This past week had the feel of "game, set, match," the end to a long string of miscalculations by the American Left and a crowning victory for the cynical American Right a triple whammy of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to unleash corporate campaign spending, Air America's dissolution, and the Massachusetts Senate election.
Especially after the Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to spend whatever they want to punish some politicans and reward others, it is hard to see a road back for American democracy.
The United States is now at the very dark terminus of a four-decades-long journey, one in which at nearly each fateful juncture the Right made the smart maneuver and the Left mostly hurt itself, most notably by allowing its divisive squabbles over purity vs. pragmatism to destroy the best opportunities for progress.
In retrospect, one can see key turning points as far back as 1968, the year when the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy swallowed the optimism of a generation and divided the Democratic Party to such a degree that many progressives sat out the election, even though it meant that Richard Nixon would win and continue the war for four more years.
Only much later did evidence emerge revealing that Republican operatives had secretly sabotaged President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam peace talks, a move that prevented a Democratic reconciliation and enabled Nixon to narrowly snake away with the White House.
Though Johnson and his top advisers were aware of Nixon's treachery in real time, they stayed silent for "the good of the country," a decision that they may have viewed as noble and pragmatic but one which nonetheless had devastating future consequences. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Significance of Nixon's Treason."]
So, by 1968, a troubling pattern was already taking shape. Many Democratic progressives refused to be practical regardless of what was at stake, and Democratic politicians shied away from tough showdowns with the Republicans and even joined in concealing evidence of their wrongdoing.
In 1972, emboldened by his still-secret success four years earlier, Nixon sought to ensure his reelection with another round of skullduggery spying on the Democrats and seeking to manipulate their nomination process but his luck finally ran out when a team of his burglars was caught inside the Democrats' Watergate headquarters.
Despite Nixon's best efforts aided and abetted by "pragmatic" Democratic National Chairman Robert Strauss who tried to help shut down the Watergate investigation the criminal proceedings exposed Nixon's dirty operation, forcing his resignation in 1974 and leading to Democrat Jimmy Carter's election in 1976. [For more on the Watergate intrigue, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
From Nixon's debacle, the Republicans learned important lessons, including their need to build a media infrastructure of their own to protect future Republican presidents from "another Watergate." Nixon's former Treasury Secretary Bill Simon took the lead in pulling together wealthy conservatives to invest in right-wing media and think tanks. [For details, see Lost History.]
The Left extracted an opposite lesson from Watergate. Feeling a false confidence that the mainstream news media would continue performing a watchdog role, progressives mostly dismantled what had been a thriving "underground" media of newspapers, magazines and radio stations, which had grown up amid the youthful opposition to the Vietnam War. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "The Left's Media Miscalculation."]
The Right's Surge
By the late 1970s, other parts of today's political dynamic were falling into place. The Right and the Republicans played hardball, while the Left and the Democrats remained deeply divided between purists and pragmatists -- and were unwilling to confront GOP bullies.
In Election 1980, these political characteristics asserted themselves again. President Carter's center-left Democratic policies offended farther-left Democrats, many of whom either sat out the November election or voted for independent candidate John Anderson.
Meanwhile, the Republicans played their usual aggressive game, this time over Carter's Iranian hostage crisis. Ronald Reagan's men went behind Carter's back to contact Iranian officials much as Nixon's team had gone behind Johnson's back to sabotage the Vietnam peace talks in 1968. Indeed, some key figures, like Henry Kissinger, showed up in both operations.
(Similarly, too, even when evidence of Reagan's treachery emerged years later, senior Democrats chose to conceal the evidence, just as Johnson and his advisers had done in 1968. [See Secrecy & Privilege for details.])
With Reagan's victory in 1980, the emerging American political dynamics hardened. The Right kept pouring billions of dollars into a media infrastructure, which also included well-funded attack groups to go after mainstream journalists who wouldn't toe Reagan's propaganda line.