27 January 2010
I used to care. I really did. I canvassed for Mayor Daley in the last election before his death in 1976, passing out fliers (leaflets for European eyes) with the eagerness of a kid who had no idea what the word "money" meant in the context of a political system such as the one that I was campaigning so cheerfully for, because things were good. The sun shone on Northshore Avenue in those ever nearly so crisp autumn days at the corner of Ashland Avenue. I lived a fairly carefree existence to that point and it was fun to be a part of an organization that made things work, and for the most part, work well, despite certain illegitemacies that even I knew took place in order to keep the wheels of that city going.
I was politically aware because of the candidacy and fall from office of President Richard Nixon and only knew right from wrong because of the woman that raised me and my sister while our single mother was out trying to earn a living to keep a roof over our heads, food in our mouths and educated and, God bless her, Vahness Duncan taking care of us and teaching us about life. I don't know if I'm alone in the category of people whose best memories of childhood center in large measure around values inculcated into me by a black woman who had picked cotton in her hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas before the "Great Northern Migration" after 1940 for war and other jobs in, among other places, Chicago and Detroit that did not require stooping, at least physically. This woman was my second mother.
My political reality extended intensely at least as far back as August 13, 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned his Presidency "effective at noon tomorrow" for breaches of his office which would, I think by now, have been topped multiple times over by succeeding Presidents as the "Imperial Presidency", as it has become known and which supposedly died with Richard Nixon. Not a chance. Until this President, who has eschewed leadership for brotherhood.
As I stood with my blond-wood handled broom, sweeping near the little area next to the rear cash register at Schwab's Drugs on the corner of Pratt and Clark Streets where I acted as garbageman, stocker, checker and delivery boy, and over which was mounted a small 12 inch portable television imported, no doubt, from Japan, I remember standing there as clear as day: the szhlub Kenny W., standing in front of and to the left and whose remarks I don't remember, but my own were as I recall, something on the order of "wow, he really IS a crook". It was what we would call in 2010 jargon a teachable moment. Even my newly bar mitzvahed brain knew you didn't give up if you're innocent. Or do you? It shook my world then and shaped all things that were to come later, including the eventual rise of Ronald Reagan and social conservatism and the ultimate succession to the Presidency of George W. Bush, ushering in as it did an age of cavernous cynicism and distrust of government that still shakes this country to its core right up until this moment.
It was in grade school during the election of 1968, when I was in second grade that I became fascinated with politics because of the very upheavals that I knew I was then a part of. The shouts on the school bus from my friends were "Humphrey, Humphrey, Humphrey", against which I heard shouts of "Nixon, Nixon, Nixon", thinking to myself, "how could those idiots vote for a guy like that? I remember clearly being for Humphrey as my mother, like her parents before her - my grandfather, Milton Diamond had run as a Democrat for local office at the county level in Hammond, Indiana -- and his parents before him in New York City, and so on, were all Democrats, because Democrats always looked out for the little guy and did the right thing. My mother volunteered for Chicago Democratic Congressman Frank Annunzio in some capacity or other, and she was proud of what she did and of what her party stood for.
Came Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush pere, Clinton, and Bush fils, the latter of whom has created a shitstorm so bad that it has blown right back into the face of the first black man who would be President of the United States, educationally and temperamentally qualified like no other in recent memory, politically tested and qualified by having risen as he did through the ranks of local Chicago politics, statewide office and finally to the Senate to represent Illinois. A more pristine curriculum vitae and politically saleable life story could not be asked for, and what did he get for his troubles?
I remember a cartoon that summed up the situation we are now in with a picture of a black man, Obama, in a white waiter's outfit, cleaning up the mess left after George Bush II left the White House with the country in shambles, much as he did, if you are inclined to believe even 10% of what Oliver Stone says is true, for a black man to clean up. What, pray tell, has changed since the institution of slavery plagued this country? He is among our best and brightest, and the shitstorm-covered country has been left to someone who very recently, had parentage that extended back to Africa, Barack Obama's father. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
For what is Obama but a cog in a machine run by this country's various industries? What has become of representative democracy in this country since I campaigned for Mayor Daley, regardless of the fact that it was always theory around our house that Daley didn't much care for black people and in particular, I later learned, Martin Luther King, Jr. in particular. Nor did he care for Jews by reputation. Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor's biography _American Pharoah: Mayor Richard J. Daley_ sticks in my head at this point for whatever substantiation or clarification might be needed on the latter point. Also instructive to my memories about Mayor Daley is study of Daley and his machine done by Mike Royko in _Boss_. The lesson from those books was "scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours". Everyone wins. Things were good in Chicago and there were plenty of people who were willing to overlook some moral, fiscal and political process-type shortcomings (the dead really did vote) for the fact that Chicagoans like my mother had jobs that paid the bills. Not today.
The previous occupant of the White House left a shitstorm on in November, 2008 which has caused too many people to lose their jobs, causing them to have difficulty paying their bills or paying them timely if at all. Too many people are without health insurance. Too many people have lost their homes, so that our own social fabric is tearing at the seams. 10% unemployment? Feh. I am sure if you defined "unemployed" along the lines of what "unemployment" means in reality, you would find there are plenty more who have been forced to face the fact that "things" are not good on a systemic, macro level because I can assure you that the reality-based unemployment rate is much, much higher than 10%. Define "things" as you see fit.
I can never remember feeling this hopeless about this country's future, but I am afraid that there is nothing left to do than what is being done. Obama has gathered the smartest minds on every topic, every issue, -- do not argue that he has not made made rational choices- and has come up with what we have now. Do you think his motivation is any less than on the day he took office? Coming out of Chicago, you can bet that he knows extremely well how to be political in a Chicago sort of way: backscratching and deal-making. His campaign showed that. It was run like a machine, organized Rolex-perfect, a giant commercial for hope and change embodied by a then 47 year old Harvard law graduate that we should have realized was largely campaign fluff, but also yearning to feel better about ourselves as Americans, sick and tired of being the laughing stocks of the world and amongst ourselves, good Germans all of us, knowing that the country was in a world of hurt from off-the-books-wars begun for reasons known only to those who are inspired by the rapture and a love of oil. We all must have known deep down that there was no way that Obama was going to be able to keep 90% of his promises owing to the shitstorm that only grew worse as November, 2008 approached. I had suggested in these pages that Obama should have resigned from the campaign and taken his money, wife and adorable daughters and bought in Monte Carlo and lived a decent life. He didn't bargain for a shitstorm when his campaign jumped off on a freezing February morning outside the Capital of Illinois in Springfield. Who could have imagined this?
Obama is in an absolutely impossible situation and the political backbiting by a Democratic Party feels as if its whole edifice, the one that is associated with FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and LBJ, has come violently tumbling down at our feet because we as a country have forgotten principle and worship only money and the things that it can give us to make us ostensibly yet, of course, temporarily happy. It is the need for money that drives this country.
And the sooner we try to make that happen again and possible for everyone who honestly tries to do his or her best, the sooner we will be at work, the better the country is going to be. That the Democratic Party could not have the will to ram through even a single piece of major economic legislation while controlling both houses of Congress and the White House is a travesty, but wasn't that in part Obama's mantra? - to change the way Washington functions by working together with Republicans for the benefit of everyone? But bipartisanship with moron tea-baggers? With people who think that the President is a Muslim-socialist-communist terrorist? With people whose only wish is to see you fail, and who proclaim that fact proudly and publicly? One wishes for a seance in the Oval Office with Mayor Daley to advise Obama about how to handle this, if only the old man had half the brains that Obama has.
There is no denying that the representatives that we have now, each and every one of them, is indebted politically if not financially to some corporation or other by virtue of the evil of campaign donations, which in too many cases, most notably and recently the Senator from the Great State of Blue Cross, otherwise known as Arkansas, who, along with another poster child for the transparency and change we were promised from the Democratic Congress, comes the Senator from the Country of Nebraska who essentially did the same thing by cutting a deal that would financially benefit his state and remove it from having to bear some of the burden for public health insurance, all of which means that they are not looking out for the 'little guy' or the -- can I say it -- dear departed middle class. They are looking out for campaign contributions and favors for friends, albeit with a very thin veneer of respectability. Democrat or Republican, take your pick. It doesn't matter. Deals that were made in Chicago at least resulted in a city that worked. Washington is a different animal, and back-scratching and deal-making beyond what is normally acceptable for that city are not what is going to get this country working again as Chicago did.
Trust me when I tell you this reeks of old-time Chicago politics, politics as usual in America, the politics of money. I've seen this movie before. Only in Chicago, things got done. The Boss made it so. But that was a long time ago in a different time; now the new Boss is the same as the old Boss, thank you Pete Townshend.
Which is one reason why I sat down to write these thoughts, as diffuse as they may seem at the moment -- and thank you if you're still reading. I just don't care about politics any more. Like I quit, cold turkey, the Cubs, whom I would no longer allow to hold me victim for a 41st year to its never ending parade of hope for victory "NEXT YEAR!" that hasn't come for 102 years. I suffer from Stockholm Syndrome no more as the result, though I am sure I suffer from other ailments as a result of too much loyalty. The same is true with my loyalty to politics, a delusion in which I thought I mattered politically. The fact of the matter is that we don't count. Money counts.
How can the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress possibly satisfy so many interest groups, domestic and foreign, all with lots of money and influence, and not get twisted up morally, or try to negotiate down significant, meaningful measures like health care for everyone to the least common denominator, the result of which is that absolutely nothing gets done or, as we have seen, actually ends up a windfall for industries that are slated to be regulated but who are the ones actually writing parts of the bloody law? The people in those industries are not selflessly motivated by the likes of Mother Teresa or Ghandi. We wonder no longer, or perhaps the call for change and hope by President Obama made us forget: the representatives are not in office for the people's benefit, but for the corporations that employ them and so that they can get re-elected, which is their real full time job. So here it is as I write these words and the President is supposed to be now 49 minutes into his "confidence building" speech and I honestly could not care any less.
It doesn't matter what he says or how he says it; nothing will change and that is just the plain truth. The man is doing the best he can. The Congress is, as was pointed out in today's Foriegn Policy magazine, "An Agglomeration of Nincompoops." Whether I care or don't doesn't matter.
I earned a political science degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1982 -- and excelled -- and have come to the conclusion that we have all become the tools of our employers, from the albacore fishermen's association to the zinc lobby, the ones who have laid off so many, who have bought off those that the people thought were looking out for them and those who cannot fend for themselves.
But here it is, in our finest hour, and it feels gray, as if the whole experiment has failed, and when the evidence is submitted that I, in particular, have concluded that the best thing to do is get into the race for money, or get run over by it, and the sudden realization that as a political science major, and in studying politics, I was just only just starting, in my graduation year of 1982, to try to really count sheep not people. Little did I realize that never mattered how much I cared. Caring is an industry, isn't it? Hysteria, that's an industry, isn't it? Fear, an industry, right? Everybody's goal is to make money off of it all, from birth to death.
So like giving up on the Cubs, we are all forced into what we should have been doing all along: living for the right now, for things are not good, at least for too many people I know whose personal and professional qualifications are basically impeccable and who have no business waiting around for people to throw bones at them to feed on at the altar of the shitstorm that just spat them out like trash.
Sadly, this may be perceived as some concession of principles on my part: none whatsoever. I owe an obligation to my family to make money so that they can live as nicely and comfortably as possible -- and get educated and in general, live decently. It's about survival of one's self and one's own and being a decent person and about caring for each other so that we can each live up to our potential. What was it that Darwin guy said about the survival of the fittest?
Adaptation. Do it or die. Whatever happens tonight doesn't matter. It's just theater.