A most terrible exercise.
I was no big fan of Lyndon Johnson’s. In fact, I was so outraged, not by Vietnam (which I could understand how our 36th president and the rest of us got trapped in that southeastern Asian morass, and to an elevated degree, even empathize with), but by the unforgivable and inexcusably execrable way he left the 81 sailors and one dead casualty of the USS Pueblo to rot in North Korea, that I couldn’t permit my imagination to go anywhere near a Democratic Party candidate until 1992.
I took a deep breath and held my nose through Watergate and the entirety of the Nixon era, still voting straight GOP. Same thing with what turned into a dizzying ride through all of Ronal Reagan, trying to enumerate and keep track of the various cars that were the embarrassing gaffes and disasters of that long train; still the disgust of the Pueblo ‘incident’ lingered and coerced my hand to pull the Republican lever.
It was the accumulation of the stench, however, when Bush 41, unquestionably the candidate with the most distinguished resume to ever seek the Oval Office, tried to tell us how he (ex-head of the CIA) had been “out of the loop” in Iran-Contra, that I began to wretch so violently over the insult to my intelligence that I voted Democratic for the first time.
Then there was Clinton’s “Travelgate” and his waving his finger in my face, “I did not have sex with that woman — Lewinski.” How many scandals? Let me count the ways. And I found I could count them all.
Tough to miss: the televised visits this week, down the 5-year memory lane since the US invaded Iraq. When one of them noted how oil was $23 per barrel in March of 2003 I felt the inclination to recall all the outrageous assaults on decency, on our national honor, on basic integrity, on our Constitution that have been part and parcel of the Bush/GOP years since the compassionate conservative raised his hand and swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
I can count the plagues that assaulted the pharaoh: water to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, stricken livestock, pestilence, hail, locusts, darkness, and the deaths of all first-born. The plagues of the Bush/GOP years are beyond counting. And other than to sham pretense and show, none have been for a good purpose.
That’s when another recollection burst through the lines of my stuffed gray matter: Lyndon Johnson’s allegorical description of how he felt about Vietnam, “Like a hitchhiker on a lonely Texas highway during a hailstorm — can’t run, can’t hide, and make it stop.” The punishing onslaught to my person and senses for the past seven years has been simply overwhelming!
Through the years of Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan all the way through Clinton there had been days and weeks and months that I wish I could forget. Nonetheless, there were many, many days, weeks and months of reprieve that I recall fondly, when life was good, when I felt proud of my country and proud to be an American. But, since the day this President Bush defiantly gave the world his my-way-or-the-highway middle finger and tore up Kyoto, I cannot find five minutes where I haven’t felt sickened with shame for being an American citizen.
The past seven years have been one lie after another, with the liars and hypocrites staring me in the face, lying to me, and fully expecting I would, as I ought to, believe a single syllable of it. If it had been only George Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Rice and the rest of that ignoble gang of thieves and miscreants I might have had a slightly better time taking it.
Except for a mere handful (Walter Jones, Ron Paul, Chris Shays, George Voinovich, Chuck Hagel, and on occasion Arlen Spector), it has been the entirety of the Republican Party and the holier than thou Catholics and Baptists and Evangelicals and the cowardly Rush and Bill and Michael and Ann and Michelle and Glenn . . . all licking the administration’s boots or kissing its behind while filling the air and pulpits over America and America’s airwaves with the most unChristlike toxic ether; priests and ministers seeking out and using little boys while concomitantly excoriating gays and lesbians, trying to disenfranchise them from the entirety of the social fabric; to the manor born political leaders who were without the first hint of personal courage, who themselves sought and used every parsed definition to avoid military duty, sending those who were sufficiently composed repeatedly into the cauldron’s burning blast, then blasting those who proposed a moment of reflection on the matter as un-American, or America-haters, or cowards who cut-and-ran; politicians demanding, on the guise of protecting the voting process, striving earnestly by every and any slight of hand they could get away with, to deny it to those who would likely oppose them; that the Bible-belt educators insisting a notion that is without the first glance of evidence behind it — Intelligent Design — be taught in our public schools right alongside a postulate that is suffuse with solid scientific evidence; robber barons robbing the present and future till trying to persuade (and succeeding!) all who stand nowhere near the till that some of the coinage may fall to the floor for them to gather.
All of this and more, every minute of every day of every year: charter schools that would eviscerate the public school system, Medical Savings and Retirement Accounts that would ostensibly rescue the medical care and retirement systems for those without the wherewithal to make the first deposit into either of them, rebuilding to better than before a city and then abandoning the effort once the klieg lights were turned off and the camera crews had left, expounding on justice and the notion of transparency in governance while twisting and obscuring to opaque their very notions, steadfastly denying the use of torture while redefining to more easily acceptable definitions “interrogation techniques” that are in fact the crux of the abominable behavior itself. And on and on and on and on and . . .
Ya know, I think I remember when oil was $23 a barrel and a gallon of gas cost $1.40, though it seems so terribly long ago. One thing I absolutely recall with exquisite clarity is being able to feel clean, clean about both myself and my country, not disregarding the several instances when that was tough.
All who know me, know that above and beyond anything else, I genuinely see myself and concoct my entire identity as an “American.” Nothing else: I am an American.
I’m a big enough boy to fully understand that Senator Obama is not pure, and that Senator Clinton is some great distance from it herself. I know that no administration is going to be, or be able to be pure. As I acknowledged, I toughed out numerous times in previous administrations while still able to feel a sense of hope and a sense of hoped-for pride in my country. Through none of them did I feel dirty, as though I’d been immersed in a septic tank filled with exotic pathogens. Today, I just feel dirty, and I want to be able to feel clean again.
However neither of the Democratic candidates will likely provide a term in office that is unblemished, Senator John McCain, by the way he has so thoroughly ensconced himself in the shameful Bush/GOP cloak, certainly has zero capacity to expurgate a single drop of the toxins that have seeped deep and completely stained our national fabric.