"No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear"
~~ Edmund Burke
In his heyday, nobody was better at gettin' down politically than Lone Star Lyndon. In 1948, after 11 years in the House of Representatives where he proved to be a formidable, power-hungry campaigner, LBJ hit fellow Democrat and popular former Texas governor Coke Stevenson with everything he had as they squared off for a run at the Senate.
Legend has it Johnson told one of his aides -- "Go out there and tell 'em Coke was caught having sex with a farm animal."
"But, Lyndon," the aide protested, "you know that's not true!"
"Of course it's not true!" Johnson responded impatiently. "That's not the point. Tell it anyway -- and make him deny it..."
In politics, going from down to down-and-dirty is no distance at all. The battle between Stevenson and Johnson was the closest senatorial race in the nation's history, and Johnson -- who initially lost -- managed a "comeback" that created the model used in Florida 52 years later by the Bush team. Stevenson's victory lap was brought up short when an amended return appeared miraculously from Jim Wells County, giving Johnson 201 votes and Stevenson only 2, putting Johnson ahead by 87 votes. Not to be outdone -- Duval County, in its eagerness to help Johnson -- was caught with its hands in the ballot box.
Stevenson protested all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court but, wouldn't you know, while the case was wending its way to that august body, Jim Wells inadvertently "lost" its voting lists, and Duval made the only prudent choice -- it burned the entire county's returns. Well, naturally, the Supremes refused to hear a case with no evidence. But, hey -- no harm done -- just another glitch in run-of-the-mill Texas politics. It isn't like the shudder that rippled through the nation was the beginnings of momentum that would ultimately carry a couple of Texas cowboys to the Oval Office or anything. No way a few dirty tricks in Texas could change the course of history...
There is a vast difference between those two who did make it to the top -- Lyndon Johnson and George Bush. For starters, Johnson was a bona fide, card-carrying Texan, while Bush can only prance around playing dress-up in his boots and cowboy hat. Johnson lusted for the power of the Oval Office so obsessively that he spent his entire adult life relentlessly preparing himself for it. Bush was not only breathtakingly unprepared for the job, but proves more and more with each passing day to be totally unfit for it, and he apparently had no concept of what the job entailed. Just three months before the 2000 selection, Bush breezily told reporters in the critical state of Iowa -- "I don't know whether I'm going to win or not...If not, that's just the way it goes."
Johnson is responsible for his state's sprawling network of roadside parks -- each one an oasis that still offers respite to weary travelers -- which he created in the wake of the Great Depression to provide work for impoverished Texas youth, many of them Hispanics and Blacks. Bush is responsible for his state's sprawling prison network -- each one housing far too many Texas youth, far too many Hispanics and Blacks -- from which, as governor, he cold-bloodedly chalked up the nation's highest execution rate...
Both men will be remembered for the significant changes they made in how government functions. Johnson, a devoted supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, brought us the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and put the social safety net firmly in place with his Great Society Program. Bush, a devoted supporter of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz's Global Empire deal, brought us the largest deficit in the nation's history, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and -- like a rabid jackal -- tore into the social safety net immediately upon taking office. Verily, no children are being left behind...
Both Johnson and Bush will be remembered for floundering around in the hopeless quagmire of bloody wars. They will be remembered for the needless injury and death of millions of military and civilians, and for thrusting US citizens into environments where they were desensitized into doing shameful and vicious things they would never have dreamed they were capable of doing. Johnson recognized his folly, made a feeble attempt at damage control with a half-hearted attempt at negotiation, and exited public life -- a broken man.
Bush brazenly refuses to admit he made a mistake even though his lies for rushing to war have long been exposed throughout the world. He stands there, a clownish "Baghdad Bob," insisting he is winning the war, that his will is firm no matter how many US citizens perish, and blathers that "freedom is on the march." He stands there resolute -- while body parts of the innocent sail through the air behind him and American's sons and daughters are slaughtered at a clip of three a day and sneaked back to the US in flag-draped coffins. He stands there -- a shameful and hollow man.
Dirty politics didn't start in Texas, but flourished there like nowhere else, and has since spread its tentacles throughout the nation. In 1964, Johnson had moved on from sex with farm animals, and introduced fear into dirty politics when he sucker-punched both Barry Goldwater and the entire nation with an ad mirroring a giant mushroom cloud in the eyes of an innocent little girl. Johnson won in a landslide.
Republicans -- especially those named Bush -- sat up and took notice. They eagerly entered what Adlai Stevenson had described a decade earlier as "Nixon Land -- a land of slander and smear, of sly innuendo, of the poison pen, the anonymous phone call, and hustling, pushing, shoving, the land of smash and grab, anything to win."
They never looked back. Their crusade to destroy President Bill Clinton created an entire class of cruel, steely-eyed right-wing pundits whom the media covered like rock stars; even joined their ranks, until they were interchangeable -- all feeding like swarms of maggots on the soft underbelly of democracy.
Clinton refused to play Texas politics and, to their bitter consternation, was the last man standing at the end of their embarrassing eight-year 24/7 onslaught. The harshest public criticism of the right-wing media/pundit cabal Clinton has made to date is a recent comment on CNN's Larry King show about the reception Special Counsel Robert Ray's report got when it was released showing the Clintons were innocent after a $70 million Whitewater investigation -- "They were on him like dogs in the night," Clinton said ruefully, then chuckled -- "they called him everything but a Blue Goose..."
However, unlike Clinton, most opponents who dare to "get down" politically with Karl Rove rarely get up again. Rove opened the political door for the vacuous, mean-spirited George W. Bush by steamrolling popular former Texas governor Ann Richards --painting her as a drunk and a lesbian. And, in 2000, Rove proved far too wily for even a political veteran like John McCain when he roiled the campaign waters by questioning McCain's honor, integrity, patriotism -- even his mental stability. McCain's wife was a drug addict. For good measure, Rove threw in an illicit affair that resulted in an illegitimate African-American child.
McCain's recent performance on the campaign trail and at the Republican National Convention leaves little doubt that he has "sold his soul to the company store," and calls to mind the 1776 admonition of Samuel Adams to those like McCain who quivered before those in power -- "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
By the time Republicans saddled up and headed into the 2000 election, the total breakdown and betrayal of fundamental journalistic principles by the mainstream media had occurred, AM radio was spewing hate like an East Texas gusher, and Karl Rove, with a string of tooth-and-claw victories under his belt, was riding shotgun on the entire herd. Rove's plan for Bush opponent, Vice President Al Gore, was simple -- "We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him! We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!"
Karl Rove is out of control. He has gone beyond the pale and, quite possibly, beyond the law in leaks and attacks on those perceived to be a threat to the current regime. It's time for Americans -- both Democrat and Republican -- to wake up and face the truth -- we are struggling under the heel of a morally bankrupt, rabid right-wing, pre-World War II Germany fascist cult. Trust me. They have no intention of voluntarily giving up the power for which they have lusted so long.
They are coming at us. Coming for us. Like dogs in the night.
I can think of at least 1,176 reasons why we need to meet them more than half way. We have no choice. We have one last shot at salvaging democracy as we know it. On November 2, we must jump on the John Kerry campaign Swift Boat, turn that baby around and blast headlong into them.
It's too late to put the fun back into politics. However, because our young men and women are needlessly dying, and will continue to die if we remain silent, we must put fear aside and at least make the effort.
Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma based freelance writer and a former US Army Public Information Officer. She is a proud member of the Order of Saint Barbara -- the Field Artillery's Patron Saint. She will accept praise and atta-boys at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Complaints and death threats should be directed to her cousin, Junior Samples, at BR-549.
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