Sunday, May 1, 2011

ARE GOP HOPEFULS HOPELESS?




The other day, I read something that lifted my spirits. It was an article by some supposed Republican “think-tanker” (can’t recall his name) who said (complained, in his case) that US President Barack Obama can't possibly lose in the next election, no matter WHO runs against him!


Later, I did some checking (spent a quarter-century as a newsman and old habits die hard) and found out the article in question was a hoax. The guy denies ever having written it, despite the fact that it was all over the Internet under his name.


But I’m guessing it did come from a real think-tank, despite the bogus by-line and is, maybe, the work of some backroom conservative dirty tricks department (you know, the kind that gave us Watergate, the Iran-Contra Affair, and Monica Lewinsky’s presidentially sullied dress, among other things) seeking to prepare its constituency for the worst.


I mean, a number of the reasons this bogus article gave for predicting an overwhelming reelection win for the president made a certain amount of sense:


It said that African Americans would vote “blindly” for Obama. “It’s a race thing,” it said. This is, of course, only a truism, not a truth. It’s obvious that a very large number of African Americans will vote for Mr. Obama on the sole basis of color. He is, after all, the first black president in US history. John Kennedy took about half of the Irish vote in the United States just on the basis of his coming from an Irish immigrant family. And he got still more votes because he was Roman Catholic—the first RC president in the country’s predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant political history. It makes sense. But I doubt Mike Steele, for instance, will be red-rovering to the side of his “African American brother” any time soon, even if former fellow Republican icon Colin Powell indeed did. And Herman Cain is hoping to run against him. So, yes, the President will surely get a lot of black votes on the sole strength of the color of his skin, but not anything like all of them. (After all, the president is half white even if not the half that people see, and there are radical segments in his natural constituency who will vote against him for that reason alone if for no other—just as white supremacists would vote against him if he looked white and were half black).


***


It said that college-educated women would vote for Obama. It added that “though they will be offended by this, they swoon at his oratory.” And went on to say that it was “really not more complex than that.” Once again, truism, not truth and much more complex than that. Indeed, many college-educated women will vote for President Obama, but not because they “swoon at his oratory”. They will do so precisely because they are educated and understand that many of the policies the president is trying to put through—in a process that Congress and the Republican conservative wing are making about as easy as pushing a concrete-filled bank vault up the side of Mount Whitney—are good for the United States, socially, ethically, culturally and in terms of the country’s economic and social future. They are also women who have learned enough to know that the United States must consolidate a liberal process that will allow it to draw back from the brink of tyranny on which it teetered during the eight-year corporate junta led by Dick Cheney—seconded by George Dubya Bush, whom Cheney allowed to sit in the driver’s seat and pretend to be in charge, because…well, who the heck would have voted for Dick Cheney? I mean except for the bozo Cheney mistook for a duck and shot, and who apologized when he got out of the hospital for getting in the way and causing the poor VP all that trouble. (In case you hadn’t heard, the guy was behind Cheney at the time of the shooting, so it was like apologizing to Annie Oakley for screwing up one of her trick shots).



***


But that doesn’t mean all college-educated women will vote for Obama. Just ask Ann Coulter and her waspy friends at Fox News. Or Sarah Palin, who managed to patch together a bachelor’s degree in communication/journalism over a five year period in a series of brief stays at University of Hawaii at Hilo, the Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, the North Idaho (community) College at Coeur d’Alene, Matanuska-Susitna College in Alaska and the University of Idaho at Moscow—that’s Moscow, Idaho, not the one she can see “from her house”. (Hey, in all fairness, what Palin actually said in her September 11, 2008 interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson —and that comedian Tina Fey picked up on—was, "They're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska”). Despite her checkered college attendance Palin also won a college scholarship: She got it for being Miss Congeniality (and third runner-up) in the Miss Alaska Beauty Pageant. And she’s certainly not voting for Obama.



***


It said that liberals would vote for Obama, since “he is their great hope.” Well, duh! Probably their greatest hope and America’s greatest hope since John Kennedy, despite the ungodly mess he has inherited and in which he has gotten progressively mired down. But there will be liberals who won’t: the ones who haven’t had the patience to see his policies through to fruition, the ones who expected overnight solutions to essential problems that have been brewing since the Reagan era and that flourished and exploded under the Bush administration’s two terms, and the ones who find he’s too middle of the road for their taste and would like to see someone less ready to seek compromise and congressional consensus.


***



The piece said Democrats would vote for Obama. Geez, ya think?! It added, rather obviously, that “he is the leader of their party and his coattails will carry them to victory nationwide.” Clearly, there are going to be very conservative and very liberal Democrats who are going to wish that they could vote for someone else, and some even might, but most of those probably will just not vote at all, which would be a shame for their party. But, yes, card-carrying Democrats will surely not want to lose the White House four years in (like they did in the Carter era) after sweeping it out of the hands of the Cheney/Bush dynasty (and its continuers) in the last election.


***



The article later claims Hispanics will vote for Obama. Reason: “He is the path to citizenship for those who are illegal and Hispanic leaders recognize the political clout they carry in the Democratic Party.” Well, this is a jingoistic, racist, ignorant thing to say, and if I’m right and this paper has come from an ultra-conservative think-tank, then it just goes to show how out of touch with reality conservative Republicans are regarding this massive minority of nearly 50 million people from across the political spectrum. For one thing, Obama’s immigration policy hasn’t been nearly as liberal as anybody expected, including many of his own co-party leaders. Furthermore, there is no zealot like a converted zealot, and some of the toughest stances I’ve ever heard against illegal aliens have come, precisely, from Hispanics who have gone through proper legal channels, gotten their citizenship and become part of the mainstream North American community. Many of these Hispanics, and many more of their children, who try their best to forget their Hispanic heritage, are as ultra-conservative as any “Anglo” you’d ever want to meet. Particularly so if their families were exiled from communities like Castro’s Cuba, an experience that tends to turn them violently anti-communist and, therefore, way right of liberal. But, yes, many Hispanics will vote for him in gratitude for his defense of civil liberties in openly opposing the kind of police state legislation Arizona has implemented and which some other states have threatened to emulate.



***


The “bogus” story said that Union members would vote “overwhelmingly” for Obama. One can only hope…But in the end, it depends on what “overwhelmingly” means. The fact is that, while his campaigners at Organizing for America immediately showed how anxious they were to give nationwide vent to the union protest movement that took shape in Wisconsin, the administration eventually pulled back a bit from this stance, by making sure everyone knew that the Obama camp saw this as “a grassroots story” rather than a Washington one. And this has placed the president in the midst of a sort of delicate dance (as described by the Huffington Post) with unionists ever since. Nor are workers as enthused as they once were about Obama, since the new jobs he promised are materializing rather more slowly than expected. Still, there’s no denying that the president has a very strong base in labor. And frankly, if you were a union worker and had the choice of voting for Obama or for The Donald, The Huck, The Mitt or Citizen Cain (yet another CEO), what would your choice be?



***


The piece claimed that Big Business would support Obama. Well, yes and no. True, to the utter chagrin of many staunch liberals, it has been on President Obama’s watch that a new rule has come into play, allowing removal of the ceiling on what corporate America can donate to political campaigns, and the president does indeed seem to have an almost carnal relationship with GE and eccentric liberal tycoon George Soros. But from there to thinking that, say, Big Oil, or Big Defense or a lot of other major Big Business segments would ever be anything but conservative Republican is a bit of a reach. Still, perhaps the friends Obama has made in the corporate world will be more than enough to put him over the top in the 2012 campaign.



***


The media, this “spurious” article says, love him. This is a half-truth. Obama had a major honeymoon with the media (well, not Fox News, but, certainly, the serious media) in the beginning of his administration. But he has taken considerable criticism since then, and it’s not like the media as a whole remains “in the tank” for his administration. It is true, however, that the president himself remains something of a rock star. He has charisma. In fact, he and his whole family have charisma and the press loves leaders it can idolize. And come on, admit it, it’s nice having a president that doesn’t make you want to hide you head in a paper bag every time he opens his mouth. Eight years of that was enough already.



***



Finally, the article said that half of all Independents would vote for Obama. Personally, I’m hoping that there’s a greater percentage of intelligent Independents out there. I’m hoping more like 80 percent. But still, according to the story that no one’s claiming, “he doesn't need anywhere near that number because he has all of the groups previously mentioned. The President will win an overwhelming victory in 2012.” All I can say is—as the old Spanish expression goes—may God hear you.



***


Wherever the article came from, you kind of wonder whether there’s not some truth to the notion that the Republicans have seen the future…and they’re not in it. Why? Well, just look at the potential candidates!


I mean, maybe that's why the Republicans are gathering such a list of clowns to run against Obama. As an old rural Argentine saying goes, why waste gunpowder on a buzzard? They're cannon fodder! I mean Gingrich, Huckabee, Palin and The Donald ‘Gump’? Or is it that they really just don't have anybody else? Of course, there's Mitt Romney—wonder what that’s short for, Mittens maybe...like, maybe he was named after George Romney’s favorite cat(?)—who has, at least, an outwardly presidential look. But in some of the latest polls, he's barely tying with Huck Finn...I mean, Mike Huckabee. What does that say about his popularity?


Then there's Cain (maybe they figured that with a little white-out, they could use the leftover posters from the last election). He does have some executive experience: He ran 400 Burger Kings and did such a good job that Pillsbury bumped him up to CEO of Godfather's Pizza. And he's another (though lesser known) Fox News regular, so he's got a foot in the door with the GOP propaganda machine, but so far they're not paying a whole lot of attention to him.


And finally, there’s wild card Sarah Palin. She’s been out making some noise again, so there’s new speculation that she might yet announce her candidacy. She and The Donald have also been courting each other in the media (she talking about his ‘frankness’, he talking about her ‘energy’), so the United States might yet see the horror of a ticket formed by two of the most self-confidently ignorant players in politics. What am I talking about? Here are just a few quotes from the former Alaska governor:


When asked by CBS anchor Katie Couric which newspapers she read regularly, Palin couldn’t think of a single one. Showed how “quick on her feet” she was though, by answering, “All of 'em, any of 'em that have been in front of me over all these years.”


Also in that now infamous 2008 interview, Couric was trying to establish why Palin thought she would be qualified to handle foreign policy. Her answer, “As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where…where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border.”


But then you think, well, maybe she’s wised up a bit in the past couple of years. Alas…At the end of last year, in a radio interview with Glenn Beck (now, we’re talking Fox News, not CBS, these are people who like Sarah Palin and were trying to keep the questions gentle), when asked how she would handle current hostilities between the two Koreas, she blithely danced onto another foreign policy land mine by saying, “…Obviously, we've got to stand with our North Korean allies.”


Of course, The Donald doesn’t lag far behind in the dumbest quotes department. Asked by ABC News about the possibility of his running for the presidency he talked about, what else, money—campaign money in this case— and said, “I mean, part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich. So if I need six hundred million dollars, I can put six hundred million myself. That's a huge advantage…” In a celebrity interview he once said, “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me—consciously or unconsciously…” This speaks to his general grip (or lack of same) on reality, I think. And how about this The Donald gem: “In life you rely on the past—and that’s called history.” I mean, the guy makes Dubya look like an intellectual.


One thing you can say for Donald ‘Gump’, though: He has keenly honed diplomatic skills. In a radio interview with star radio and TV journalist Larry King, he once asked, “Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad.”


Oh, and I almost forgot Christine O'Donnell: She's a declared enemy of masturbation—talk about platform planks(!)—so she's probably lost 99 percent of the male vote (the other one percent is made up of liars) and an estimated 60-70 percent of the female vote before she even gets started! Plus, listen to these gems from Pristine Christine's lips:


"Co-edness is a radical agenda forced on college students."


"We had the ‘60s sexual revolution and now people are dying of AIDS."


"Creationism, in essence, is believing that the world began as the Bible in Genesis says, that God created the earth in six days, six 24-hour periods. And there is just as much, if not more, evidence supporting that." (Huh?!)


O'Donnell/Huckabee or Huckabee/O'Donnell, now there's a ticket ya gotta love! When a Bible-thumping Huckabee was once asked if he thought Jesus would support the death penalty, he said “Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office…that’s what Jesus would do.” He also said he was “pretty sure there’ll be duck hunting in Heaven and I can’t wait.”(He said it to a gathering of the National Rifle Association). Huckabee, who holds a theology degree, also made clear his understanding of science when he claimed that “Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution. That’s why it’s called the theory of evolution.”


I know, I know, they haven't rolled O’Donnell out yet for 2012, but give them time. Everybody who's ever been a Fox News commentator ends up on the campaign list. Well, except for Bill O'Reilly, because he's an Independent. If you don't believe it, just ask him. That’s why he gets 20 million a year to be the star anchor on a channel whose secret logo is a red elephant.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moore Matters, Wisconsin Matters

It was pretty funny last night to see Fox News (Rupert Murdock and Friends) struggling to downplay Michael Moore's surprise appearance in Wisconsin, calling him a clown and insignificant, etc.

So if this Academy Award-winning documentary film director is so insignificant, why was he the main subject of Fox News star (and millionaire hatchet man for the far right propaganda machine) Bill O'Reilly's Talking Points editorial last night?

Simple. Because he matters. Because Wisconsin matters. Because every word Moore breathed is true. Because some people in the United States are finally waking up and smelling the stench emanating from corporate America—from the morbid greed in which American democracy is slowly putrefying and from the rotting corpses that the corporate American machine leaves daily in its wake at home and around the world.

Don't just listen to the edited version of Moore's speech that the big business media are flogging. Read what he really said in full and in context. Here's the whole speech, as delivered at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, on March 5, 2011 :

“America is not broke.

“Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you'll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It's just that it's not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.

“Today just 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.

“Let me say that again. 400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer "bailout" of 2008, now have more loot, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can't bring yourself to call that a financial coup d'état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.

“And I can see why. For us to admit that we have let a small group of men abscond with and hoard the bulk of the wealth that runs our economy, would mean that we'd have to accept the humiliating acknowledgment that we have indeed surrendered our precious Democracy to the moneyed elite. Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic -- and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.

“I have nothing more than a high school degree. But back when I was in school, every student had to take one semester of economics in order to graduate. And here's what I learned: Money doesn't grow on trees. It grows when we make things. It grows when we have good jobs with good wages that we use to buy the things we need and thus create more jobs. It grows when we provide an outstanding educational system that then grows a new generation of inverters, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and thinkers who come up with the next great idea for the planet. And that new idea creates new jobs and that creates revenue for the state. But if those who have the most money don't pay their fair share of taxes, the state can't function. The schools can't produce the best and the brightest who will go on to create those jobs. If the wealthy get to keep most of their money, we have seen what they will do with it: recklessly gamble it on crazy Wall Street schemes and crash our economy. The crash they created cost us millions of jobs.· That too caused a reduction in revenue. And the population ended up suffering because they reduced their taxes, reduced our jobs and took wealth out of the system, removing it from circulation.

“The nation is not broke, my friends. Wisconsin is not broke. It's part of the Big Lie. It's one of the three biggest lies of the decade: America/Wisconsin is broke, Iraq has WMD, the Packers can't win the Super Bowl without Brett Favre.

“The truth is, there's lots of money to go around. LOTS. It's just that those in charge have diverted that wealth into a deep well that sits on their well-guarded estates. They know they have committed crimes to make this happen and they know that someday you may want to see some of that money that used to be yours. So they have bought and paid for hundreds of politicians across the country to do their bidding for them. But just in case that doesn't work, they've got their gated communities, and the luxury jet is always fully fueled, the engines running, waiting for that day they hope never comes. To help prevent that day when the people demand their country back, the wealthy have done two very smart things:

“1. They control the message. By owning most of the media they have expertly convinced many Americans of few means to buy their version of the American Dream and to vote for their politicians. Their version of the Dream says that you, too, might be rich some day – this is America, where anything can happen if you just apply yourself! They have conveniently provided you with believable examples to show you how a poor boy can become a rich man, how the child of a single mother in Hawaii can become president, how a guy with a high school education can become a successful filmmaker. They will play these stories for you over and over again all day long so that the last thing you will want to do is upset the apple cart -- because you -- yes, you, too! -- might be rich/president/an Oscar-winner some day! The message is clear: keep your head down, your nose to the grindstone, don't rock the boat and be sure to vote for the party that protects the rich man that you might be some day.

“2. They have created a poison pill that they know you will never want to take. It is their version of mutually assured destruction. And when they threatened to release this weapon of mass economic annihilation in September of 2008, we blinked. As the economy and the stock market went into a tailspin, and the banks were caught conducting a worldwide Ponzi scheme, Wall Street issued this threat: Either hand over trillions of dollars from the American taxpayers or we will crash this economy straight into the ground. Fork it over or it's Goodbye savings accounts. Goodbye pensions. Goodbye United States Treasury. Goodbye jobs and homes and future. It was friggin' awesome and it scared the shit out of everyone. "Here! Take our money! We don't care. We'll even print more for you! Just take it! But, please, leave our lives alone, PLEASE!"

“The executives in the board rooms and hedge funds could not contain their laughter, their glee, and within three months they were writing each other huge bonus checks and marveling at how perfectly they had played a nation full of suckers. Millions lost their jobs anyway, and millions lost their homes. But there was no revolt (see #1).

“Until now. On Wisconsin! Never has a Michigander been more happy to share a big, great lake with you! You have aroused the sleeping giant know as the working people of the United States of America. Right now the earth is shaking and the ground is shifting under the feet of those who are in charge. Your message has inspired people in all 50 states and that message is: WE HAVE HAD IT! We reject anyone tells us America is broke and broken. It's just the opposite! We are rich with talent and ideas and hard work and, yes, love. Love and compassion toward those who have, through no fault of their own, ended up as the least among us. But they still crave what we all crave: Our country back! Our democracy back! Our good name back! The United States of America. NOT the Corporate States of America. The United States of America!

“So how do we get this? Well, we do it with a little bit of Egypt here, a little bit of Madison there. And let us pause for a moment and remember that it was a poor man with a fruit stand in Tunisia who gave his life so that the world might focus its attention on how a government run by billionaires for billionaires is an affront to freedom and morality and humanity.

“Thank you, Wisconsin. You have made people realize this was our last best chance to grab the final thread of what was left of who we are as Americans. For three weeks you have stood in the cold, slept on the floor, skipped out of town to Illinois -- whatever it took, you have done it, and one thing is for certain: Madison is only the beginning. The smug rich have overplayed their hand. They couldn't have just been content with the money they raided from the treasury. They couldn't be satiated by simply removing millions of jobs and shipping them overseas to exploit the poor elsewhere. No, they had to have more – something more than all the riches in the world. They had to have our soul. They had to strip us of our dignity. They had to shut us up and shut us down so that we could not even sit at a table with them and bargain about simple things like classroom size or bulletproof vests for everyone on the police force or letting a pilot just get a few extra hours sleep so he or she can do their job -- their $19,000 a year job. That's how much some rookie pilots on commuter airlines make, maybe even the rookie pilots flying people here to Madison. But he's stopped trying to get better pay. All he asks is that he doesn't have to sleep in his car between shifts at O'Hare airport. That's how despicably low we have sunk. The wealthy couldn't be content with just paying this man $19,000 a year. They wanted to take away his sleep. They wanted to demean and dehumanize him. After all, he's just another slob.

“And that, my friends, is Corporate America's fatal mistake. But trying to destroy us they have given birth to a movement -- a movement that is becoming a massive, nonviolent revolt across the country. We all knew there had to be a breaking point some day, and that point is upon us. Many people in the media don't understand this. They say they were caught off guard about Egypt, never saw it coming. Now they act surprised and flummoxed about why so many hundreds of thousands have come to Madison over the last three weeks during brutal winter weather. "Why are they all standing out there in the cold? I mean there was that election in November and that was supposed to be that!

“‘There's something happening here, and you don't know what it is, do you...?’

“America ain't broke! The only thing that's broke is the moral compass of the rulers. And we aim to fix that compass and steer the ship ourselves from now on. Never forget, as long as that Constitution of ours still stands, it's one person, one vote, and it's the thing the rich hate most about America -- because even though they seem to hold all the money and all the cards, they begrudgingly know this one unshakable basic fact: There are more of us than there are of them!

“Madison, do not retreat. We are with you. We will win together.”

Michael Moore has always shown the ability to break down the complex lies that we are spoon fed daily into simple, mostly awful truths. And he brings those truths to us in the form of straight talk and brilliant satire. What he says makes sense because the truth behind the lie is easy to understand once the extraneous crap is stripped away. That’s what Michael Moore does, cuts the crap, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Facile Solutions on the Road to Tyranny

This past week, I allowed myself—as I too often do—to get drawn into an informal debate on the Internet, over issues of human and civil rights. This happens to me, I think, because my background includes years of up-close encounters with the arbitrary nature of the kind of “special powers” that lead to rights violations of all kinds and the extent of the so-called “collateral damage” that they cause. The trigger for my apparent incapability to keep my mouth (or laptop) shut, I think, is my utter amazement that supposedly “educated”, otherwise apparently “normal” people can be so completely blind to the fact that if a single person’s civil or human rights are violated by the powers that be, then everyone’s rights are at risk and the principle of equality before the law becomes an entirely moot point. Why? Well, because if a single other person’s rights can be suspended, so can mine—or yours, or those of other people we know and love.

I can’t help thinking that anyone who can’t see that has to be terribly short-sighted. But then, experience, in these cases, is always a good—if singularly cruel—teacher. I recall thirty years ago, during the Argentine military dictatorship known as the Proceso, how bewildering it was for people from so-called “good families” when they suffered the loss of one of their number at the hands of the regime. These were often people who had cheered the Armed Forces government and considered necessary the suspension of constitutional guarantees in order to win “the dirty war on terrorism”. Sadly, they were too confident in their own status as good citizens and good families to think that the arbitrary nature of de facto rule could ever negatively affect their lives. They were, after all, from good families, patriotic families, families with traditional national values. If people were snatched off the street or out of their beds by the military’s hit squads “there must have been a reason.” The military was fighting a “dirty war” precisely to protect people like them. Good people, decent people didn’t disappear, only the bad ones did.

But then, that wasn’t true—not even most of the time. And that, they learned the hard way, was why wiser men than those now in charge, and men more far-seeing than themselves, had come up with the idea of a bill of rights, a set of constitutional guarantees to protect citizens—all citizens— from the arbitrary nature of raw political power.

Here in Argentina, there are fewer and fewer people, thankfully, who will publicly voice support for the actions of the former military dictatorship that rode roughshod over the country from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. I’m not saying there aren’t a number of people out there who wouldn’t give a conspiratorial wink to the now tottering old ex-military chiefs who are, finally, doing prison time for their crimes against humanity, discreetly pat them on the arm and whisper, “Hang in there, General, the ‘silent majority’ is with you!” All I’m saying is that popular standards of political correctness tend to keep them from opening their traps. And although I’m certainly not one to try and infringe on anyone’s right to free speech, I myself, and rights-aware people like me, are grateful for their silence. After all, the fewer times such poisonous, hateful opinions are stated, the better, since advocating hatred and unbridled violence seems to be the path of least resistance for impressionable minds.

And why is that? Well, because hatred and unbridled violence are all about destruction, which looks spectacular, lends itself to sensationalism (as witnessed by modern special effects in the movies), and even sometimes appears to quickly accomplish immediate short-term goals. But the fact is that it has far-reaching negative effects. Its appeal is, clearly, that it takes infinitely less effort to engender than does the building of sound democratic institutions and the development of a society of mutual respect for the rights and obligations of each of its members, much in the way that a wrecking ball or a few well-placed charges of dynamite can bring down an architectural masterpiece in seconds, while the building of it, with sublime style and infinite care, may have taken years or even decades.

In other words, throwing the rulebook out the window is a facile shortcut and, ultimately, the lazy man’s way out. And, as we all know—well, most of us, anyway—indolence and reckless disregard for authentic values never lead to excellence or to anything else worthwhile treasuring. They only lead to destruction, chaos and rubble. For this reason, I almost laughed aloud when one of the people I was ‘debating’ with actually quoted the proverbial quick fix as a valid reason for toppling a democracy in order to “save it”. It was such a patent far-right cliché that it tickled my funny-bone. I mean, what a caricature! He had no problem with how, in 1976, the Argentine Armed Forces had done away with pesky institutions like democratic government, the elected legislature, the bill of rights, unions, the incumbent president and her administration, rule of law, legal security, etc., etc., to say nothing of as many as 30,000 people who were dragged into the de facto monster’s dark cave and never again saw the light of day. The end, he was proud to tell me, justified the means. It was necessary to violate democracy and the Constitution in order to “save” them. And no one was going to tell him any different.

He dubbed “romantic” my opinion to the effect that a stable democracy could only be ensured by practicing it, upholding it, defending it, empowering it, criticizing it, and subordinating all other political or military entities and passing it from one elected administration to another, ad infinitum. And he allowed that “dogmatic liberals” like myself “aren’t bad people” but that we “don’t measure the consequences of our actions” when we demand that abuse of power, gross violation of human and civil rights, and wholesale slaughter be punished. We who demanded that anyone exercising legal authority (be it democratic or de facto) abide by the law and by universally accepted standards of decency were, he seemed to think, at least spoil sports, if not seditious and treacherous dangers to society.

But anyway, although, as I say, fewer and fewer people think this way in Argentina, clearly, you run across coveys of these mostly aging fanatics, with angry defiance in their eye and a bulging vein in their necks, who will tell anyone who will listen that subversion and terrorism can’t be fought within a democratic framework and that the only way to fight this kind of lawlessness is by stepping outside of the law. And you’ll also find a handful of young people among them, who are either from the families of these patriarchal and matriarchal figures or who have been convinced of these ideas on the strength of their desire to fit into the (frequently aristocratic or upwardly mobile) classes where such ideas tend to be prevalent. These are people who would rather have a neat and tidy dictatorship with clear rules (submit or die) and a quiet atmosphere (the peace and quiet of a cemetery) than a messy, boisterous and often rebellious democracy. This is especially true of people who think themselves “owners of the truth” and whose truth has to do with “their kind” being at the top of the food chain.

This is to be expected in a country like Argentina, in which, for more than half a century, from the 1930s to the 1980s the “natural” fuse for political change was not suffrage, but insurrection, carried out by a recalcitrant military, at the behest of the landed aristocracy and their industrial cousins, quite often with the connivance or at least tacit approval of the powerful local Roman Catholic hierarchy, all of whom feared nothing as much as “godless communism” or the Fascist-based populism of Juan Domingo Perón. And often too, with a nod from “the usual suspects” among international power brokers. It is only since 1983 that Argentina has witnessed the consistent passage of political power from one elected administration to another, and even then, with attempts by all but the first and most democratic of these administrations (that of the late President Raúl Alfonsín) to perpetuate themselves in power: Saúl Menem by pushing constitutional reform that would allow presidents to serve two consecutive terms (originally it was a single six-year term), a move that permitted him to serve for an entire decade, and the late President Néstor Kirchner, who sought to pass power back and forth between him and his wife (current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) indefinitely—a plan rendered moot by his untimely death at 61 last year. And this sort of thing, too, is to be expected due to the country’s natural political immaturity in terms of democratic life, and should tend to work itself out as experience is gained and as a new and ever stronger opposition emerges to temper and compete with the traditional Peronist cult movement with its dwindling populist appeal and the fading Radical Party which, since 1989, has tended to be stronger on political theory and textbook ethics than on practical governance and political savvy.

The “back to the future” advocates of rule at the point of a gun that I locked horns with this past week still—after everything that has happened in Argentina in the past three and a half decades—justified everything from the suspension of the bill of rights to the torturing of prisoners and the summary execution of suspected terrorists and their allegedly subversive supporters. The funniest thing—not ha-ha funny, obviously, because it kind of makes you want to cry—is that people who think this way remain, even today, so mentally divided that if you should ask them what was being defended during Argentina’s military dictatorship, they will tell you, without batting an eyelash, that it was democracy and the Constitution. (Say what?) That’s right, they find no contradiction whatsoever in the fact that, back then, Argentina’s Armed Forces claimed to be defending the nation’s democratic institutions even as they engaged in sedition and insurrection, suspended the country’s US-style Constitution and ruled by decree for the better part of a decade, broadly ignored and violated human and civil rights, rejected or manipulated the authority of the courts, created a mock ‘legislature’ to replace Congress so as to give some semblance of legitimacy to the arbitrary rules they imposed, muzzled the press, murdered outspoken opponents or drove them into exile, banned, censored and blacklisted books, art, music and films that were considered “dangerous” or subversive, institutionalized torture of every kind imaginable as a standard “interrogation technique” and, over the course of their nearly eight-year reign, kidnapped and murdered tens of thousands of the country’s citizens, as well as a number of foreigners considered to be “opponents of the regime”. Many of these “opponents” were no more than school children, many were pregnant mothers whose babies were snatched from their wombs and given in secret adoption to friends of the regime before they themselves were murdered, a few others were business people who wandered into the territories staked out by those in power and many more were just “collateral damage”, people whose names happened to be in the address books of murdered prisoners or fell from the delirious lips of torture victims. Not content with this, the regime also started a war with a major international power (Britain), costing the lives of several thousand combatants on both sides, immersing the country in a sea of shame and remorse and leaving the Treasury in a ruinous state.

Whenever you see something that looks democratic here, please, jump right in!

At all times during this debate—in which I was pretty much the only one writing in favor of democracy and freedom at all costs—I was treated, when not as an evil subversive element, at least as a naïve leftist loon and a useful idiot who was incapable of understanding what had been at stake. So, I sought to inject logic into the conversation by quoting a case of democratic fervor, which I mentioned elsewhere in this blog some time ago and which I still find a highly inspiring anecdote that expresses the view of any true democrat:

In the midst of a democratic Italy’s struggle against the terrorists of the Red Brigades, former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was abducted and murdered by the leftist extremist group. Despite the high profile of Moro’s assassination and the political machinations behind it, government and security officials at the time refused to bend the law to fit their political needs. Italy’s staunch pro-human rights stance remained firm despite the formidable threats posed at the time by the Red Brigades on the one hand and the long-standing Mafia on the other. When it was widely suggested that certain political-profiled prisoners’ feet should be held to the fire in order to expedite the investigation and secure the immediate release of the former prime minister before it was learned that he had been killed, General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa—a ranking officer in the Italian Carabinieri and one of the architects of the country’s anti-terrorist policies and enforcement strategies—responded: "Italy can survive the loss of Aldo Moro. It would not survive the introduction of torture."

Dalla Chiesa himself was murdered along with his wife and driver by the Mafia in 1982. But that didn’t make him any less right about what he said. Although the fight waged by all legal means against the Sicilian Mafia and the Red Brigades brought the assassinations of numerous law enforcement and justice officials, persistent legal action eventually brought the substantial dismantling and stunning debilitation of both movements and the clear strengthening of Italy as both a political power and as a paladin of civilized culture and society.

Alas, my interlocutors were unimpressed. And the saddest cut of all were their cheers and applause for the former Bush administration in the U.S. which, in their eyes (and, I confess, in mine) seemed to have taken lessons from the former Argentine military regime in its holding of prisoners without trial, its use of torture as an interrogation technique, its suspension of civil rights for certain “special” cases, its invasion of the privacy of common citizens “for the sake of national security and a greater good” and its expansion of executive powers “for the protection of democracy”. It irked me that they could throw my own country back in my face as an example of a leader of Western civilization that had come to the conclusion that rules were made to be broken and that some people were “more equal” than others.

As an American and as a witness to the long-term ravages of de facto rule in Argentina, all I could say was “Viva Obama!”