Posted on | August 2, 2011 | 50 Comments
How long, O Lord, how long? Where will it end?
All I ever wanted out of this campaign was enough money to get out of the country and live for a year or two in peaceful squalor in a house with a big screen porch looking down on an empty white beach, with a good rich coral reef a few hundred yards out in the surf and no neighbors.
Some book reviewer whose name I forget recently called me a “vicious misanthrope” . . . or maybe it was a “cynical misanthrope” . . . but either way, he (or she) was right; and what got me this way was politics. Everything that is wrong-headed, cynical & vicious in me today traces straight back to that evil hour in September of ’69 when I decided to get heavily involved in the political process . . .
But that is another story. What worries me now — in addition to this still unwritten saga of the California primary — is the strong possibility that my involvement in politics has become so deep and twisted that I can no longer think rationally about that big screen porch above the beach except in terms of an appointment as Governor of American Samoa.
I coveted that post for many years. For a while it was my only ambition. I pursued it relentlessly, and at one point in either 1964 or ’65 it seemed within my grasp. Larry O’Brien, now the chairman of the Democratic Party, was the man in charge of pork-barrel/patronage appointments at the time, and he gave me excellent reason to believe my application was on the verge of bearing fruit. I was living at the Holiday Inn in Pierre, South Dakota, when the good news arrived. It came on a Wednesday, as I recall, by telegram. The manager of the Inn was ecstatic: he called a cab immediately and sent me downtown to a dry-goods store where I bought six white sharkskin suits — using a Sinclair Oil card, which was subsequently revoked and caused me a lot of trouble.
I never learned all the details, but what was finally made clear — in the end, after a bad communications breakdown — was that O’Brien had pulled a fast one on me. As it turned out, he never had any intention of making me Governor of American Samoa, and when I finally realized this it made me very bitter and eventually changed my whole life.”
— Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72
Don’t know about anyone else, but I can totally relate to that, and not merely because of Thompson’s gonzo sarcasm about O’Brien promising him a gig in American Samoa. (The actual 1964 correspondence between Thompson and O’Brien is included, pp. 454-455, 457, in Thompson’s first volume of collected letters, The Proud Highway.) Frazzled after months covering the 1972 Democrat primaries, and once more up against a deadline to supply what he called “The Final Wisdom” of it all, Thompson was hinting at a basic truth about politics:
A small number of people reap whatever direct benefit is gained by the labor of many thousands.
Well-connected insiders are appointed to cushy diplomatic jobs. Campaign consultants cash in their contracts. Lobbyists get paid to hustle the politicians to provide special consideration to interest groups. The rest of us — the field hands of the political plantation, as it were — have only the pleasure of gazing at that big Greek Revival mansion with its Ionic columns and saying to ourselves: “We’ve got our guy in there.”
This is true whether we are Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. “We” win, but “they” govern.
Sic semper hoc.
The President of the United States collects an annual salary of $400,000. So when “we” win a presidential election, that means “our” guy just got a guaranteed four-year contract for $1.6 million. Members of Congress each collect an annual salary of $174,000, so when that evil two-faced backstabbing bastard John McCain got re-elected as a senator last year — damn it all to Hell! — he was in effect awarded a six-year contract worth $1,044,000.
But those are just the guys who get elected. Every member of Congress hires dozens of staffers, and the president can reward hundreds of his sycophantic followers with political appointments paid according to the federal Executive Schedule:
Level I — $199,700
Level II — $179,700
Level III — $165,300
Level IV — $155,000
Level V — $145,700
Just to give you an idea of how many of these swine are sucking the federal teats, there are 11 assistant secretaries of Commerce paid at the Level IV scale and 14 — fourteen! — “additional officers” at the Department of Energy who collect Level V salaries.
Communiqué from the Commissar
If there were ever a violent revolution in this country, and if I were leader of the Committee of Revolutionary Justice, those 25 bureaucratic sons of bitches would be marked down for death, along with many, many more such vipers whose ill luck was to be holding a political-appointee job when my guerrilla Death Squads came to call.
Yet these are mere hypotheticals. I don’t anticipate a bloody uprising nor would I actually expect to be Death Squad commissar in any such radical insurgency. And for all I know, the four under-secretaries of Homeland Security and six under-secretaries of State (all Level III) are perfectly nice people, doing work of vital interest to the common good, and entirely deserving of their $165,300 salaries.
Having made these necessary disclaimers, then — so that none of those humorless DHS under-secretaries has an excuse to put me on the no-fly list before my flight leaves for Des Moines — we confront the nearly universal complaints about the debt-ceiling deal:
“This ‘compromise’ . . . simply delays the timing of Republican capitulation until closer to the elections. . . . If they’re going to capitulate, why not do it now? Without the willingness to shut the government down, they have no leverage. Most of them don’t even pretend at the fiction that they’re willing to do that.”
— Aces of Spades, AOSHQ
“On Sunday night . . . as the debt-ceiling crisis entered its desperate hours with no guarantee that any blue-ribbon deal can make it through the House, the real threat was default rather than the budget cuts slated to take effect over the next decade. Obama has badly played what always was a weak hand.”
— Walter Shapiro, The New Republic
“So here’s what will happen. The people who are predictably willing to fold to save face with the GOP will ridicule you, me, and the tea party. And in November, when the chickens come home to roost and what I predict comes true yet again, they’ll pretend yet again that they were with us the whole time.”
— Erick Erickson, Red State
“The problem with this deal is the same problem with all of the White House ‘compromises’ during this administration. They accept ridiculous Republican demands on the theory that next time around, they’ll be in a better position to fight them. Then, when the next time rolls around, they agree to Republican demands again, still saying that next time will present them with a better opportunity.”
— “Hunter,” Daily Kos
Perhaps you see my point without me explaining it, but I’ll explain it anyway: We all got screwed over in a lousy deal.
It doesn’t matter, in this context, whether you’re a left-winger who wants to tax Donald Trump into the poorhouse, or a right-winger who wants to zero out the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts.
At a moment like this, the real division is between Chumps, who foolishly expected politicians to deliver on their promises, and Cynics, who never for a moment expected anything other than a bipartisan swindle. And in case you were in the former category — an idealistic young True Believer who hasn’t lived long enough to cultivate the cynicism necessary to understand how politics really works — isn’t it high time you grow the hell up?
The Denunciation Derby
No reader need doubt where my sympathies lie. As Death Squad commissar of the (entirely hypothetical) anti-government insurgency, I assure you that those bureaucratic leeches at the National Endowment for the Arts would get far worse than the elimination of their budget, should America ever find itself under my dictatorial power.
Tim Geithner? Dead man!
Ben Bernanke? Dead!
Chuck Schumer? . . .
It should not be necessary for me to denounce the Great Screw-Over of 2011 in order for my fellow right-wingers to understand that I’m on their side. And yet I refuse to enter the Denunciation Derby, vying with other pundits for the sweepstakes prize that evidently has been offered to whoever excoriates Republican congressional leaders in the most vitriolic terms.
Did John Boehner and Mitch McConnell get the best deal they could under the circumstances? They say they did.
Is it still a lousy deal? Of course.
Do I think there is anything to be gained at this point by branding as “sellouts” any Republican who voted for this deal? Nope.
Six months or a year from now — February or August 2012 — we will have the luxury of looking back on this unpleasantness with the experience of seeing how the Great Screw-Over actually works in practice, and with enough emotional distance that we can speak rationally of the consequences. But if any of the Republicans in Congress whom I supported in 2010 felt compelled to vote for this rotten deal, I understand completely.
No hard feelings, and no “True Conservative” posturing from me about how the Tea Party movement has been cruelly betrayed by a bunch of worthless RINO quislings.
No, I will instead display a magnanimous generosity of spirit, expressing a belief that Republicans in Congress got the best deal they could get under very bad circumstances.
It’s not their fault that Obama is president. It’s not their fault that Harry Reid is Senate Majority Leader. It’s not their fault that our major media institutions are staffed by liberals.
So there you have it, my Republican congressional friends: Political absolution in this, your hour of unbearable shame.
Which brings me back to Hunter S. Thompson . . .
When I first encountered Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 three decades ago during my college years, I was still a Democrat and shared Thompson’s partisan hatred of all things Republican. And I also delighted in his gleeful contempt for such laughable liberal phonies as Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie.
But I finally wised up in my 30s, and Hunter S. Thompson never did.
Inside the Gonzo Mind
Look: The man had a libertarian streak a mile wide. He loved guns and drugs and high-speed driving, hobbies that are obviously incompatible with the kind of Nanny State regime that liberals want to impose on America. You might have thought that, once he saw through the godawful bogusness of the Democrats, Thompson would have done what every other cynic does in middle age, namely, start voting Republican.
Because if you’re going to get screwed over by politicians, you might as well get screwed for profit, rather than getting screwed for The Cause.
Nothing makes me angrier than getting screwed over by people who enrich themselves while posing as idealistic believers in The Cause. And the minute you see through that phony crap — once you see what kind of money Nancy Pelosi makes while presenting herself as a spokeswoman for the downtrodden masses — you can no longer be a sincere liberal.
Unless you are a damned hopeless fool.
So in my mid-30s, I wised up and started voting Republican, and started trying to explain to my liberal friends what damned fools they are. The Democrats are never going to live up to their promises of bringing about the radical-egalitarian utopia of world peace and universal brotherhood that is the eternal essence of their rhetorical appeal.
And thank God for that.
The problem is not merely that Democrats are a bunch of cheap swindlers who cash in by pretending to believe in lofty humanitarian ideals. Rather, the problem is that their “lofty humanitarian ideals” are a one-way ticket to totalitarianism.
We should thank God the Democrats are corrupt, I say, because the radical utopian dreams they promise their dimwitted followers are dangerous, and could only be achieved through a regime of brutal coercion enforced by a ruthless army of unflinching goons.
You know — like the Transportation Security Administration.
(Will the airline refund my ticket price if the TSA keeps me off that flight Wednesday?)
Hunter S. Thompson never wised up to the hypocrisy of Democrats or the dangers of utopian dreams. Perhaps we could blame the War on Drugs, which criminalized Thompson’s preferred lifestyle. But I think his instinctive loathing of all things Republican was really hereditary.
At rock bottom, Hunter S. Thompson was a Kentucky Democrat, with the fierce born-and-bred partisanship of a “Yellow Dog.” And I know the breed well, having been one myself.
This is a phenomenon I’ve struggled to explain to my Young Republican friends. On the phone Tuesday with Steven Crowder, I exclaimed: “I never even met a Republican until I went to college!” I grew up in the Georgia of Jimmy Carter and Sam Nunn, a place where no Republican had been elected since Reconstruction, and it wasn’t until Bill Clinton signed the so-called “assault weapons” ban — The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 — that I resolved to vote Republican for the first time in my life. Like the bumper sticker says: “What Part of ‘Shall Not Be Infringed’ Do You Not Understand?”
Something else about that big “crime bill” Clinton pushed for, which I didn’t recognize as evil at the time: “100,000 new police.”
It sounded good, and we all imagined these 100,000 new cops chasing down robbers and rapists. But what actually happened instead? At least 50,000 of those cops are parked by the highway doing radar speed-traps, issuing traffic citations to otherwise law-abiding citizens merely for driving 93 in a 55-mph zone.
New Reasons to Hate
You might think a notoriously reckless driver like Hunter S. Thompson would have wised up to this Clintonian scam, but his deep-in-the-bones hereditary hatred of Republicans was incurable. And I’ve often wished I’d had the chance to meet the guy and explain to him what I’ve come to understand: Becoming a conservative doesn’t mean you have to quit hating Republicans.
In fact, looking around the blogosphere — or listening to Mark Levin on the radio — the past few days, I’d dare say nobody hates Republicans right now more than conservatives do.
“How long, O Lord, how long?”
Thompson’s gonzo lament comes to mind as I prepare to embark on my first shoe-leather excursion onto the 2012 campaign trail.
A one-way ticket to Des Moines, 10 days in Iowa leading up to the Aug. 13 Ames Straw Poll and, at this point, I don’t have enough for the return plane fare, to say nothing of $75 a day for car rental or $75 a night for motel rooms. There is no right-wing version of Jann Wenner offering to pay my expenses, so it’s a total tip-jar trip.
Thanks to William in New Albany, Jack in Oklahoma City, Jeff in Walla Walla, David in Gardner, Maggie in Broken Arrow, Robert in Colorado Springs, Stephen in Ashtabula and Max in Roseburg for hitting the tip jar Sunday, and to loyal reader Barry who hit me with $50 this morning. At this point, then, I’m covered through Saturday, with a hope and prayer that enough additional contributions come in the next few days so I don’t end up spending Sunday night in a Des Moines homeless shelter. (Every time I hear Obama talking about “millionaires and billionaires,” I wonder why they’re not reading my blog.)
My plan for this trip is to try to catch up with as many of the GOP presidential campaigns as I can find. There’s going to be a Fox News debate Aug. 11 in Ames, and all the official contenders should be there. But my major mission will be to cover Herman Cain’s “Common Sense Solutions” bus tour.
Ever since I first mentioned Cain as a 2012 candidate — it was Nov. 13, barely two weeks after the 2010 mid-terms — everybody’s been telling me the same thing: “He can’t possibly win.”
And maybe they’re right.
Maybe it’s completely crazy to think Herman Cain has any chance at all of winning the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and probably even crazier to think that, if he could somehow win the GOP nomination, he could then beat Barack Obama and be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2013. But crazier things than that have happened before and, even if Cain doesn’t go all the way, covering his campaign gives me an inside angle on the whole process.
Because Herman’s my friend. I’ve known him since 2007 when I interviewed him in our mutual hometown of Atlanta.
Crazy as it may seem, then, you can understand why I’d like to see Herman Cain taking the oath of office in January 2013. Not that there’s any likelihood that my friend would appoint me to be an assistant secretary of Commerce. But somewhere in the tropic seas, there’s a tiny island protectorate in need of my administrative skills.
“A big screen porch looking down on an empty white beach, with a good rich coral reef a few hundred yards out in the surf and no neighbors.”
Crazy? Yeah. But it could happen. Hit the freaking tip jar.
UPDATE II: Linked by Dan Collins at The Conservatory — thanks!
UPDATE III: Linked by Pat Austin at So It Goes in Shreveport — thanks!
UPDATE IV: Welcome, Instapundit readers!