Sunday, July 15, 2012

Looking back... and looking ahead

James Ottavio Castagnera: An Open Letter to Liberals
James Ottavio Castagnera, in an article written for HNN (7-26-05):

Let them have their chance. That’s my message in a nutshell.
I’m speaking, of course, of the 51 percent of our nation who re-elected George Bush. I’m speaking, too, of the White House, the GOP-dominated Congress, and the soon-to-be more conservative Supreme Court. They’ve been clamoring for this chance at least since the 1964 billboards proclaimed of presidential-candidate Barry Goldwater, “In your heart you know he’s right.” (We left-leaning collegians of the day snuck up on those billboards at night and added, “Yes, extreme right.”)
Goldwater was buried in one of the largest presidential-election landslides in U.S. history. Nixon temporarily redeemed GOP/conservative pride, but betrayed his office and departed voluntarily in order to avoid the ignominy of impeachment. Reagan re-redeemed them all, but you liberals will never, ever give him the credit he deserves for helping to break up the Evil Empire and end the Cold War.
So now --- like the spirits inside the “Poltergeist” TV set --- “they’re here.” And they have all the high cards. I say let them play out their hand.
Before going further, I should reveal my personal persuasions in the interest of full disclosure. While I marched against the Vietnam War, I wound up a disabled Viet-Nam-era vet. (That’s a bureaucratic designation, and should not be interpreted to mean I ever set a foot on Southeast Asian soil.) And while I am somewhat left of center on most social, moral, and economic issues, so long as the Wild West dominates the American mentality I will remain (strongly) in favor of capital punishment and (lukewarmly) against gun control. And while I worry about the impact of globalization on American jobs, like Bill Clinton I’m a free-trader in my bones. So place me on the political spectrum where you will. I’d put my pin pretty close to the center of the line.
Having gotten that out of the way, let’s turn to the “why” of letting them have their chance. Two reasons come to my mind.
First, they might be right.
Democracy may break out in the Middle East.
Tax breaks for America’s wealthiest one-percent may trigger an unprecedented economic boom that benefits all of us.
Borrowing our way to record deficits may be the best way to simultaneously save the world and keep ourselves economically and politically predominant.
And, turning back the clock to a time when abortion was illegal, affirmative action was unknown, and families figured out how to handle health and welfare problems on their own, may make for a stronger, fairer, and more morally-solid society.
I personally am not buying into any one of those propositions. But, hey, I say let ‘em try. If they succeed, send my dish of uncooked crow to Philadelphia and I’ll gobble it up under the eyes of Billy Penn in front of City Hall.
Second, they might be wrong. If so, time will tell. I’m reminded of what the economist J.K. Galbraith wrote in an appreciation of John Maynard Keynes in the May/June 1977 Harvard Magazine: “In 1937 recovery from the Great Depression was slowly under way; production and prices were rising, although unemployment was still appalling. The men of sound judgment now asserted themselves. They moved to cut spending, raise taxes, and bring the federal budget into balance. The few Keynesians protested; our voices were drowned out in the roar of orthodox applause. As the budget moved toward balance, the recovery came to a halt. Presently there was a new and ghastly slump, a recession within the Depression.”
Concludes Galbraith, “It was exactly as Keynes predicted. The men of sound judgment had made our case.” The result was that Washington and the nation woke up to the economic realities of the times and turned to policies that effectively redressed those hard realities.
Aye, as Hamlet might say, there’s the rub.
For if America’s conservative half has its chance between now and November 2008, and if its policies fall flat, will the GOP and its supporters/voters have the good sense --- if not to say the good grace --- to admit they were wrong and then shut up?
If in 2008 we are economically on our bottoms, and if terrorists still stalk our subways and our street cars, and if the Middle East continues to seethe with violence, hatred and injustice… then will good sense and/or good grace prevail in our national politics?
It should, since this country’s conservatives will have no more excuses. This time around, their champions were not rejected at the polls; they are not in danger of being driven from office by a witch-hunt (albeit one or two close friends of Mr. Bush may still be trouble for outing that CIA operative); and you poor liberals don’t control any of the three branches of our central government.
So, I say again, “Liberals, let them have their chance. And, meanwhile, prepare for the day when you get to take yours.” I have a feeling it’s coming.

I published that piece almost exactly seven years ago.  What has happened since it was printed?

  • The Great Recession
  • The election of a Democratic president, the first Black man to occupy the White House
  • The end --- more or less --- of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • The killing Osama bin Laden and a number of other top Al Qaeda leaders
  • The enactment of Obamacare and its blessing by the U.S. Supreme Court
And still the nation is divided down the middle... more sharply divided than at any time since the Civil War some 150 years ago.

I have always thought of myself as a middle-of-the-roader.  An unkind observer might score points by saying that for most of my life I have been devoted to family, while being apathetic about politics most of th time.  Fair enough... granting that this is true, I am surprised by the depth of my aversion to Mitt Romney.  Perhaps it is in part that my political views have hardened.  Whatever the reason, I find myself baffled by those who support this guy, except of course for the upper and upper-middle classes.

How can an American of middle, lower-middle, or lower class vote for a guy who made his fortune mainly by gutting compaies and firing workers, and who now keeps most of those ill-gotten gains in off-shore accounts?

How can anyone who really is an American, i.e., a patriot, support a guy who is so clearly willing to say anything, to switch positions however often, on major issues in order to win votes?  Romney's lack of principles and lack of integrity should disqualify him to lead this nation.

As a lawyer, I am trained to see both sides of every issue.  For probably the first time in my life, I can't grasp the other side of the case.

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