The Status Quo
February 5, 2013
Someone responded to one of my blogs asking “What is all this stuff about the ‘status quo’, Schultz? You make such a big deal out of that and it seems to me you make too much of it. What gives?”
Well, in one sense, I agree with this implied criticism. That those who are holding the power, the political power, of a given “system” should try to preserve that system and their place in it, is or should be of no surprise. This is one of the most common characteristics known to human beings who are, as Aristotle pointed out, political animals. That is, human beings want to, crave rule. Those who have achieved power, especially those who have achieved great power after great effort and sacrifice, are necessarily going to try to preserve that power. So in this sense, perhaps I do make too much of this “status quo thing.”
On the other hand, when viewed from the perspective of our current situation, including that we take pride in saying and thinking that we live in a “democracy” or a “republic,” the desire to preserve the status quo takes on a more malevolent aspect. Consider this: We have lived through some of the most interesting times, times that included the nation going to war, in Iraq, based on falsehoods and, apparently, even deliberately contrived falsehoods. This war did not go well and even appears to have been one of the most significant strategic blunders ever undertaken by this nation, with more significant consequences perhaps than even the Vietnam War. Now, one can attribute this undertaking to a particular man, George W. Bush, or a particular administration, the Bush administration, or a particular group of people, the “neo-conservatives.” But this could be wrong. That is, this undertaking could be “systemic,” the result of a “systemic bias” as many would say, much as Athenian imperialism was seen as systemic and not idiosyncratic. If this is the case or insofar as it is the case, then preserving the status quo is the equivalent of preserving a defective, which is to say an undemocratic or oligarchic and failing, system.
That this war reflects a systemic defect is supported by the fact that the successor, Barack Obama, to the president who led us into this war did not repudiate his predecessor or his war. In fact, he embraced that war, made it his own, and did nothing, not one thing, by way of holding his predecessor to account. Why not? What did he have to lose by asking for some accountability? As his predecessor left office with the lowest “approval” ratings of any other president, even Jimmy Carter, it is difficult to see what Obama had to lose by asking for some accountability. And I am speaking of accountability and not punishment, a distinction with a rather significant difference.
Having lived through that time, it is impossible for me to think that had George McGovern won the 1972 presidential election that he would have foregone the chance to hold Richard Nixon accountable for his conduct and expansion of the Vietnam War. This is why it was so important that McGovern not be allowed to win that election, a project that included dissing one man’s mental stability and turning McGovern into a radical, one who hailed from South Dakota. Yes, that makes sense, no? But, of course, from the perspective of the status quo, McGovern was a radical. On the other hand, Barack Obama has proven to be just another politician, more interested in preserving the prevailing alignment of forces than changing them for the sake of the betterment of the nation. That Obama has just recently agreed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent for almost all Americans only serves to solidify this assessment.
I could discuss the economic situation as well but I believe my argument is pretty clear. What I want to emphasize is that there is a lot of evidence “out there” that the American people recognize that the current system, the current arrangement of political power and the uses to which it is put, is or should be kaput. There is the fast moving gay and lesbian realignment; there is the rejection, ever more broadly, of the war on drugs; there is the anger that is evident in but not confined to the tea party; there are the election results which illustrate that the American people did not see much difference between Mr. White Bread Romney and Mr. Almost White Bread Obama – results which most interpret as indicating that the nation is intensely divided when in fact they indicate quite the opposite, viz., agreement that the status quo is hardly worth preserving. “Romney or Obama? Oh well, might as well stick with the devil we know. At least we know how bad he is.”
So, I would defend my concern with talking about the status quo and the apparent desire of its defenders to do most anything to preserve it. After its adventure in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union disintegrated. That system was less stable than is ours but don’t think the powers that be here are unaware of what happened in and to the Soviet Union and its incumbents. It is, they are well aware, a dangerous time for those who are benefitting from the status quo, just as it was a dangerous time after Vietnam, Richard Nixon and Watergate, and Jimmy Carter [a genuine outsider who needed “taming”]. So, Obama is, interestingly, our Ronald Reagan after all. And just as Reagan’s alleged “conservatism” did, so does the fact that Obama is “black” make it seem, or made it seem until he began to actually govern, as if we have moved beyond the status quo. But in neither case was the status quo disturbed to any significant degree. Sad to say, but the hope for change was crushed by the man who ran on a promise of hope and change.