Thursday, November 18, 2004

State of the Union

Everybody's rhetoric alert starts flashing red whenever the words Soviet or Hitler or Fuck come up with relation to the Bush administration. And well they should. The rhetoric alert is a useful tool against overblown and melodramatic fear mongering. After all, like a sloppy drunk on a Saturday night, our country can totter a bit this way and that, and sometimes pukes all over everything, but there are loyal check-and-balance friends on either side to prop it up and keep it from hitting the hard sidewalk of totalitarianism. Phew! Metaphor fatigue!

That aside, I can now revel in the new manifestations of post-Mandate Bush. No, I don't fear for our private property and I don't think that John McCain will wind up in Mexico with an ice pick in the base of his skull. However, I always find it a useful thought experiment to look at events in my country as though I were evaluating reforms and policies somewhere else. In other words, what would i say if Ukraine were doing this? Now, obviously, this is a false experiment to some degree. In the same way that a little poor management at a polling station is less dire in Minneapolis than it is in Tashkent, small shifts in the power structure of the U.S. don't portend the same dramatic results that they may in less institutionalized democracies.

Still, it's always thought-provoking to kick back, grab a mug of coffee with your Russian office mate, and appreciate the macabre irony of the Right dabbling in some of the governance techniques of the hated Red Left of olde.

1. Consolidation of executive power over other branches of government? Check. Legislators get into line behind the president, and naysayers are made an Arlen spectacle of. The Presidents inner circle of advisors is farmed out to cabinet posts, and the nation's intelligence director quells suspicion that he is a partisan advocate by issuing a memo telling employees to "support the administration and its policies."

2. Reduction of diversity of opinion in policy advisors and ministerial posts? Check. From everything we've been able to read, Bush heads a notoriously tight circle of advisors, and trusts the advice of a few. This makes for a strikingly small range of policy options to consider. Now members of that inner circle are heading out to cabinet positions, and a certain cabinet member that offered a contrary vision, is heading home.

3. Dissent sabotages the revolution? Check. Except substitute sabotage with "threatens" and revolution with "safety." Or perhaps "denigrates" and "troops." Maybe "weakens" and "resolve"? This old yarn is a tired and well-traveled one, but it's always nice to see it pop up again. Hi! We don't learn, do we?

4. Loyalty rewarded over principle? Check. And its more common corollary, principle flagrantly abandoned for partisan gain? Tom DeLay. Tom friggin' Delay. In the redistricting, in the changing-of-rules to protect his leadership position from indictment. Oh my oh my. (Yes, of course you can point out examples a, b, and c in which the democrats are guilty of questionable decisions on partisan grounds. But this is breathtakingly brazen, because somebody has a mandate, or so I've been told.) There are plenty of examples for this category, but I'm sure you can recite them all yourselves. Remember, Bush's only mistake was to hire a turncoat.

5. Infallibility of the leadership? Check. See last sentence above. Also, try this: in one hand hold the phrase "party of accountability." Then in the other hand, hold the WMD scandal, hold Niger yellowcake, hold Valerie Plame, hold the post-invasion planning in Iraq, hold Abu Ghraib. Then go to the DOD website and when you still see Don Rumsfeld smiling down at you, drop to the floor.

5. Cult of personality? This is where Comrade Irina drew the line. Rhetoric alerts wailing full-tilt. Susan, you don't know from cult of personality. Fair enough. But can I still call him Dear Leader?


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