From the Merriam Webster Dictionary online…
night letter (n): a telegram sent at night at a reduced rate for delivery the following morning.
Presidential Grandiloquence – Part One
When I think of the American presidency, I think of slogans and of epochs. The duration of each administration’s sway upon the nation could be termed as an epoch, historically… a period of time that is often defined by the character and stated ideals of each individual President inevitably framed by slogans. More often, however, the slogans are lost and their idealistic definitions are tempered in remembrance by the realities surrounding each administration, by facts rather than by the carefully chosen words they use to define themselves.
Bob Daugherty, AP Archives
For instance, the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson attempted to characterize itself with florid descriptions of his signature achievements in civil rights and social justice legislation, an idealistic political agenda branded with vaunting, and not necessarily inaccurate labels. We cannot fault such ambitious programs as the War on Poverty and The Great Society, but all pretense comes to a crashing end and his happy place in history took a back seat to the stain of his one and horrific misadventure, the war in Vietnam, a can that had been kicked down the road by two previous administrations, but an issue he chose to tackle in the worst manner possible, with a war that was never actually declared, but was viciously and violently waged for a decade, killing over 55,000 Americans and untold hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.
His successor? Recent revelations disclose the fact that Richard Nixon sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiatives by brokering a secret deal with North Vietnam before he was President as he rode to victory on the phrase, “Peace with honor” which was, in retrospect, a monument to cynical mendacity. But then, Nixon was no stranger to the perversion of truth. In fact, he earned a second term on a symphony of “law and order” with horns and percussion, played with verve and passion to his beloved audience, “the silent majority” of Americans who were dismayed by political and social upheaval over the war that Nixon had prolonged with his deception. But no one quite imagined how cynical it might be for Nixon to run on a platform that invoked law and order until they learned that the thrust of his entire administration was marked with such incredible violations of law and disruption of order that his corruption and crimes eventually forced him to resign in disgrace. Only a pardon by the next and quickly forgotten President Ford kept him from serving a justified term in a Federal prison.
Jimmy Carter’s presidency is difficult to characterize, since an honest man is not generally as glib in the realm of self-aggrandizement as the average politician, so he was more often defined by his critics and particularly by his successor in rather vilifying and dismissive words. Nonetheless, Carter was possibly the most forward thinking President in terms of a national energy policy, a political agenda that recognized the growing dangers of indiscriminate and poorly regulated use of fossil fuels and the very real cost of dependence on foreign oil. But like Obama in his second term, however, Carter suffered from an animated opposition by a Republican-controlled Congress during his first term, a fact that essentially crippled many of his initiatives. The death blow to his administration was certainly not of his making… a hostage crisis in Iran following a popular Islamist revolt. The uprising was the result of an American led coup and regime change in the mid-1950s and the hatred of the revolution for the USA was fueled by subsequent, generous American support of an oppressive regime. The hostage crisis was such an embarrassment to the nation that someone had to take the blame. Carter became the perfect scapegoat. His campaign for a second term quite collapsed when our military attempted to rescue the hostages and failed, the result of a peculiar regional weather event and an unfortunate accident in the wake of it. Carter’s Republican opponent in the election, Ronald Reagan, took advantage of both the incident and the ongoing, ever-present embarrassment, the loss of national pride… and won handily.
Ronald Reagan? Where can I start? The apostle of “trickle down economics” who invoked an image of an old, disproved, and rationally absurd economic theory that favors corporations and the wealthy as “engines of the economy” declaring corporate success as “a rising tide that lifts all boats…” Riding this absurd metaphor like a boogey board, Reagan proceeded to dismantle America’s post-WWII prosperity by shifting the burden of all taxation to middle and lower class Americans… by destroying the influence of labor unions… by giving tax breaks to the wealthy… by reducing “unnecessary” programs of social welfare… and by de-regulating commerce… thus creating a new American aristocracy and initiating economic trends that have given us the greatest disparity in wealth and income since the Gilded Age. Yet, even today, both Democrats and Republicans invoke his style with reverence as some sort of political benchmark for the ages. Unfortunately, that benchmark proved to be built upon such unstable foundations that it became a formula for failure. It has been the cause of unprecedented economic disparity and its philosophy can do naught but foment social inequity, based as it is on a lie… but let’s move on.
The first President Bush, the product of a more florid era of political rhetoric, had a particular gift for the iconic phrase… with such poetic entries as “a thousand points of light” which program was, essentially, another way to give awards to rich people who have so much money they can spend a little bit of it on poor people. The theory is that philanthropy, the largesse of wealthy people can ultimately supplant the need for social welfare. But the phrase that actually got him elected “Read my lips…” when he declared “…no new taxes…” is the phrase that eventually brought him down in his attempt for a second term because reality forced his administration to reconsider and he… you guessed it… raised the tax rate.
Bill Clinton came in behind Bush on the merits of such sentiments as “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton “…didn’t inhale.” And, he “…never had sex with that woman.” In fact he was, as my sainted grandmother would put it, “…so full of it…” one has to wonder how he ever got away with as much as he did. I don’t know what to say about Clinton, since this Democratic president, though adorned with the mantle of a liberal freely given him by his peers in spite of his apparent and obvious predilections to conservatism, managed to move the Party of FDR and the New Deal into territory once held by Republican elites. How did he do it? Charm and charisma? The ability to smile and to tell us an absolute lie while doing the exact opposite of what he said? Perhaps, but his legacy is written in the growth of policies that imprisoned more non-violent offenders and for such interminable periods of time that their lives were essentially destroyed. Prison populations soared. The war on poverty was lost in the Clinton administration through “workfare” programs and tough, even brutal attitudes toward crime and punishment. And though his administration did more to oppress black people in America than was ever publicly acknowledged, his ability to play the saxophone and the audacity to wear sunglasses while doing so on television, earned him the erstwhile label, “America’s first black president.” Charming.
The second Bush, pictured here in proximity to the toxic Mr. Cheney, was chosen by the American Supreme Court rather than by the electorate… the result of difficult and obscene mismanagement of the election in the crucial State of Florida where Bush brother Jed was Governor. Little Georgie Bush had run on the notion of his Christianity against Gore, the Vice-President under Clinton. The sitting President’s support of Gore was more or less withheld, since Clinton’s sexual indiscretions had finally caught up with him and made him politically toxic. Bush was hardly charismatic, even a bit “unclever” when speaking in public and, for the life of me, I cannot remember much about his rhetoric on the run up to the election… though there was some talk about “compassionate conservatism” supposedly based upon the fact that Bush was a “born again” Christian. However… in America and, to my recollection and personal experience, compassionate Christian evangelicals tend to be a rather judgmental group, given more to compassion within their own ranks than toward the public at large… but that’s not relevant here, is it? Either way, following the 911 attacks, George H. W. Bush’s little boy, George was given unprecedented license by a too-generous and overly patriotic Congress and he used it to take America to war in Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, which harbored Al Qaeda, which was the group that planned the attack. Then, for reasons known only to God, the Holy Spirit and Dick Cheney, Bush decided we had to go to war with Iraq, which had no connection whatsoever to Al Qaeda or the attacks on 911. Following a subsequently relentless attack on Iraq, punctuated and propagandized with televised displays of “shock and awe” scorched earth military attacks… when Bush had utterly broken the governments and infrastructure of both Iraq and Afghanistan, such as it existed, he led America into a huge debt spiral from the cost of both wars and subsequent unaudited defense contracts which attempted to put the countries we had destroyed back together again. When he saw what he had done… and in spite of the huge national debt… Bush decided to give enormous tax breaks to America’s rich people because… well who the hell knows why… but his Presidency very nearly caused a second Great Depression… which it was, although nobody was willing to admit it, so we’ll pretend it was not a Great Depression, but a really bad recession… even though most Americans who weren’t rich have yet to recover what they lost, but the rich people got richer, and they own all the media, so… Anyway, we can’t really blame Little Boy Bush for the problem since, from what I hear, Dick Cheney was in charge, but hey…
Then came Obama… But let’s save that for next week when we will continue to deconstruct everyone’s favorite president.
Night Letters to America by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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