Monday, January 09, 2006

Lessons from yesteryear.

I am not the first ex-hippy to remark that if you remember the ’60’s, then you didn’t experience them. Well, I experienced them a little and I remember a little. Back in the day, (note smooth transition to contemporary linguistic formulations) I was a poli-sci major. I remember three things about political science.

The first lesson was brought home to me by Dr. Dukemejian, who had been a refugee from Communist oppression. The word ‘fascist’ may have been often used loosely in the 60’s, but never by Dr. Duke. He taught me that it was that the hallmark of a fascist regime is to say, “If you are not with us, you are against us.”

It was due to this lesson that I shuttered and shivered when I heard W say, "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror" on Nov. 6, 2001. It was early enough in his reign that we did not know how fascistic were the inclinations of King George W. We only knew that he ascended to power after losing the popular vote and then convincing a Supreme Court previously known for expanding States’ rights that it should over-rule the Supreme Court of Florida to prevent the counting of votes in that state.

Many had assumed that after such a long, strange trip, W would try to govern from the center. They had misunderestimated him again. Instead, he undertook a program to consolidate power in the White House to an extent never seen before. In retrospect, we can see that Dick Cheney, (the Edgar Bergen to W’s Charley McCarthy) was still smarting about the aftermath of Watergate, which he had experienced as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff. One can almost hear him saying, in the words and manner of Scarlett O’Hara:

As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be power-hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry for power again.

There are many examples of W’s unilateral power grab, such as the withdrawal from the ABM treaty and the Kyoto Protocol, and the decision to fire up funding for Star Wars. Domestically he put a hold on all rules passed in the final days of the Clinton administration, and then issued an executive order establishing an “Office of Faith-Based Initiatives,” as if his fingers had been crossed when he promised to be a “uniter, not a divider.”

Less than a month later, President Bush issued a series of executive orders, all on the same day, designed to undercut the authority of organized labor, a poke in the eye of his opposition. His most visible domestic policy initiative, (portrayed in the media as the president actually reading a book) was his decision to unilaterally limit federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and then only on lines that were in existence at the time of his decision. After 9-11 it was Katie-bar-the-door when it came to what the Chief Executive could execute.

Which brings me to the second thing I learned about political science from the ’60’s.

According to Richard Neustadt, a pre-eminent authority of executive authority: “Presidential power is the power to persuade.” If you are going to pitch that philosophy to the Bushies, you might as well wear bell-bottom jeans, tie-dyed t-shirts, platform shoes and a doped up grin. They are not going to take you seriously, anyway.

To the minions of King George W, the title of “President” is all one needs to rule, and Congress be damned. That whole ‘checks and balance’ thing is just so Summer of Love.

I’ll write more about W’s extremist take on Presidential power in a separate note, because I believe it is as important today as was the Stamp Act was in the 1770’s. At this time, suffice it to say, the philosophy of a "unitary executive branch," embraced by W and Sam Alito is despotism in drag.

But I want to mention the third lesson of Political Science from the ’60’s.

The lesson is that if people rise up and take to the streets, we can stop tyranny. We can stop an unjust war that we were lied into. We can bring down a President who has no respect for the law. We can shape the zeitgeist so that it reflects, not fear and selfishness, but rather shared responsibility for peace, for the environment and for the direction of history.

In the 60’s, and the early ’70’s, many took their wisdom from Eastern philosophers. I still feel the Tug of a lesson taught to me by an influential Yogi in 1972:

“You gotta believe!”

... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!

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