There are times every now and again where you just have to step back and behold the absurdity of it all. You have to step back from the day-to-day trench wars and just marvel at how entrenched power really is in this, the country where we still cling to Horatio Alger fables or "anyone can grow up to be president" myths. What I find particularly fascinating is the intricacy and careful calibration of the propaganda system that holds this whole structure up. Like a hall of mirrors, our political debate is, in every way, designed to perpetuate the status quo. But no hall of mirrors can withstand the impact of a big enough tidal wave, which is why those inside the hall are freaking out.
Consider, for a moment, the frothing, fulminating bile now being spit from the highest reaches of Washington, D.C.'s media establishment. A few months ago, we saw one major columnist at the largest newspaper in the world say voters should not have the right to decide elections in America anymore. Not only was he not shunned for his screed, he continues to appear regularly on television as an objective, god-fearing patriotic American. Soon after that, in the face of polls showing the vast majority of Americans oppose the Iraq War, a top Washington blowhard from one of the largest television networks in the country appeared on TV to label every Democrat who has questioned the war "as weak, Jane Fonda-type Democrats."
But really, that was only the beginning. Since then, as voter discontent with the war, stagnating wages, job outsourcing and the general direction of the country has escalated, Washington has battoned the hatches, and gone from spitting bile to firing tank ordnance at the oncoming battalions of ordinary people who, goddamned them, dare to think they should be able to have some say in their own country. Washington Post columnist David Broder - the so-called dean of the Washington press corps - called voters who want change "elitist insurgents" - a not-so-subtle attempt to conflate American voters with terrorists. Then there was my personal favorite - David Brooks sitting there in his pink shirt in Northwest Washington telling the country "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Brooks breathed a sigh of relief that "the Clintonite centrists are reasserting their intellectual, financial and political supremacy" and that Hillary Clinton gave a speech that scholars at the fringe-right-wing American Enterprise institute "called remarkably centrist." Thank god, said Brooks, that the "renegades who rail against the establishment are being eclipsed by the canny establishmentarians" because, according to him, "They're the ones who know how to use the levers of government to get things done." Ah yes, with war raging in the Mideast, poverty rising in America, people struggling to pay their bills, Clinton-backed free trade deals shipping jobs overseas - thank the lord that the same old crew was supposedly reasserting itself because that record shows "they know how to get things done."
He's not 100 percent wrong, of course - these people do know "how to get things done" - but only exclusively for the fat cats who pay to get a seat at the table - the fat cats that people like David Brooks feel most comfortable with; the fat cats that way too many Democratic officials are more than happy to go brag to reporters about shaking down even as they deride the GOP's culture of corruption.
Incredibly, however, none of the establishment's old tricks seem to be working anymore. All of the Jedi mind tricks, all of the false storylines, all of the Clockwork Orange-style indoctrination efforts just don't seem to be sticking. And that's why it's gotten so ugly of late.
Today, we see David Broder quite literally losing control of his faculties on the pages of the Washington Post. You can almost see the veins popping out of that shiny white forehead you've gotten so used to seeing on Meet the Press. Like the bad, overdone stereotype of the crotchety senior who is angry that the world around him is changing, Broder declares that there needs to be "a new movement in this country" to "resist "the extremist elements in American society." Who are these extremists? Why, people who use the Internet to politically organize and engage. Yes, according to Broder, "bloggers" are the moral equivalent of "doctrinaire religious extremists" - yet again, another not-so-subtle effort to portray anyone who dares to excercize their democratic rights as an Osama bin Laden supporter. He then fires off a screed about various politicians such as Rep. Sherrod Brown. He calls him "a loud advocate of protectionist policies that offer a false hope of solving our trade and job problems." Right, becaue in David Broder's cloistered world, the "free" trade deals Brown has opposed have done such wonders for places like Ohio. In David Broder's world, those hundreds of thousands of blue collar workers who have been thrown out onto the street thanks to NAFTA and China PNTR are the filth of the earth that high and mighty elite Washington journalists like him cannot be bothered with. In David Broder's world, any request for our trade pacts to include restrictions on child slavery, environmental degradation, and pharmaceutical industry profiteering off desperately poor people, positively un-American. Why? Because David Broder lives in a place where all of these critical issues are merely just more fodder and gossip for a newspaper column - not real challenges in his life, nor in the life of the people he spends his time with in the Washington Beltway.
At the very least, Broder realizes that the American public is outraged at the twisted moral compass that govern him and his buddies. That's why he is freaking out. But there are still some who are prancing around, spewing happy talk, making a fast buck, totally unaware of what's really going on out here in the real world, and perhaps even more insulting, totally unconcerned about their own naked hypocrisy. For instance, just this week, we see former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now the head of Citigroup, standing on a stage with a straight face and holding a seminar about the best ways to alleviate international poverty. That this man was the top architect of the international trade policies that have exacerbated both domestic and international poverty is an afterthought. That this same man holding this seminar still refuses to acknowledge the culpability of the trade policies he has jammed down the world's throat is not to be mentioned. All that matters to the fawning media and political establishment is that this much-worshipped moneyman is on stage saying we need to help poor people. It makes you wonder if at some point soon, we'll be seeing Jack Abramoff holding a seminar on ethics and morals in the political arena. Simultaneously, courageous reformers like Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) who has written a serious, bestselling book about how to really fix our economic policies are shoved to the side, barely getting mentioned in the press, while financial-industry-hack-turned-congressmen Rahm Emanuel and his buddy Bruce Reed who heads a corporate front group are given oodles of press attention for publishing a barely-selling pamphlet of warmed-over hollow talking points perpetuating the status quo and reinforcing negative stereotypes about those who want real change.
At this same conference, we see images of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman laughing it up with Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf. That's right, the columnist who piously champions his supposed commitment to spreading democracy is happily, publicly hamming it up with a brutal central Asian dictator. Ah yes, because it's all just so goddamned hilarious to a New York Times columnist who can sit back in his 12,000 square foot Bethesda mansion, count his $2 billion family fortune, tell the world how much he really truly cares about freedom, push American soldiers into the Baghdad shooting gallery, advocate destructive trade policies that he brags about not having even read, and blaming Americans whose economic lives have been decimated by those trade policies for not better educating themselves. It's all just so goddamned funny for Tom Friedman, because he gets to do all that, yet still also gets to ham it up every few weeks on national television with Tim Russert, and gets to be on stage with his good friend Bill Clinton and pretend to be serious.
Of course, Clinton, who convened the conference that featured Rubin and Friedman, was recently the recipient of a 20,000 word New Yorker article that was the journalistic equivalent of what Monica Lewinsky did to him in those steamy Oval Office days. In the article, New Yorker editor David Remnick proclaims from the mountaintop Clinton's supposed devotion to solving the African AIDS crisis, but never once - not once - bothers to take a moment in between lavish banquets and starfucking exchanges to actually ask Clinton why, if he was so committed to stopping this awful plague, he insisted on passing trade deals that included provisions specifically designed to allow pharmaceutical companies to inflate AIDS drug prices in the developing world? But then, if you are David Remnick and all that really gives you a professional hard-on is getting to eat barbeque in Bill Clinton's private apartment in his palatial presidential library, why would you ask such a question? Because really, the only ones who care about the answer to such a question are the millions of impoverished peasants who were never able to afford AIDS medications thanks to those trade provisions - and those aren't the people David Remnick hangs out with or is writing for.
The same disconnection from reality is prevalent among many politicians - which might explain why some of them now are reacting so angrily to the fact that yes, they do have to face voters for reelection. Take Joe Lieberman. When confronted with the fact that he skipped more than half of all U.S. Senate votes on the Iraq War and most of the votes on the destructive Medicare bill so as to attend fundraisers for himself, he angrily claimed there is a moral equivalence between him as a full-time, $160,000-a-year U.S. Senator skipping decisions on the most pressing national security and health care questions in American history, and his opponent missing 6 votes on a part-time town council 15 years ago. He also says with a straight face that the reason he worked so hard to stop health care reform in the 1990s was because he cared about small business - but then he conveniently forgets to mention that he authored legislation to raise taxes on small business health benefits.
Then there is Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) who is now airing television ads saying that asking President Bush to obtain search warrants after he's wiretapped phones as the law requires would dangerously slow down the original wiretapping. Put another way, she's actually asking audiences to quite literally believe that the basic laws of space and time do not exist. Meanwhile, chickenhawks who refused to serve in the military when they had the chance continue to sit comfortably in their Washington think tank offices and transform their sick insecurities of personal weakness and frailty into screams for more American soldiers to be sent to die in Iraq.
What you see here, folks, is that all of it - the elections, the public policies, the future of the country - is one big joke to the people in power, and they are willing to lie, cheat and distort anything to protect the integrity of that joke they are so happily enjoying. They don't want anyone asking questions of them. They don't want anyone thinking they have a right to use democracy to change things. They are fat and happy and putting the pedal to the metal in their sleek sports car on the great American highway overpass - and anyone who tries to slow them down, run them off the road or make them just glance at the blight below gets the big, road-raged middle finger.
When I get up everyday at 5:30am to start working, it is still dark out. I read through the clips and digest the daily dose of ever-more raw hatred coming from our nation's capital and directed at the majority of Americans. Then I try to have some breakfast without feeling totally demoralized. But as I look out on the darkness outside, I always remind myself of the famous parable: "It is always darkest before the dawn." Win or lose, November 7th isn't going to change everything. But win or lose, it's clear that things are already changing. The rising anger coming from the halls of power are a reflection of the establishment's deep understanding that change is coming. The screams from the angry pundits and the desperate politicians and the paying-to-play lobbyists are like the early warning sirens at a beach. And just over the horizon, they see that tidal wave coming.