Friday, September 16, 2011

Long Ago and Far Away, No. 18

So yesterday, I was lunching with two of the finest analysts of the political zeitgeist that I've been lucky enough to meet.

They were, as usual, insightful.

One noted that Rick Perry doesn't want to go back to the idyllic days of the Eisenhower Administration, but wants to repeal the Twentieth Century.

Not the 21st; he wants to get us back to 1899.

So it was with pleasure that I opened the book I currently read.  I pulled it from my bookshelf earlier this week, and began cutting its pages, looking forward to what it would reveal.

Yes -- I lterally was cutting pages.  I'm reading  Volume I of The American Commonwealth by James Bryce, who long ago wrote The Holy Roman Empire and served as M.P. for Aberdeen.  [please note: there's no "Decline" in that title. . .].

The book I'm reading was published in 1889; when reading its list of U.S. Presidents, it conspicuously stops at Benjamin Harrison.

So it's that kind of book,

Anyway, the world it describes is indeed the land, and system, that seems so fondly sought by Perry, Bachmann, and others [except, of course, that displays of religion in the town square are described in the 1889 book as "little seen and little-tolerated"].

I was struck by one phrase, though, that captures something that animates today's conservatives and their view of government.  Bryce attempted to describe how difficult it was [in 1889] for Europeans to grasp the American system of federalism, with state and federal governments having great -- and independent -- significance:

* * * Even the traveller who visits America does not realize its importance, because the things that meet his eye are superficially similar all over the continent, and that which Europeans call the machinery of government is in America conspicuous chiefly by its absence. * * *

As an unapologetic skeptic and critic of the government, who views it an a necessary evil, this description resonated with me, as I'm sure it does with Tea Partiers and Perry-istas.  I view such a state to be desirable and superior.  Even as I view Rick Perry as the most loathsome, dangerous politician I've seen emerge in the last fifty years [David Duke and Dick Cheney rawk compared to Perry, in these eyes].

I'm not, I hope, stupid enough to think that it exists, will exist, or reasonably could exist considering all that's happened in the intervening 122 years.  But my friends who reflexively promote the government as it's existed the last seventy years love to think it works, even as they begin to reconsider whether it can function in these times without some tinkering [age 65 retirement?].  So I, too, love to think that the government Bryce saw would also work.  While admitting that it can't function in these times without some tinkering.

from The American Commonwealth, click to enlarge

1 comment:

Mister Parker said...

I happen to know your two punditry friends. Couple of damn hippies.

Get off my lawn!

Actually, while one of them might be a classic liberal Democrat, the other is what used to be called a Rockerfeller Republican and more mainstream than either of you.

Also, I'd like to point out that the paradise Rick Perry aspires to more or less existed as late as March 1933. We had 25% unemployment, thousands of blacks were lynched with impunity every year, lots of people died from polio, many rural areas of the country did not have electricity, there were no interstates, your store-bought hamburger was just as likely to have a finger in it as not. When banks failed, you lost your life's savings. And when a few years later Hitler decided to march across most of Europe, there wasn't much of anything we were prepared to do about it.

Things aren't going very well right now, but you can't throw a monkeywrench in the gears and then complain when the machine doesn't work. Not to mention that there's a difference between saying that the people running the government aren't very good at their jobs and saying that there should be no government at all.

By the way, I don't like paying taxes any more than the next guy, and I pay a damn sight more of them than nearly everybody who stops by here -- to quote Charles Barkley, "Grandma, I am the rich" -- but I also know that the taxes we paid in the 1950s built the roads that carry our goods to market, and built the schools that educated our workforce (including me and thee) and built a defense that kept the world safe for democracy, and then we congratulated ourselves on a job well done, slashed taxes to their lowest levels since before the Great Depression, and now all that infrastructure is crumbling back into the landscape while those that got theirs head for the hills and everybody else takes the hindmost teat.

But that's just me and part of the reason why we're such an interesting team -- the idealistic dreamer and the practical-minded realist.

Of course, if anyone were to study our outward lives, they'd seriously wonder which of us was which.