national security state. They want to preserve and, if possible, expand it. The candidates who decry the influence of money in national politics are among those most skilled at courting the well-heeled to amass millions in campaign contributions." [pp. 170-171]

Well, this just about says all that needs be said regarding how we think about, talk about and do politics today - and have for some time. The imperial presidency, the creation and even the crux of the progressive revolution in our politics, is appealing to us because it not only holds the promise of great things but it even absolves us of the responsibility of dealing with or confronting our "problems." That is, it absolves us of all responsibility but that of voting for the "right person." And this helps explain why there is so much emphasis put on voting today, on the duty of everyone to vote, which resembles the emphasis put on everyone's duty "to support the troops." Just as it is no longer an obligation of citizenship to serve your country but just to support those who do, so too it is no longer an obligation of citizenship to participate in politics except to vote for those who will.

As another commentator often quoted here, Wendell Berry, put it:

"What we are up against in this country, in any attempt to invoke private responsibility, is that we have nearly destroyed private life. Our people have given up their independence in return for the cheap seductions and the shoddy merchandise of so-called "affluence." We have delegated all our vital functions and responsibilities to salesmen and agents and bureaus and experts of all sorts. ...Most of us cannot think of dissenting from the opinions or the actions of one organization without first forming a new organization. Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism. Dissenters want to publish their personal opinions over a thousand signatures." [pp. 73-74]

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