Political Gridlock, Yes. Two Americas, No.

Gary North – April 01, 2019

Remnant Review

For about 15 years, this catchphrase has become popular among politically motivated intellectuals: “two Americas.” If you doubt me, do a Google search for the phrase. Put it in italics, so that the search engine will search the phrase as a unit.

The concept has been with us for as long as there have been two political parties in the United States. It goes back to the battles between Hamilton and Jefferson, beginning in the 1790’s. This should tip us off to the fact that it is an exclusively political concept. America has been remarkably unified as a culture, and this began in the 1790’s.

ONE AMERICA, TWO RHETORICS

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Aristotle wrote about it. The problem with rhetoric is that it relies on emotions more than logic. Skilled rhetoricians know how to manipulate people. They sometimes use logic as a tool of support for their goals. They do not start with logic and then add rhetoric as a tool of persuasion. This was why Socrates had contempt for the sophists. They sold their rhetorical skills to the highest bidders. In short, they were like lawyers. Today, we should add advertising specialists to the list. I speak from experience. I am one.

My advice: when you find yourself moved by an argument, don’t take action until you review the logic and the facts of the presentation. If it’s a big decision, sleep on it, especially if it’s irreversible.

When it comes to political rhetoric that is heavy on emotion and low on facts and logic, I invite you to think of a phrase that is popular in Texas: “all hat and no cattle.” (In writing this, I am using rhetoric.)

Politically, something has happened since 1992 that is becoming regular, yet had never happened before 1992. A President is elected and reelected. The next President is from the opposite political party. He is elected and reelected. The next President is from the opposite political party. He is elected and reelected. This is what we have seen: Clinton, Bush II, and Obama.

The United States is a divided country politically. But if you look at the major pieces of legislation that each of these Presidents signed into law, there is not much to show for all of their rhetoric. We remember Clinton for Monica Lewinsky. We remember Bush for 9/11. We remember Obama for ObamaCare. But that’s about it. In Clinton’s case and in Bush’s case, the issues for which we remember them were not initially political. When it comes to major pieces of legislation, the only really big one since 1993 was the Patriot Act under Bush, but it had been sitting around for years. The political timing to get it passed was not right until 9/11. The core of the Patriot Act was put together under the auspices of Joe Biden in 1995, prior to the Oklahoma City bombing.

The political differences separating Clinton, both of the Bushes, and Obama were minimal. The same can be said of Trump’s actual policies: no major break with the last 25 years. We have to go back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency to find major rhetorical differences, but Reagan’s initial Chief of Staff, before he appointed him Secretary of the Treasury, was James Baker III, who was a long-term advisor to George W. Bush. Bush appointed him Secretary of State. Reagan’s rhetoric was on the Right, but the legislation that he signed into law, with the exception of the reduction of top marginal income tax rates in 1981, was middle-of-the-road. The magnitude of his $200 billion budget deficits broke precedent with Republican politics. It was Clinton, not Reagan or the Bushes, who balanced the budget (not counting Social Security). But Americans forget this. All that we remember is Lewinsky.

The Lewinsky story, in my view, is the real story of the two Americas. It proved that there are not two Americas. Clinton got away with it. It was wink-wink across the nation. He was impeached by the House because of a legal reason: lying under oath. Most House members probably would have liked to avoid the Lewinsky issue. There were too many closets and too many attractive interns in too many Washington congressional offices. Nobody wanted to get closet doors opened.

Clinton’s behavior with Lewinsky was appalling, yet there was no national moral revulsion. There did not even seem to be moral revulsion within the White House. Hillary played the dutiful wife, lashing out at the vast conservative conspiracy. She played Tammy Wynette. She stood by her man. There were always good reasons for conservatives not liking Hillary Clinton, but this was my reason. She had no sense of moral outrage. She was not merely a doormat for Bill Clinton’s adulteries for her whole marriage. She was far worse. She publicly vilified her husband’s female victims. Anyone who would do that for the sake of basking in the limelight alongside a powerful husband is not to be trusted. I never hated Hillary Clinton, but I distrusted her intensely. I had contempt for her husband, affable and charming as he seemed to be. He betrayed his wife, and he took advantage of his victims. He was the incarnation of what has gone wrong in America. We now tolerate the kind of behavior that he indulged in. We shrug it off as politically irrelevant and therefore irrelevant generally.

The problem with America is not that it is divided politically at the top. The problem is that the nation’s vast majority has politically accepted policies that would have been considered intolerable prior to 1970. I put the legalization of abortion at the top of the list. The public will not take a stand defending the right to life of unborn children. America is not divided. America is united in its moral blindness.

The people who keep crying out against the two Americas are political junkies. They focus on national politics as the essence of America. They really do believe that politics is primary in life, and everything else is secondary. These people are Leftists. They may call themselves conservatives, but they are Leftists on the issue that matters most to Leftists: the centrality of politics.

From the beginning of the conservative movement under the influence of Edmund Burke in the late 18th century, there has been this premise: society is not the same as the state. Intellectual conservatives have always insisted on the conceptual separation of society and state. They believe that society, which is made up of smaller, local entities that have been granted legitimacy by the people, and to which people are loyal, is fundamentally different from the state. Civil government is not to be regarded as the equivalent of society. This statement of faith has been the heart, mind, and soul of intellectual conservatism for over two centuries.

Intellectual and philosophical conservatism in America has been overwhelmed by political activists ever since the rise of the anti-Communist movement in the late 1940’s. These voters had never heard of philosophical conservatism. Neither had political liberals. Goldwater’s run for the presidency in 1964 solidified political conservatism. Newly mobilized conservatives began to define themselves as political. But it was not until the Vietnam war that that voters on both sides of the political spectrum began to take politics seriously in between presidential election years.

The politicians in Washington got along. Senator Lyndon Johnson and Senator Barry Goldwater were able to get along as members of America’s most influential Good Old Boy network: the United States Senate. Richard Nixon and Jack Kennedy got along just fine. They were a couple of Navy veterans. They actually liked each other.

Ever since 1929, the Good Old Boy network of Washington politics has reflected the Old Boy Network of America’s Establishment. The Council on Foreign Relations began to exercise serious influence nationally only with the inauguration of Herbert Hoover. Harding and Coolidge had no connection with the CFR, which had been founded in 1921. Coolidge in 1924 defeated the Democrats’ nominee, who was the incarnation of the Establishment, a co-founder of the CFR: New York lawyer John W. Davis. The Democrats’ nominee in 1928, Al Smith, had no connection with the Establishment. In contrast, Hoover was Establishment to the core. From the day that Hoover was sworn into office until today, the CFR and related organizations of the invisible government have supplied the senior advisors to Presidents.

The legislative agendas of Presidents are shaped heavily by their advisors. A major component of presidential politics is to conceal from voters the enormous influence of the handful of by-invitation-only institutional sources of these advisors. This strategy has been successful, although less so since the spread of social media. This long-term arrangement is the reason why the famous phrases that salaried speechwriters insert into the speeches of Presidents rarely amount to much from the point of view of what is subsequently enacted into law by these Presidents. Political rhetoric is icing on the cake, but the recipe for the President’s latest cake is written by senior advisors who belong to the CFR, the Trilateral Commission, or who are connected to Goldman Sachs.

There is one America, not two. The same is true of national politics. The same is true of the source of presidential advisors. Thnk of it as CFR Team A vs. CFR Team B.

In contrast, there are two rhetorics. I describe this condition as follows: “two hats, few cattle.” (In this rare case, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is correct: the cattle really are seriously flatulent.)

POLITICAL REALITY: RHETORIC VS. THE BUDGET

The rhetoric associated with presidential campaigns is divisive. This is how candidates rally their respective voter bases. But they have to be careful. If they get too extreme, they will alienate more than half of the Independents, and this can be fatal in the election booths of America every four years in November. As the Independents grow in number, they become the swing voters.

Here is what has happened and is still happening. As the Independents, who are in the middle, leave the two parties, this leaves the extremists in the party with greater influence prior to the nomination of the presidential candidate. Without the Independents inside the parties, the number of moderates shrinks. The Independents don’t have any say in the nomination process.

This leads to an illusion. The illusion is based on rhetoric: the division of the country into two ideologically hostile, non-cooperating factions. Yet from the point of view of the actual legislation, nothing radical ever seems to get out of Congress, and if it does, the President vetoes it. The only veto that Trump has exercised is the veto over his right to allocate enough money to build 237 miles of his so-far nonexistent wall. There never was going to be any such wall. It was campaign rhetoric, not a blueprint.

Rhetoric has divided the country’s national politics. This rhetoric seems to be irreconcilable. But most voters have become reconciled to irreconcilable rhetoric as long as there are no policies to match it, which there rarely are.

Except for the issue of immigration, where the policies never change much, President to President, there is no major political division in the country today. It’s business as usual in Washington.

There is surely no division over how the federal government’s money is spent. The percentages that go to the major spending programs every year change slowly, and they change in favor of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (50%). With 10,000 people coming onto the Medicare rolls every day, and $12,000 per enrollee a year, the heart of American national government today has to do with paying retirees. The military-industrial complex gets its 15% every year. The interest payments on the government debt continue to rise, and will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Every other special-interest group is struggling to hang onto its share of the shrinking leftover piece of the federal budget’s pie. Most of the money is already spoken for by the existing federal agencies.

New welfare programs? Think of every proposed new program as the equivalent of Trump’s wall.

The reality is this: there isn’t any political possibility of a major political change, because there isn’t any political possibility of a major change in the federal budget. This is reality. This is the famous “bottom line”. It is the bottom line of American politics.

The divisive issues rhetorically cannot be funded politically. So, the rhetoric gets more radical as the stakes get more minimal. There is less and less possibility of anybody’s political agenda getting enacted into law and therefore funded, and therefore the rhetorical crazies are getting the publicity. This is why Bernie Sanders and the wide-eyed woman from New York get what used to be called front-page news, but which is now distributed by Facebook posts and links on Matt Drudge’s site.

PEGGY NOONAN’S POLITICAL RHETORIC

I have been a professional scribbler for over half a century. I have enjoyed speaking in front of a crowd for over 60 years. Therefore, I have enormous respect for the rhetorical skills of Peggy Noonan. She was a speechwriter for Reagan and G. W. Bush. She was the source of Bush’s wonderful phrase: “a thousand points of light.” Such speeches are crafted to inspire the volunteers to get to the polls. But no one should imagine for a moment that his speech or that phrase reflected anything in his political agenda. We cannot trace any law that got passed in his administration as being the direct result of the vision of decentralization in that phrase.

Here is her take on the two Americas. This essay appears in the opinion section of The Wall Street Journal. It has a headline that grabs your attention. It has a subhead that pulls you into the article.

The Two Americas Have Grown Much Fiercer
The U.S. was divided 46 years ago. But no one saw it as a fight to the death.

Now that’s rhetoric! But that’s all it is. There is no fight to the death. There is merely a political Punch and Judy show that thrives on confrontational rhetoric. This newer rhetoric breaks with the kinder, gentler rhetoric that she employed so successfully for Reagan and Bush. She regrets its passing.

She begins with this:

Sometimes you write about the most obvious thing in the world because it is the most important thing.

She is still writing rhetoric. She writes “you” when she means “I.” The word “you” lures readers into joining her on the question of “I.” Using “you” when we really mean “I” is an ancient device of those of us who use rhetoric to persuade people to get on board our particular bandwagons.

She begins with a discussion of the Mueller report. The Mueller report has been at the rhetorical center of today’s gridlocked national political system. I can do no better than to quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Nothing important, anyway. The Mueller report’s importance today has been correctly identified in this cartoon, which I hope will win the Pulitzer Prize.

Political Gridlock, Yes. Two Americas, No.

Noonan continues:

Reaction to the outcome of Robert Mueller’s investigation shows Americans again how divided we are. If you are more or less of the left, you experienced the probe as a search for truth that would restore the previous world of politics. Instead the traitor got away with it and you feel destabilized, deflated. If you are of the Trumpian right, it was from the beginning an attempted coup, the establishment using everything it had to remove a force it could not defeat at the polls. You are energized, elated.

Now both sides will settle down, with the left as forthcoming in its defeat as the right is forbearing in its victory. I just wanted to show you my fantasy life. The Trump forces will strike with a great pent-up anger, and the left will never let go.

I dearly hope she is correct. If she is correct, this will paralyze national politics even more than it is today. National politics is an excellent choice for something to be paralyzed. Bipartisanship has given the nation a series of setbacks for liberty, such as the Patriot Act and two fruitless, costly wars, strategically unrelated to 9/11, that Bush started in Afghanistan and Iraq. The longer that Congress and the White House are paralyzed, the less likely that there will be new legislation.

She worries about political bitterness. Political bitterness is as American as apple pie. It began with the newspaper wars between political factions backing either Hamilton or Jefferson in the late 1790’s. Four decades later, Jackson vs. Clay was matched in rhetorical intensity by Jackson vs. Calhoun. As Jackson said after he left office: “My only regrets are that I never shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.” He had been involved in several duels with political opponents. He carried a lead ball in his body until he died. He shot his opponent dead. He threatened to invade South Carolina militarily in 1832 to suppress any secession. When historians examine Jackson’s rhetoric, they do not think “tweets.”

Both sides will be intensely human. And inhuman. Because the past few years the character of our political divisions has changed, and this must be noted again. People are proud of their bitterness now. Old America used to accept our splits as part of the price of being us—numerous, varied, ornery. Current America, with its moderating institutions (churches) going down and its dividing institutions (the internet) rising, sees our polarization not as something to be healed but a reason for being, something to get up for. There’s a finality to it, a war-to-the-death quality.

This is rhetoric. She is really good at rhetoric. The problem is, she avoids logic. Logic plays only a minor supporting role in her article.

Most Americans are not deeply divided over politics for a good reason: most Americans do not care enough about politics to attend a precinct meeting. As long as the economy is humming along, most Americans regard the latest tweet from Trump as free entertainment.

The Left watches Rachel Maddow. The Right watches Sean Hannity. Only a few million people listen to these prime-time media celebrities. Nothing that either of them says has or will shape anything that goes on in Washington. Fortunately, nothing much goes on in Washington except rhetoric. (When I say this, I have politics in mind. A lot goes on inside the impenetrable bureaucracies of Washington. But politicians have virtually no control over this, and they never have. The only thing that can change a bureaucracy’s activities is the reduction of its budget, and this never happens in Washington.)

She says the conflicts go back to the mid-1960’s. They go back a lot further than this. There are times of confrontational rhetoric. Harry Truman called the 80th Congress (Republican) the idiot Congress. Then the rhetoric cools. It was mild under Eisenhower and Kennedy: the era of bipartisan 91% top marginal income tax rates.

It is, actually, shocking, and I say this as a person always generally unshocked by American political division, because I came of age in it. When I was a kid we came together as a nation when John F. Kennedy died and manned rockets went up, but after that it was pretty much turmoil—Vietnam, demonstrations, Watergate. You were on one side or the other. The terms left and right started replacing the boring old Democratic and Republican.

The Vietnam War was a deeply divisive issue. It deserved to be. Over 58,000 American troops died. It was also a fiscal disaster. But it was a bipartisan disaster. The war did not stop because Congress finally cut off the funds. The war just kind of petered out after Nixon got embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Most politicians figured that they could get peace with honor by quietly reducing the Pentagon’s budget. They got peace with dishonor in Vietnam, but nobody cared. So, no one’s political career suffered. Americans by 1975 just wanted out. It took over a decade for most Americans to figure this out.

The so-called two Americas were still going at it in 1972.

I will never forget seeing, on the cover of Time magazine, in October 1972, an essay by Lance Morrow that was ostensibly about the last days of the race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern but really about something bigger. I was in college, and it struck me hard. It was called “The Two Americas,” and was elegantly written and prescient. The candidates were so unlike each other that they seemed to represent different “instincts” about America. “They suggested almost two different countries, two different cultures, two different Americas,” Mr. Morrow wrote. “The McGovern campaign marches to the rhythms of the long, Wagnerian ’60s”—racial upheaval, the war, feminism, the sexual revolution. McGovernites had a more romantic conception of what leadership could be, should be.

She neglects to mention what few people perceived at the time: the rise of direct-mail political mailing lists after 1964. The McGovern campaign was funded by a direct-mail genius, Morris Dees, later of Southern Poverty Law Center fame (and recent disgrace). Dees was to the Left what Richard Viguerie was to the Right. These two men re-shaped American political rhetoric. Their donation-generating printed rhetoric produced hundreds of millions of dollars of cash flow from the respective hard-core audiences that they mailed it to. These audiences did not hold the opinions of the Good Old Boys in Washington.

Over decades, political rhetoric shapes politics, but only in periods of crisis, either military or fiscal. While the economy is chugging along, politics remains the same. Congress does not rock the boat sufficiently to change the federal budget’s percentage allocations.

McGovern was routed by Nixon. McGovern had the mailing list, but Nixon had the votes. It was only in 1972 that the power of the mailing list began to be evident to political insiders and political junkies. Political junk mail catered to political junkies.

This is not how Noonan explains things.

In Nixon’s America, on the other hand, there was “the sense of ‘system.’ The free enterprise system, the law and order system, even the ‘family unit’ system.” They were protective of it, grateful to it. And the antonym to their idea of system wasn’t utopia, it was chaos. “They are apprehensive of the disorders that the late ’60s adumbrated to them, the turmoils that they suspect a McGovern accession might bring.” They wanted evolution, not revolution.

While Nixon supporters tended to be more “comfortable,” McGovern backers had their own kind of detachment. Harvard sociologist David Riesman was quoted on part of McGovern’s constituency, professional elites: “They have very little sense of that other day-by-day America.”

She is very good at rhetoric. She is not good at sociology. How do we know about McGovern’s supporters and their “detachment”? What evidence is there for this statement? She offers none. How comfortable were Nixon’s supporters? I don’t know. I didn’t vote for him. I was an Ashbrook supporter. His candidacy went nowhere. Wikipedia summarizes.

His slogan “No Left Turns” was illustrated by a mock traffic symbol of a left-turn arrow with a superimposed No symbol. It was meant to symbolize the frustration of some conservatives with Nixon, whom they saw as having abandoned conservative principles and “turned left” on issues such as budget deficits, affirmative action, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, wage and price controls, and most of all, improving relations with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China with his policy of détente.

Democrats referred to Nixon as Tricky Dick, but the only people who were completely taken in by Nixon after 1968 were the Republicans who voted for him in 1972. If you want to read a book on this, read Richard Whalen’s Catch the Falling Flag (1972).

Mr. Morrow noted a dynamic still with us, only more so. On both sides, “voters repeat their candidate’s themes and even rhetoric with a precision that is sometimes eerie.” He concluded with the observation that within the two Americas he saw “one common denominator,” the sophistication of the people, their earnest desire, left, right and center, to find and support the best thing for America.

There still remains one political common denominator in the two Americas. That common denominator was summarized best by Clinton’s political operative James Carville in the 1992 election: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Americans vote their pocketbooks. Everything else is peripheral. This is nothing new. This is what American politics has been, except in times of war, ever since the Congressional election of 1790.

Noonan laments regarding that article: “It was written with a respect and warmth toward the American people that is not so common now.” Does anyone else care about a Time article from 1972? Maybe Morris Dees, but I doubt it.

Next, she gets nostalgic, even maudlin, about her years with Reagan.

Writing is never pleasurable, at least for anyone sane, but the most pleasurable and satisfying speeches I worked on with Reagan were those in which you get to bring your love for the other side. A Rose Garden speech praising the excellence of Scoop Jackson or JFK, a speech never given on the excellence of Eleanor Roosevelt. We quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman more than Dwight Eisenhower. The boss had been a Democrat. He’d stumped for Truman in ’48 with Truman. Reagan was not sentimental about our divisions—he knew exactly why he was not a Democrat anymore—but he took every chance he could to reach across the lines and hold on.

The thought of a speech on the excellence of Eleanor Roosevelt is so appalling that I have difficulty repressing my temptation to use rhetoric more closely associated with that of Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson in private. As for anything good to say about Franklin Roosevelt or the politics of Harry Truman, there isn’t any. Those two men did more to destroy the American political tradition of liberty than any two back-to-back Presidents in American history. Roosevelt gave us the national welfare state, and Truman gave us the national surveillance state.

She adds: “But that kind of popularity is probably not possible in this environment.” I dearly hope she is correct, but I doubt that she is. Invoking the memory of FDR is safe politics in most of the electorate.

She goes on: “Nothing can be moderate or incremental, everything must be sweeping and definitive. It is all so maximalist, and bullying.” But this excess is limited to rhetoric. She has been taken in by the supreme myth promoted by rhetoricians: the immediate power of rhetoric. She really thinks that speeches make a difference in national politics. She is correct about rhetoric’s long-run effects under limited circumstances: national crises. She is delusional about its short-term effects. Reagan’s rhetoric was inspiring for conservatives, but it did not change national politics. Politics bumped along as before. The welfare state (1933-) and the national surveillance state (1947-) have survived and grown. The welfare state rhetoric of the Progressives (1895-1920) did make a difference over time, but it took until 1933 to begin to pay off institutionally, i.e., bureaucratically, in Washington. It took the Great Depression.

She goes on: “In that environment people start to think that giving an inch is giving a yard. And so they won’t budge.” I hope they won’t budge. Gridlock is exactly what we need in Washington. Gridlock is better than bipartisanship. Gridlock offers hope: the public’s loss of faith in national politics.

Bipartisanship still rules in Washington in this crucial area: the federal budget. But masters of political rhetoric never talk about the budget. They see the budget as a fit study only for wonks and bean-counters. Fact: if you want to know what a person believes in most, look at his bank expenditures. Similarly, the federal budget tells you what Congress believes in most: the AARP, the Pentagon, and T-bonds, in that order. There is no confrontational rhetoric here. These issues are serious. Rhetoric is for less serious issues.

She goes on: “You don’t even get credit for being extreme in your views but mild in your manner, in the way that people called Barry Goldwater both extreme and mild. Now you must be extreme in your manner or it doesn’t count, you’re not one of us.” Who is she writing about? Most Congressmen do not indulge in rhetorical fireworks. It’s too risky. They do not want to alienate Independents in their districts. Sounding like Maxine Waters is not politically savvy. As for the electorate, most people do not use extreme political rhetoric. They are polite. They don’t want to cause trouble. In our daily lives, we are a lot closer to How to Win Friends and Influence People than we are to the latest political rhetoric coming out of Bernie Sanders’ mouth or President Trump’s tweets.

She then reveals her faith in politics as central to society — the ancient Leftist confession of faith. She blames national politics for the nation’s supposedly escalating alienation.

It is just such an air of extremeness on the field now, and it reflects a larger sense of societal alienation. We have the fierce teamism of the lonely, who find fellowship in their online fighting group and will say anything for its approval. There are the angry who find relief in politics because they can funnel their rage there, into that external thing, instead of examining closer and more uncomfortable causes. There are the people who cannot consider God and religion and have to put that energy somewhere.

America isn’t making fewer of the lonely, angry and unaffiliated, it’s making more every day.

If it is true that a significant percentage of Americans are alienated and lonely, national politics has little to do with it. If there is anything political to blame, it is the welfare state. Local welfare money has undermined lower-class families. Men in some lower-class communities no longer marry or seek full-time employment. (See Charles Murray, Coming Apart [2012].) But these men are not political activists. They do not spend their days on Facebook. They prefer video games. In any case, most of the federal welfare state’s money goes to people age 62 or older. National politics is not the cause of American alienation, to the extent that it exists, nor is it the solution.

If we search for the source of this supposed alienation, we should not begin with politics. We should begin with social and moral trends that have little to do with national politics.

A small minority of Americans believes that politics is the solution. This is understandable. Such a view has been the premier presupposition of Leftist politics since the days of the French Revolution. It was against this delusion that Burke wrote his famous book, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). That book is the foundational work of intellectual conservatism. As an elected member of Parliament, Burke’s message was loud and clear: there is no salvation by politics.

Here is a major problem in the democratic West. Political rhetoric is designed to persuade voters to abandon Burke’s message. It offers hope of national redemption by politics when there should be no such hope. It offers this call to action: “Throw the rascals out.” It does not offer this one: “Cut the rascals’ budgets.” Politics is mostly about getting control over the rascals’ budgets.

So I am worried, which is the point of this piece. The war between Trump and not-Trump will continue, will not be resolved, will get meaner. One side will win and one side will lose and the nation will go on, changed.

Is it self-indulgent to note that this grieves me? I suppose it is. But it grieves me.

This grieves her because she believes in the short-term importance of political rhetoric. She is grieved that it is so harsh. Things seem so broken.

I am not grieved. I am amused. The escalating political rhetoric of our era reflects the escalating political gridlock of our era. It reflects a federal budget that is impervious to percentage changes, either from the Right or the Left.

There is unity in Washington and across the nation regarding this rhetorical slogan: “Deficits don’t matter.” But they do matter, for they have become irreversible politically. When the deficit’s can gets too big to be painlessly kicked down the road by Congress, political rhetoric will escalate again. The search for scapegoats will become the heart of national politics.

Pogo Possum said it best in 1971: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

CONCLUSION

Today’s escalating political rhetoric is the rhetoric of gridlock. It is the rhetoric of people who are deeply frustrated because their vision of political salvation cannot come to pass in today’s gridlocked political world. They cry out in rage: the politics of revenge. They try to rally their troops with messianic rhetoric, but they don’t bother to consider the changes in distribution within the federal budget, department by department, year to year, which are minimal. All that they can legitimately hope for is to re-allocate a portion of that shrinking slice of fiscal pie. They know they cannot rally their troops with a call to marginal budgetary action. So, they increase their volume. As the fiscal stakes get lower, the rhetoric gets more inflammatory on all sides.

My advice: enjoy the rhetoric of the Potomac’s never-ending Punch and Judy show. Just don’t be taken in by anyone who tells you that something fundamental is at stake. Political gridlock and escalating rhetoric are signs of the failure of the religion of political salvation. This should not be a cause for despair. It should be a cause for rejoicing.

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