Clearly, what we are getting out of Washington is not leadership, not from anyone. It is spitefulfulness; it is deceit; it is hyperbole unto madness and maneuvering and masterful manipulation, but it’s not leadership.
What it is, is pure Kabuki theater, but less honest.
Or maybe it’s not Kabuki, at all; maybe it’s just a carnival with freakshow, burlesque and a magic act, all brought forward to engage our attention in misdirection. “Look right this way, folks, (no, not there or there, there or there! and for God’s sake don’t look there!) at three solid weeks of political theater, for free! We got yer comedy! Yer melodrama! Yer broken hearts and yer hero entering, stage left! We call it The Comeback Kid!”
A while back I wrote about the painless coup:
Believing that the rest of us, now disillusioned, are no longer clinging to romantic ideals of honor, or truth or nobility, these always-restless First Children, devoted to deconstruction, believe they are about to take down the presidency, the churches, the “old” government and even the “old” media. They expect to put into place something “brand new.” But believe me when I tell you what they are building is older than dirt. And up from it. Which is why they will need their fortresses. Castro lives in one, too.
They’ve been practicing all of this, by the way, perfecting the Art of the Painless Coup so thoroughly that most ordinary folks do not even realize what has occurred.
And misdirection is all a part of it:
. . .on the world stage there stride some masters of the sleight-of-hand and the misdirection – you can recognize them because they are all of a mind, and of a piece, and they are all working different parts of the same trick.
Of course, if you can’t recognize a trick, you can’t prevail against it. And I think the dumb old GOP has no gift for spotting tricks. They and their conflicted, earnest little bills are Charlie Brown, forever giving Lucy the football and trusting that she’ll hold it in place. And lately, taking a beating from the cute little red haired girl with the teapot, too.
Personally, I think the last three weeks of hysteria and hype have been a combination of misdirection and manipulation, aided by a press that obediently hyperventilates on command. None of what we’re seeing in Washington had to happen this way, and it should not have happened this way unless some players — the most skilled players — wanted it to.
And why would they want it to? I suppose so the president who keeps complaining that he’d prefer to bypass congress, routinely considers it and has proven that he will, given half a chance, can get that chance. And thereby “save the nation.”
Of course he’ll bypass the congress; he has indicated his preference to simply rule, rather than lead, from the very start. “I won.”
Ed Morrissey disagrees: Would a man who lacks the intestinal fortitude to publish his own written plan of a debt-ceiling compromise take those risks? Not a chance.
I really, really hope I’m wrong. But from the start I’ve been thinking that this nonsense is not going to end well.
Tonight I re-read this old piece from Peggy Noonan, which was actually the inspiration for my piece linked above. This is what she wrote:
A few weeks ago I was reading Christopher Lawford’s lovely, candid and affectionate remembrance of growing up in a particular time and place with a particular family, the Kennedys, circa roughly 1950-2000. It’s called “Symptoms of Withdrawal.” At the end he quotes his Uncle Teddy. Christopher, Ted Kennedy and a few family members had gathered one night and were having a drink in Mr. Lawford’s mother’s apartment in Manhattan. Teddy was expansive. If he hadn’t gone into politics he would have been an opera singer, he told them, and visited small Italian villages and had pasta every day for lunch. “Singing at la Scala in front of three thousand people throwing flowers at you. Then going out for dinner and having more pasta.” Everyone was laughing. Then, writes Mr. Lawford, Teddy “took a long, slow gulp of his vodka and tonic, thought for a moment, and changed tack. ‘I’m glad I’m not going to be around when you guys are my age.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart.’ ”
Mr. Lawford continued, “The statement hung there, suspended in the realm of ‘maybe we shouldn’t go there.’ Nobody wanted to touch it. After a few moments of heavy silence, my uncle moved on.”
Lawford thought his uncle might be referring to their family–that it might “fall apart.” But reading, one gets the strong impression Teddy Kennedy was not talking about his family but about . . . the whole ball of wax, the impossible nature of everything, the realities so daunting it seems the very system is off the tracks.
And–forgive me–I thought: If even Teddy knows . . .
Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they’re living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they’re going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley’s off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.
I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, “I got mine, you get yours.”
I think the “next chapter of trouble” is here.
UPDATED (thanks, Frank):
“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America ’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Government cannot pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. Increasing America ’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”
— Senator Barack H. Obama, March 2006