Speak out, speak out against the madness
Speak your mind if you dare
But don’t, no it’s a special don’t try to get yourself elected
And if you do, you better cut your hair
Because it appears to be a long night
Before the dawn
It’s been a long time comin’
It’s goin’ to be a long time gone
But you know that the darkest hour
Is always just before the dawn, hmm
–Crosby, Stills & Nash, Long Time Gone
In the wake of the midterm election, a lot of my friends are feeling those lyrics. And you know, I’m not sure that they should.
I’ve recently been reading Richard Rhode’s excellent (if highly critical) book about nuclear policy, Arsenals of Folly.
Rhode’s point in the early chapters of the book is that the United States and the Soviet Union developed their policies each out of fear of the other, and that the fear was generally unrealistic. Each side’s leaders were aware not only that nuclear war would be a global catastrophe, but also that either side only possessed 150-300 military targets that could be usefully targetted with nuclear weapons.
Yet, by the early 1960s, each side possessed thousands
of nuclear warheads, mounted on long- and short-range missiles, carried in bombers, and cruising the ocean bottom in submarines (some were also fielded as artillery shells and among the smallest were weapons that could be carried and deployed by mechanized infantry
What was behind this massive display of overkill?
Fear. Sometimes this was merely fear of the unknown, and sometimes it was deliberately manipulated fear–the kind of thing that lead to an incredibly large increase in the defense budget in the early 1980s. Rhodes quotes David Stockman:
But fear was the driver.
So what does this have to do with the election? Well, it may well be that the Republican party has been driven by a genuine fear of government during the Obama administration. Obamacare, to use the Republican-coined and administration-adopted name, is a huge thing. It’s the kind of thing that present-generation Democrats feel government ought to be doing, and that present-generation Republicans feel that government should not do under any circumstances.
It’s kind of like the USSR placing missiles in Cuba, in other words. If Rhodes is right, and as a historian, he’s pretty good, then the USSR did not place its missiles in Cuba in hopes of staging a preemptive attack on the United States, or of threatening one. Rather, the USSR placed those missiles to maintain parity with the US, which had missiles located pretty close to the USSR, including Turkey. It’s worth noting that as a result of the stand-down from the Cuban crisis, those missiles were subsequently removed from Turkey. But I digress.
The point is that we live in a society driven far too heavily by tit-for-tat. It’s reasonably clear that while Bill Clinton may have had an interesting personal life, for example, that the real reason Republicans called for impeachment was to even out the playing field. The GOP was still smarting from Nixon’s downfall, and wanted parity. There are countless other places where parity is an issue (consider that filibusters are never bad things when you’re the party out of power, but that they constitute evil attempts to overrule the majority when you are the party in power).
It’s my hope that the Republicans’ gaining control of the Senate will act to place limits on fear. All parties out of power are, to a greater or lesser extent, necessarily reactionary. The GOP is in power now (save for the Executive; arguably the conservative-GOP alliance now controls the Judiciary, though there conservatism and liberalism are different, so it’s a mistake to see the court too much as a player).
I suspect that the GOP will continue to act as an out-of-power reactionary party for a month or two; then its members will realize that it’s time to understand that Obamacare will not be repealed (in part, because it’s popular in the broadest sense of the word), and will begin to act positively. I don’t expect that the GOP’s “positivism” will always be to my liking or that of my friends, but we’ll see.
In any event, it becomes harder to complain about Washington when you are Washington.
The GOP holds Cuba now. Let’s see how things go.