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The Decay of American Politics


#1

The Decay of American Politics

My earliest recollection of national politics dates back exactly 60 years to the moment, in the summer of 1956, when I watched the political conventions in the company of that wondrous new addition to our family, television. My parents were supporting President Dwight D.


#2

A huge Bravo! for this comprehensive Tour de Force from Andrew Bacevich!

My political recollections also go back to Ike and Adlai in grade school - the wisdom and experience, the statesmanship, selfless dedication exemplified in our true leaders of the past - FDR and Eleanor now (sadly) extinct - extinguished by greed and corruption of political processes by big-money and base corporate/banker influence. "Oh, to choose once more between an Ike and an Adlai"

The principled leadership by even children of the rich - not out for themselves or crony's as today, but for the nation and people - even when different ideas clashed, generally non-partisan - for the Common Good - the Roosevelt's and Kennedy's come immediately to mind - Jack and Bobby some of the last of their kind.

Oh, to witness again a voice standing tall, saying with great moral conviction - "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" - Joseph N. Welch


#3

John Prine's verse in Grandpa was a Carpenter sums up much of Ike's base: "voted for Eisenhower, cuzz Lincoln won the war".

CLINTONCON in Philly last week would make any 1950s convention planner green with envy to see how much more of a media circus today's conventions are.


#5

Still interesting to watch Bacevich continue to expand his thinking.

Regarding his closng paragraph:
"At an earlier juncture back in 1956, out of a population of 168 million, we got Ike and Adlai. Today, with almost double the population, we get -- well, we get what we’ve got. This does not represent progress. And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will."

It would be interesting to see what Bacevich thinks would be effective action, when "Americans rouse themselves to act..."


#6

I would point out that regardless of your politics there are two likable adults still running for president in 2016. One resembles a 1950s Republican, Gary Johnson, and the other resembles a 1950s Democrat, Dr. Jill Stein. Decent, mature people are out there who would like to make a difference politically. Unfortunately, decency and maturity apparently are disqualifiers for office in the 21st century.


#7

An excellent piece here, I have a somewhat different opinion on Adlai E. Stevenson. Adlai was one of the finest intelects to ever run for President.

From Wikipedia:

"The prominent historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who served as one of his speechwriters, wrote that Stevenson was a "great creative figure in American politics. He turned the Democratic Party around in the fifties and made JFK possible...to the United States and the world he was the voice of a reasonable, civilized, and elevated America. He brought a new generation into politics, and moved millions of people in the United States and around the world."[3] Journalist David Halberstam wrote that "Stevenson's gift to the nation was his language, elegant and well-crafted, thoughtful and calming..."

My dad proudly wore an Adlai button, and didn't think too much of Ike, although Ike, in retrospect, is a giant compared to all subsequent candidates of his party.

Schlesinger was asked of all those who ran but didn't win the presidency, which person should have won but didn't, he would always state, without hesitation, Adlai E. Stevenson. I think he was right, followed by George McGovern.


#8

Couldn't agree more. Great piece. I will be voting for Jill Stein in November BECAUSE of the "pseudo-events" that our campaigns have become and how insulting they are to our common sense. I detest Trump AND Clinton. All I want is to help create a national vote total of at least 5% so that the Green Party will qualify for the federal money it needs to build a national movement in the future.
Abraham Lincoln predicted in 1865 that what he called the "money power" could very well destroy our republic. We are seeing that right now. Trump is a reckless, dangerous buffoon and Hillary will offer up only the "window dressing" of change while perpetuating everything that I have come to hate about the staggering inequalities and warmongering of the richest country on Earth.


#9

The problem is that other parties control the appointment of electors to an institution that hasn't served us well for more than Bacevich's 60 years, and the 48 states that award those electors by winner-take-all. Until we drop the EC and allow the people to directly elect the president, there will be no chance of 3rd parties succeeding. And by then we will be entirely shed of the need for parties to do more than put forth candidates. Anyway, your 3rd-party candidates desperately need legislative support, so their parties can get to work on that.


#10

A magnificent overview of the American political situation. I can't help thinking to myself over and over that we have lost important political capital by the choice of Trump. We will not be able to have reasonable debate or discussion of important issues. Everything will be a hyped up display of bravado empty of any honesty, sincerity or leadership.

It is likely that Clinton will win but in the end she will be damaged goods. Damaged by her betrayal of principles supported by the Bernie Sanders people and bloodied by Trump who will pull no punches in his assault on her. Maybe she deserves it but kind of like with her husband's predicament with Monica Lewinsky - Did we really need to drag the nation through the mud just to punish Bill? The republicans didn't care and they gave us that debacle. Now they give us Trump and they say they love America. Sure.

I'm probably gonna vote for Gary Johnson. Libertarians have been against the foreign wars, against the drug war, against the surveillance state and for many of the civil liberties I think are important. Essentially they are for freedom and when I saw him speak in Berkeley during his last run, Johnson stated clearly that things like the EPA are good - that we need to protect the common good. I think he is worth looking at.


#11

I come a bit behind Bacevich, knowing only the grandfatherly Ike as my president until I first became aware of an election through the Weekly Reader straw poll in 1960. I was deeply conflicted, knowing Nixon was Ike's VP, but being irresistibly attracted, in my 7yo heart, to the guy with all the hair. By the time I got to cast my first actual vote, I'd learned to give good daughter and helped Nixon hold onto the White House despite Watergate. (Reagan spoiled the GOP for my Dad; I was long gone, partly through Nixon's betrayal.)

Just this afternoon, I told a GOP push poll (one of the "most important issues" choices was "protection of life") that I am still undecided at the top of the ticket and unenthusiastic though certain about my House member's seat. What I want is to vote for those who will govern, not for campaigners. I'm done with 2 parties.


#12

The networks who control the debates are locked in to the two parties. They will not let in any alternatives and therefore there are no new, fresh or innovative ideas. Just the same old thing.


#13

My political memory goes back to 1951 when as a lad of 5 riding the buses and street cars in Pittsburgh PA, I heard steel workers angrily gripe about Harry Truman using his presidential powers to nullify their strike during the Korean war.

Although too young to understand the issues involved, I did sense the very real anger in their voices and the fact that they (and even Harry Truman!) liked Ike (Harry just didn't like him enough to want to see him elected president). Ike was ultimately a liable guy who was greatly admired for his diplomatic as well as military role in the allied cause during WWII.

Adlai Stevenson however, was most like John Kerry, a serous intellect who would never use two or three words when he could elaborate for a half an hour with hundreds of words. Adlai never knew how to speak to ordinary people and that was his undoing (along with having to run against the Republican FDR who could have easily run successfully for a third term had not his own party passed a constitutional amendment forbidding anyone from doing so during the infamous "do nothing" 80th congress). Adlai's eulogy for JFK before the UN was also an example of his potential for eloquence when he could just let his intellect get out of the way:

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/adlaistevensonjfkeulogy.htm

The US electorate is angry. It is angry at:
Endless war with no seeming point to its existence other than economic stimulus for war profiteering contractors.
Endless obstructionism in the Congress with no alternatives offered to that which is being obstructed.
Endless interventionism where it is not called for--cases in point Syria, Libya, and the Ukraine.
So political establishment you want dysfunction? Meet your new leaders, a trash-talking big mouth and dodgy pampered princess of a crook.


#14

I agree, and although I support Dr. Stein, it looks like Johnson has a shot at getting into the debates where I believe he would make a favorable impression compared to the two loonies and might generate significant interest. I'm definitely not a Libertarian, but under these circumstances, if Johnson can become anywhere competitive I would vote for him if only in the name of sanity. BTW, a recent poll in Utah had Trump at 29%, Clinton at 27% and Johnson at 26%, the first time Johnson polled over 20%. With exposure, that figure could easily rise. And if he could win Utah and New Mexico (his home state) he might just be able to throw the election into the House of Representatives where he could wind up as the compromise winner if his nation-wide showing is significant. I can dream, can't I? I've had enough of the nightmare.


#15

Unfortunately, I think a Libertarian would be waking up to a hangover of the worst kind. Well, it really doesn't bear pondering whether L or the R on offer would be the worst. That's the bind I'm in.


#16

Splendid analysis by Andrew Bacevich. I'm definitely going to give The Image by Daniel Boorstin a read based on his recommendation. Thanks to CD for cross-posting this piece from TomDispatch.

There can be little doubt that the American Empire is already in decline. While there are many unresolved questions regarding how that decline will unfold I don't think it (necessarily) has to turn into an Orwellian dystopia. It certainly could and the Strong Man archetype is clearly resonating with a sizable portion of the citizenry in this election cycle. I can't help but wonder how far the American public will go to preserve our unsustainable lifestyle or if moderating voices like Pope Francis can evoke some measure of compassion and civility as events move along the downslope of the imperial decline curve.


#17

Agree with much of the article, a few criticisms:
1. "none of these offer the slightest reason to vote for Donald Trump" - I'm hoping the author also meant the same thing about Clinton
2. IEDs? in other words, the almost entire military industrial survelience complex? They are a lot more than "reckless presidential decisions"


#19

I admire Andrew Bacevich very much - and I like this article. I've read his book "Breach of Trust".

Here is JFK just after he attended the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco ca April/May 1945 - writing to a "PT boat friend":

"Admittedly world organization with common obedience to law would be a solution. Not that easy. If there is not the feeling that war is the ultimate evil, a feeling strong enough to drive them together, then you can't work out this internationalist plan... Things cannot be forced from the top. The international relinquishing of sovereignity would have to spring from the people - it would have to be so strong that the elected delegates would be turned out of office if they failed to do it... War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."

   From Chapter 1 (A Cold Warrior Turns); "JFK and the Unspeakable", James W. Douglass

#20

We might start a national referendum to nullify Trump's nomination, while at the same time demanding HRC refuse Bernie's concession/endorsement as graciously as it was rendered to her. His motive for conceding was to prevent DT from possibly winning the presidency if Bernie siphoned off too many votes from HRC. No sane person wants DT in the WH. A great many people want Sanders there and quite possibly more than they do HRC.


#21

With due appreciation for some of what Francis has said, he also has his own imperial issues to deal with, and he seems to be taking plenty of steps back as well as forward.


#22

Wow. That goes down with Ike's warning against the MIComplex.