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The Postmodern School of Fast Money, Easy Politics, and Banging the Tribal Drum
Candidate quality has suffered in today’s world of postmodern excess.
President Bush was appointed to very wonky positions - Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), Chief of the U.S. Liason Office in the People’s Republic of China, and finally, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Wikimedia Commons.
I reflect on the last several presidents, and it can seem that they have been put up by their parties to become instant celebrities, gain intense likability from people not paying attention as often, and then win high office. Trust me, this is not meant to take away from the accomplishments of some of those presidents.
President Joseph Biden, who was 78 when he was elected President of the United States and was in the United States Senate for 36 years, has aged in government service.
President Nixon called President Biden when his first wife passed away (1972):
Like President George H.W. Bush, President Biden spent significant time in the federal government. Yes, he was a Senator, which has been proven time and again to be a showboating role at times. But, he has existed in multiple Senate cultures and multiple incentive structures. He has displayed evolution on policy issues while holding close to some of the lesser-known initiatives.
He has overseen a prolific time of legislative achievements that include ranging from economic and racial justice initiatives to addressing climate change. President Biden also remembers the Great Society and, with that, an old culture of using public life to improve rather than divide. He also saw the downfall of the New Deal socio-political consensus as Republican anti-government demagoguery (and a privatization bender) became the norm of late 20th-century America.
Biden also remembers 41. A man who flew 58 combat missions in World War II and followed his father’s footsteps into the policy world by successfully running for national congressional office out of Texas. Though he didn’t make it to the Senate, President Bush was appointed to powerfully wonky positions - Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), Chief of the U.S. Liason Office in the People’s Republic of China, and finally, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). You don’t have to agree with President Bush on everything to respect his resume, experiences, exposure, and general handiness with public policy and diplomacy tools.
H.W. denounced Reagan’s economic policies as “voodoo economics” before becoming his vice president (to bring the party together). The voodoo is still happening today. Though, when he was president (at 62), he was there to govern and paid dearly for it by raising taxes to compensate for the spending of the last administration. Go figure.
Also, the man’s presidential campaign was tarnished in history by a racist advertisement propagated by the School of Fast Money, Easy Politics, and Banging the Tribal Drum (Southern Strategy):
George H.W. Bush represents a dead Republican Party, one you could have friendly disagreements with and one that could still produce capable public figures like 41. Maybe even one you would vote for every now and then if it made sense.
For all of his personal flaws and indiscretions, President Bill Clinton was more than capable and highly intelligent. He spent a career in public life but mostly on the public stage as a state representative or as a two-term governor of Arkansas. His public life began in the mid-1970s when a lot of money was starting to flow into politics and television, making the trade more like a sports match (saying this as an Orioles/Ravens/Knicks/Rangers fan) rather than a civic-based debate in a public square. Bill Clinton’s presidency (starting when he was 46) revealed how he was a creature of this period by surviving scandal after scandal to eventually be dubbed “the Comeback Kid,” and also a president who, nonetheless, balanced the budget.
Similarly, the son of Bush 41, President George W. Bush, was the Governor of Texas for a term after spending time in the business world and also being reborn. (He became president of the United States at 56.) The son would leave the office with low approval ratings, national economic calamity, outright foreign policy shame, and a nation growing divided by polarizing forces. These aforementioned factors led to Democrats seizing an opportunity and the expedited rise of Barack Obama, who was a state Senator in Illinois from 1996 until he became a U.S. Senator in 2004.
Then he won the presidency in 2008 at age 46. President Obama’s career accelerated rapidly, mainly due to his charisma, aptitude, and appeal to a younger generation of diverse Americans. Moreover, the aforementioned historical forces from the Bush years played a big role in fanning the winds of change.
President Obama had to govern down the middle for the most part. More importantly, his time in office displayed a promise to the globe that a future America can emerge that is unhindered by old prejudices and the ghosts of localism. But he was weakened by a Republican Party that used racial innuendo and Gingrichian partisan warfare to make his foreign and domestic policy less effective or nonexistent. He also dealt with a Democratic Party still reeling from its betrayal of the New Deal and the loyal working people that this policy framework had previously won over for decades. The Obama administration navigated the ship of state as the excesses of neoliberalism floated to the surface.
Then America gets Trump with virtually no experience (or even interest) in public policy. But he was a celebrity and the GOP wanted that Obama star power:
A lot of people underestimated or didn’t like, President Barack Obama because of the color of his skin. But often what is overlooked is how many senior officials in the federal government felt undermined by someone who had been there for less time than them. By the way, this is a very human response.
The age factor is overlooked and triggers many conservatives who feel they were smeared as bigots. Even though these conservative voices can do more personal work to not get that branding - looking at you Federalist and National Review. But more importantly, this still does not take away from the way racial animus works in a historically tribal nation and how that contributes to making the School of Fast Money, Easy Politics, and Banging the Tribal Drum a flagship within the Republican Party.
Even though the GOP has been ground zero, collectively, our postmodern sensibilities call for us to question everything and trust nothing, even if that plays into the hands of cheap politicians and predatory demagogues.
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