My dad was born on September 11, 1938. On his sixty-third birthday terrorists destroyed two American icons and shattered forever the illusion that we were beyond the reach of the people intent on doing us harm. There are many lessons to be learned from gaining that insight, but it doesn’t appear that the US has learned anything in the intervening years since September 11, 2001. We relive the events of 9-11 over and over again on each anniversary. Wallowing in our collective angst while repeating the same mistakes that lead to that day, that sprung from that day. Every year on September 11, we are forced to relive the events of 2001 all over again as if we are required to revisit the tragedy when the tragedy has effectively become meaningless.
Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It’s been 15 goddamned years, but we just can’t get enough. We’ve just got to watch it again and again.
Every year. Every goddamn year. I picked that quote specifically because goddamn was one of my dad’s most favored curses. I loved to listen to him tell stories, and he loved to tell stories. It was what he lived for. It was probably why he started selling cars, it gave him an excuse to talk to more people. Talking to people was his job description and not something he had to sneak into his days in between greasemonkey tasks at the Phillips 66 station that he inherited from his father.
He worked in the garage for his father as a teenager before he was drafted into the military. The Army then put him to work in the motor pool doing exactly what he had been doing at his father’s garage.
Dad didn’t like military life very much, and left the service after 4 years to return home to Kansas and his family there. As a teenager I foolishly contemplated joining the military myself, and mentioned it to him to see what he thought. “You like taking orders?” he said. I didn’t, I replied. “Well, then you don’t want to join the military.” That was his thinking on the subject, in a nutshell. He never elaborated more, but that view has stuck with me ever since.
After he divorced my mother dad sold his garage to the guys that had worked faithfully for him for decades and set about making himself known across several states as the car salesman that would get you a fair deal on whatever vehicle you were looking for. The number of returning customers testified to his honesty in dealing with the people that his fellow salesman treated as marks. Not my dad. Every person who wanted a car and came to him looking for the right car for them, left with either the car they were looking for or a memorable story about the salesman that really tried to help them find that one special vehicle they wanted.
That was my father. His major complaints in life were that the fish didn’t bite often enough when we went fishing (his favorite pastime) and that terrorists picked his birthday as the day to strike at America. Every year after 2001 he was forced to relive that horrible day rather than be allowed to celebrate his birthday in peace. Every year until he died, the day that he had looked forward to through childhood had become something terrifying and repugnant. It annoyed him that his day had been the day they picked. I can understand that. It is captured in this sentiment,
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
I’m reclaiming today and every September 11th after this one for my father. Happy birthday dad, wherever you are.
I am reclaiming it for my father and for all the young Americans born since that day. People who deserve more than to be dragged into battles that have been going on since before they were born. I promise to spend more time thinking of him and of them than of the other events that make this day stand out for average Americans. Because really, why remember if we aren’t going to learn anything from it?
The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose, they did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts and measures driven from the top of that government. There’s no fuzz on that.
The data is not fuzzy. There is no doubt that Russia interfered in our elections on the behalf of Donald Trump. The reader has only to accept the fact of this and not question it, because it is what happened as was firmly established by investigation. However, Americans just can’t seem to grasp just what it is the intelligence community is saying, even when it is stated in precise language.
There is a discernible shortening of attention spans as the information age progresses. It seems some people just can’t keep up with all the information that is constantly being thrown at them. The pundits call this information overload. Everyone will experience this if they haven’t already. Too many messages. Too many podcasts. Too many news feeds. Too many opinions that all make interesting if not actually valid points.
This reminds me of a frequent trope of Dan Carlin‘s on his various podcasts, the historical story of the Gordian knot in which the ruler of all Asia would be the man who could untie the knot. Alexander the Great, as legend has it, drew his sword and cut the knot, thereby convincing those in attendance that he would be the next ruler of all Asia. Modern man, faced with information overload, foolishly believes that he can cut the knot of too much information by simply declaring what he believes, devoid of any truth.
What the slicers in this allegory fail to understand is that Alexander the Great did not conquer all of Asia after cutting the knot, but was instead laid low by disease or poison and died with no clear heir to rule after him, his accumulated lands and treasure divided among his generals. Alexander the Great failed at the task that he had set for himself because he lacked the information he needed to simply survive the last challenge he would face.
There is no quick way to become informed, to solve the Gordian knot. Either you are informed or you must rely on the judgement of others who are, people trained in the areas where you lack proficiency. The Trumpist derided elites are essential, if we want to survive and thrive. If you don’t value their judgement, don’t include it in your calculations, then you are a fool marching into battle with no estimation of the force you will face, no idea of the terrain you must traverse, no assurance that your force will even survive to take up arms when battle calls.
Your fate is written in the texts you don’t read, the advice you don’t even take time to hear. You are already laid low and dying, and you simply don’t know it yet.
I believe. I believe. To hell with learning anything. To hell with putting five goddamned minutes into it. No, I believe. Like we haven’t learned anything in 20,000 years of history. Like a caveman staring fearfully at the approaching storm.
Every word is a little software agent that replicates and competes for space in people’s minds and on the page and everywhere else. It’s the differential reproduction of things like words, and other memes that can’t be pronounced, that’s what creates human culture. – Daniel Dennett
His new book is From Bacteria to Bach and Back. I love Daniel Dennett. The human groups that could communicate essential information; danger/safe attack/hide food/poison. Those groups would have a higher probability of survival than the ones who could not. What an insightful application of knowledge at work in that observation. All of it because of him and his work. I (and science) will be forever in his debt.
Flat earthers are a outgrowth of modern man’s separation from the physical world.
Ancient man spent a lot of time around sea shores and lake shores. Spent hours at a time being forced to contemplate the horizon. They had direct visual confirmation that the surface they were on was curved. Boats sailed (and still sail if you can pay attention long enough) visibly over the horizon. This is probably what motivated Eratosthenes to try to work out what the actual distance around the Earth was, and he did it in the 3rd century BCE.
Modern man, wrongly informed that ancient man thought the world was flat; and especially modern religious zealots already prepared to discard all of science in exchange for heavenly salvation (or at least willing to sacrifice evolution) finds it quite easy to never notice the curvature of the Earth that he still can see if he simply looks. You don’t question that the Earth is round when you watch the people who will bring back your dinner tonight sail over the horizon to catch fish. The curvature of the Earth is as evident as the gnawing hunger in your belly. Modern man has no need to accept reality because society provides for all his wants while he egotistically pretends that what he believes is real.
At 10:40 am on January 28th 1986 the space shuttle Challenger was issued the command “go for throttle up” and the subsequent explosion ended space’s age of innocence. I remember where I was that day. Like most of our memories of those kinds of events, it is probably full of holes and exaggerations. But I do remember it. I also remember honoring the Challenger crew’s sacrifice with the crew of the (can you remember the name before you read it?) Columbia. For quite some time my personal page at ranthonysteele.com had a memorial page for the Columbia and Challenger as a tribute to the sacrifice of both crews.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless falls of air… Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew– And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod The high, untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
The above was found in a particularly moving article by Nigel Rees (on another now dead website) describing how the poem came to prominence and caught the attention of Ronald Reagan (or one of his speechwriters) who later remembered it and uttered it in memoriam for the Challenger crew. It was the words of Columbia commander Rick Husband that caused me to go looking for the poem back in 2003, when he unknowingly foreshadowed his impending death by observing;
It is today that we remember and honor the crews of Apollo 1 and Challenger. They made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives and service to their country and for all mankind
Four days later, his shuttle burned up on re-entry. I was awakened from an uneasy sleep that Saturday morning, by the ringing of the phone. One of our fellow space enthusiast friends calling to tell us to turn on the news. Columbia had been destroyed.
Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, whose crews were all killed within the space of a week on the calendar, if over 36 years in elapsed time. That is the way it has been for ten years and more for me. I’ve kept notations on my calendar since the Columbia disaster, so that I could remember these crews and their sacrifices on the anniversaries of their deaths.
The space program means a lot to the Wife and I. She’s become so heartbroken that we still don’t have a permanent lunar base for her to immigrate to that she refuses to discuss the subject of space in any other form than as a betrayal by the US government of the people of the nation, especially people like she and I who dreamed of going to space someday. My balance issues convinced me long before I became disabled that I would never have made it to space anyway, so I don’t take the betrayal personally. But it is hard to argue that we weren’t lied to when the ISS is a shadow of its promised size and scope, and that moon vacations still aren’t a thing we can experience. Not to mention the complete abdication of NASA’s involvement in space as it pertains to getting supplies to and from the ISS, the reliance on Russia to transfer astronauts to and from the station via 1960’s Soyuz technology. These are dark days for space enthusiasts when it comes to manned space missions.
So I was a little surprised that I hadn’t noted that today was Challenger day until listening to the BBC World News podcast. As I frequently do, I paused the program and went over to the browser on my phone and inquired about current articles on the Challenger disaster that might be worth sharing.
Top of the list was this piece over at Gawker. It is probably worth mentioning that I have a love/hate relationship with Gawker, the name of the website itself recalls miles of freeway made impassable by hundreds if not thousands of people who just have to look at automobile accidents. Maybe I’m weird, but I can still summon up images from my high school drivers education classes, so I don’t need a refresher on just how we lemmings die encased in steel on US freeways.
The subject of the article was even more enraging than a freeway pile-up that keeps you from getting where you need to be until several hours late, though:
…after the disaster, over time, a different and more horrible story took shape: The Challenger made it through the spectacular eruption of its external fuel tank with its cabin more or less intact. Rather than being carried to Heaven in an instant, the crippled vessel kept sailing upward for another three miles before its momentum gave out, then plunged 12 miles to the ocean. The crew was, in all likelihood, conscious for the full two and a half minutes until it hit the water.
This particular bit of conspiratorial fantasy really isn’t news. The briefest perusal of the wiki entry on the subject of the Challenger disaster will reveal that it has been premised that the astronauts survived the initial breakup. It isn’t even controversial anymore. There is little evidence either way on the subject, and knowing they survived (or that the crew of the just as tragic Columbia disaster survived) the initial breakup only to be killed later really doesn’t prove anything, or provide any great insight into either tragedy.
I remember picking up at least one supermarket tabloid in the months after Challenger went down that purported to have written transcripts of the last moments of the crew as preserved on the flight recorder. That concoction was a total fantasy, beneath even the satirical minds of the writers of the Onion today; and the grisly nature of interest in the last moments of the life of a person about to die tragically is something that I’ve never had the stomach for. That there would have been panic from trained military flyers even in the face of certain doom is very doubtful. As more than one pilot has mentioned to me over the years, the most common last words on flight recorders is oh, shit. That is because trained pilots are too busy working the problem to realize that ultimate failure is about to kill them until the last moment. When it is too late to panic and have that panic recorded for posterity.
The pilots of Challenger and Columbia were both powerless to save themselves and their crews. That is the true nature of these tragedies. The decisions that cost their lives were made by people above them in authority, people who were willing to risk the lives of others even when the engineers who designed those systems stood solidly against launching under the weather conditions present at the time.
Failure of the O-rings caused the Challenger disaster. It is doubtful that a parachute system or some other secondary contingency could have worked in the specific scenario that evolved in that launch. There was a way to decouple the shuttle from the tank and glide home, but that contingency failed with the explosion of the central fuel tank.
Ice and foam chunks damaged the leading edge of the wing of Columbia during its last launch. There was no way to rescue the crew once they were in space without risking another crew flying under similar conditions, if the next shuttle could have even been made ready in time. Thinking back to the steely-eyed missile men who brought Apollo 13 back home, one wonders what they might have done if they had still been in charge when Columbia was in space. Would they have risked an EVA to check the wing? Probably. Would they have found a way to get a rescue mission up to Columbia in time to get the crew off? Maybe. Was there some way to seal the wing in space so it could survive re-entry? People familiar with the mission said no, still say no.
Hindsight is always 20/20. There would have been no need for a parachute contingency (and the added weight/cost) had NASA listened to its own engineers in 1986, because they recommended a scrub and were overruled on the subject. A similar discussion occurred just prior to the launch of Columbia as well.
If you really want to understand just how stupidly large human systems fail, read that book. You will come away with a completely different view on history and on current events. The failures of the shuttle missions in particular remain haunting to the American psyche in ways that so many of our other failures do not. Perhaps this is because they touch on the hopes and dreams of so many. Perhaps because they remain the most visible black marks on the aspirations of this country.
Personally they represent the end of manned space exploration missions in my lifetime. That is what I think of most bitterly when I recall the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. I remember the teacher Christa McAuliffe and her brave, hopeful words. Her energetic wave as she boarded the transport heading for the shuttle. I remember thinking upon hearing of the shuttle’s destruction there goes my chance to get into space. Because that is what it meant, what the tragedy still means to me to this day. The end of hope for a brighter future. With that knowledge comes acceptance of our limitations as human animals and a greater understanding of just how fragile we creatures are. How fragile our home is.
We may be stuck on this rock for awhile yet, so we probably should figure out how to keep it safe for the time being. Try to avoid that next big thing heading our way. What is it? Only the future knows.
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
My dad was born on September 11, 1938. On his sixty-third birthday terrorists destroyed two American icons and shattered forever the illusion that we were beyond the reach of the people intent on doing us harm. There are many lessons to be learned from gaining that insight, but it doesn’t appear that the US has learned anything in the intervening years. We relive the events of 9-11 over and over again on each anniversary; wallowing in our collective angst, while repeating the same mistakes that lead to that day, that sprung from that day.
Military adventurism continues almost unabated since that cautionary moment in our history. Undaunted by the mess that we created in Iraq, we are now doing our best to intervene in the area again. Stationing troops in the form of advisors, lending military aid to the Iraqi government that has made it pretty clear they don’t want our help anymore.
The Republican candidates for President can’t promise they’ll declare war on enough countries fast enough to suit their Halliburton backers. At the very least a war with Iran will be in the promises that a Republican candidate for President will bring to the campaign trail, as if we haven’t had enough war for several lifetimes in the last two decades.
Americans remain convinced that everything that happens around the world is somehow linked to us, that we have to weigh in on events, or that somehow the events were caused by us, as if the world only exists because we send our military out there to make sure it does.
My father did his time in the military. I was born overseas because of the Cold War, and my parents answering the call to serve. Dad didn’t like military life very much, and left the service after 4 years to return home to Kansas and his family there. As a teenager I foolishly contemplated joining the military myself, and mentioned it to him to see what he thought. “You like taking orders?” he said. I didn’t, I replied. “Well, then you don’t want to join the military.” That was his thinking on the subject, in a nutshell. He never elaborated more on the subject, but that view has stuck with me ever since.
Every year after 2001, he complained that the terrorists had stolen his birthday. Every year until he died, the day that he had looked forward to through childhood had become something terrifying and repugnant. It annoyed him that his day had been the day they picked. I can understand that. It is captured in the sentiment of Jim Wright’s piece on Stonekettle Station (a re-post) when Jim mentions the generation that has grown up since the towers fell, never knowing the America that we all remember. They only know the America we created in our fear after 9-11;
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
So in that sentiment I’d just like to reclaim today, and every September 11th after this one for my father. Happy birthday dad, wherever you are. I promise to spend more time thinking of you than of the other events that make this day stand out for average Americans. Because really, why remember if we aren’t going to learn anything from it?
Hanging around the fringes of Texas politics as I have off and on over the last 20 years, you hear a lot of strange ideas. Texas is conspiracy fantasy central in many ways, and Austin being the capitol of Texas means that the conspiratorial currents all lead to the vortex located at 15th and Congress.
Texans are also suffering due to continued resistance to the ACA by our sitting legislature and governor. The ACA may be the law of the land according to the federal government, but the overwhelming majority of Texans spit at it as Obamacare, while at the same time whole segments of the Texas population who can’t afford to buy health insurance are left without any healthcare options because they make too much money to get Medicaid under the old rules, but are still supposed to have health insurance or face penalties.
As I said previously, those of us who’ve been paying attention are not surprised to learn that the beast has raised its ugly head again. The history of the Texas secession movement is both long and checkered. I’m not going to go through all of it (the wiki page does a decent enough job of it) but it bears mentioning that many shady people for many long years have declared not only that Texas should secede, but that it probably isn’t legally a state of the Union.
Help, help we’re being repressed!
Texas not being a state would be news to the rest of the United States, since Texas manages to pretty much have its way with all sorts of things that affect other parts of the country. Make no mistake, the rest of the US knows that Texas is a state, much as many of them might rather it wasn’t.
The problem is, most Texans can’t be bothered to read; and those that do read really can’t make heads or tails out of the Texas Constitution. Or maybe it isn’t a problem with reading. Maybe it’s a problem with who writes the books, especially the text books. In any case, these factors have lead to a number of interesting fantasies considering the nature of Texas’ relationship to the rest of the nation, as well as its status as a state.
Most Texans have heard the 5 states story, I’m sure. The theory that Texas could be split up into 5 different states? The first time I heard it, the provision was in the Texas Constitution; which would be quite a feat I quickly discovered. Upon the briefest of searches I learned that Texas has had seven constitutions since she left Mexico. So it isn’t in the Texas Constitution, not that we can tell among the nearly 500 amendments that have been passed (second only to Alabama. Saved again, Texas) The provision was actually imposed by the US Congress (those imperialists!) in their legislation which annexed Texas into the Union.
This is the tidbit that most people have probably never realized. Texas has already been split into 5 states. There are pieces of Texas in Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming; and while this may not have been the intention of the drafters of the legislation, Texas was paid for the severance of these lands, and they are no longer part of the state. So, yes. Texas could be subdivided, and those crazy plans to have Texas dominate the Senate by breaking itself into 5 or 6 more states that would somehow still vote in lockstep are all too late. The deed has already been done.
The southwestern tip of Kansas was claimed by Texas. Dodge City was in Texas. Glad to know that. “Gunsmoke” always seemed like a Texas series. We know that Marshal Matt Dillon was born in San Antonio. His father was a Texas Ranger. It’s all coming together.
Another one of these fantasies is that Texas has permission to secede from the union. This feature would be a truly curious development considering that all the slave states reacquired by the union after the civil war were required to renounce any intention to leave the union again as a condition for readmittance as states, as well as adopt the 13th and 14th Amendments. Most scholars agree that there is no basis to assume that a State could secede from the Union; it would be hard to see how this would be possible outside of the failure of the United States as a political entity and a military power. These facts didn’t stop former Governor Rick Perry from voicing his opinion that Texas could secede at a rally full of supporters chanting for secession. This wouldn’t be the first time that Rick Perry was in error, especially when it comes to the subject of law. I wouldn’t put too much stock in his remembering facts about secession, or evolution, or whatever that third thing was (have you figured that out yet, Mr Perry? It’s the branch of the administration that you currently lead – editor)
A side word here for my fellow Texans. Ya’ll might want to go back and read my piece on Greece in Perspective (hint, it really isn’t about Greece) and ponder at the level of desperation that you feel today and just who really is to blame for that. Is it at all possible that that blame currently resides in a white house a good bit closer to you than Washington D.C.?
Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.
Texans have once again been lied to and betrayed; not by Washington, but by the leadership of the conservative religious power base that dominates all of Texas politics. They are lied to nightly by the talking heads at FOX news, in the hopes that we will blame each other rather than the leadership in this state that has brought us to this impasse. From the moment that conservatives declared that science was a matter of opinion, that critical thinking was something to be avoided, their entire ideology became a house of cards which could be blown down by the slightest breeze.
Imagine Sam Houston’s outrage at the knowledge that in a park that bears his name, in the city that bears his name, stands a monument to the folly that he gave up the leadership of Texas for rather than embark upon. What would he think of the even more foolish notion that Texas could or should leave the union again?
I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her.
For the last few years my July 4th celebrations have been limited to watching my favorite holiday film and the wife‘s favorite holiday film; which are 1776 watched on the dusty old laserdisc player (the only complete version of the film in existence, although the blu-ray comes close to it) and ID4 which can be watched on any format as long as it includes surround sound.
For me it’s hard to beat the patriotic zeal of John Adams and his co-conspirators plotting to remove the American colonies from under the heel of their English masters. A good portion of it set to music, and sung quite well by the original broadway cast, directed by the same director. I own and have watched the blu-ray version of this film. It is quite good, but it is not the same film that was released on laserdisc; nor does it have the secondary audio track describing the painstaking effort spent on reassembling the film after it was cut by Jack Warner with a pair of scissors; this after it had been put to bed by the director and assumed finished. The cutting included the removal of a pivotal song in the middle of the film Cool, Considerate Men at the request of President Nixon, personally. The song portrays the views of conservatives of the time who did not want to risk their lives, wealth and property on the very slim chance that Washington would ever be victorious against the British army.
On a lighter note, the wife loves ID4. When the pool was functional, she was frequently alone in the living room watching it while the rest of us retired to the pool. One year she begged a projector from friends and we watched it on the patio from the pool. That was a good summer. The best part of the film for me is the scene where Houston, having been destroyed by the aliens earlier in the film, is nuked in a defensive attempt to destroy the invading aliens. Any film that destroys Houston twice is a watchable film in my book. Sorry Houston residents; the truth hurts, I know.
A sequel to ID4 is slated for release next Independence Day (2016) titled Independence Day Resurgencewhich they shorten to IDR. I don’t relate to that title very well. Maybe the film will make up for it. (Editor’s note: It didn’t)
The most common form of Independence Day celebration, fireworks, are only a memory for me. As a kid it was my favorite holiday because of the fireworks. We’d always have a decent personal show set up in the street in front of our house, or in our back yard. I constructed models just to blow them up with fireworks on the 4th of July. I remember fondly the first time Leoti paid for a firework display, laying in the middle of the football field watching the fireworks go off overhead. I also remember many a summer where I temporarily deafened myself standing too close to explosives when they went off.
Another point of history that should be instructional.
As my disability has progressed, sensitivity to noise has increased. Any loud noise can set off vertigo quite easily. Flashes of light are painful, not enjoyable. Combustion fumes alone have been known to send me into a vertigo spell, so the great American pastime of trying to set the neighborhood on fire on Independence Day occurs without my active participation.
In Austin the city display is the only display allowed by law, a fact I find ironical as well as sensible. There is always a neighbor who defies the ordinance and sets fireworks off anyway, usually several of them. The police and firemen are kept running all night long responding to calls. At least the region is well watered this year. Won’t be any county-wide grass fires set off by fireworks this summer.
Oatmeal’s America Explained to Non-American’s on a Facebook friends wall inspired this introspection. The page features a whole fleet of images, you’ll just have to go to his site and soak up the glory that is America. Looking back, as I’ve alluded to twice already, I wonder why the obvious desperation of July 4th celebrations isn’t apparent to more Americans. We so desperately want to demonstrate to the world how happy we are being free. One would think that the joy of real freedom would be enough, if only we know what that elusive thing really is.
Seven minutes is all it took to pop me out of the History Channel’s Texas Rising event that they’ve been advertising for weeks. Texan Army Camp – Gonzales is a picturesque mountain hilltop – a location found NOWHERE in Texas (well maybe Big Bend) this is Texas people. It’s big. It’s flat. Very flat in most places. Especially around Gonzales.
If I’m not mistaken this is part of a location used for Dances With Wolves‘ final sequence. Not Texas, in any case. I did end up watching the whole thing, just like the guys at Texas Monthly. I agree, it could have been much better, it could also have been much worse.
This was a facebook status that I updated and then backdated to the blog. This was probably the last thing I watched Bill Paxton perform in before he died. It makes me kind of sad that this was the last thing I saw from him, but I know that the making of it meant a lot to him. I’ll try to remember it with that in mind.
In an argument on DC’s forums last year, amidst all the caterwauling, hair tearing, and general hatassery concerning the President and the upcoming elections, I proposed the following;
Barack Obama could well be considered the best President since Dwight D. Eisenhower
I said it at the time largely because I like to take a devil’s advocate position, but I also said it because I’ve become quite weary over the last 6 years listening to idiots run down the sitting president. Generally, I’m right there with them. I mean, given the track record of U.S. presidents in recent history, it’s not hard to thrash a president and have a receptive audience. Let me run down a bit of the history of presidents over the past fifty years, just so you can get a feel for where I’m coming from.
I first started paying attention to politics when Carter was in office. I couldn’t vote back then, but I thought Carter was getting a raw deal leading up to the election of 1980. His policies weren’t anything to brag about, but the weakness of the president and the country that conservatives railed about was largely an illusion that they invented simply as a tool to use against him. As history has demonstrated, Reagan didn’t know anything more than how to hit a mark and say a line (mostly) correctly; and people in his employ did negotiate with the Iranian hostage takers. In 1984. Negotiate again in 1984? Who knows.
Reagan’s term in office was hardly anything to brag about either, in spite of what armies of conservatives say on the subject. During Reagan’s term in office the Soviet Union did begin to collapse, and the Berlin wall did fall during his VP’s only term as President; but the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall that represented it had almost nothing to do with US policies in the region and had everything to do with the ham-handed bureaucrats in the USSR. The Soviet Union falling was a result of Glasnost, a call by the Soviet people and their president who was specifically elected to usher in a new era of openness. (fixed that sentence. -ed.) What Reagan should be known for, the albatross that he should wear, is Reaganomics or trickle-down economics, which has been shown to be a complete failure and has actually contributed more to economic instability than any other action committed by any other US executive in modern history.
Reagan’s real legacy is the S&L debacle, brought about by loosening regulations on financial institutions, almost exactly as predicted by people opposed to that action. The Iran-Contra affair that I mentioned previously barely moves the needle compared to the destructiveness of Reaganomics.
But Ronald Reagan was popular and was elected to two terms. His popularity even earned his Vice-President, an almost unknown political animal named George Herbert Walker Bush, a term as President. (Listen to Bagman and hear how he helped Spiro Agnew avoid prosecution, and then sought out Spiro Agnew’s advice on how to beat governor Dukakis. -ed.) But the damage done by Reaganomics continued to plague the nation, and not even a short, victorious, righteous war to stymie the aggression of a Middle Eastern dictator could secure him a second term in office.
As a peacenik, someone opposed to war in general if not in principle, George H.W. Bush’s willingness to go to war didn’t earn any points with me. None of the things his successor said or did made me believe he was any different. Bill Clinton’s term in office benefitted from the investment of the LBJ administration in space technology, in the form of microchips that were finally small and powerful enough to drive the information technology revolution that we are in the middle of; which makes his term in office seem halcyon in hindsight. But his willingness to involve the US directly in every crisis that made global news (with the exception of Rwanda. Which he says he wishes he’d gotten involved in as well) lobbing missiles like they were footballs at every hotspot on the globe, provided the grist for the mill of anti-American sentiment around the world.
Packing a bomb which exploded on 9-11. That’s the takeaway that history will draw from this era, the post-post WWII decades. This will be the time when the US fumbled the ball handed to it by the old-world European powers, and let someone else take up the lead internationally (who that will be remains in question) That is what this time will be remembered for. the election of Bush II will not be remembered for what Al Gore supporters would like it to be remembered for (the theft of the 2000 election. A footnote to what happened in 2016. –ed.) but for the results of America being asleep at the wheel internationally almost since the end of the Vietnam war. To be involved is to take an interest in the problems of the people around the world. Not to give payola to their leaders and lob missiles at them when they start to tear down the governments they no longer support.
Bush II didn’t steal the election, he simply won it on a technicality. Because of this, he got to be the guy in charge when 9-11 happened. The saying roughly goes we get the best enemies money can buy and we made the enemies who attacked us on 9-11; both figuratively and in reality. We trained a good number of terrorists to resist the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, including some who later worked for Al Qaeda, possibly even OBL himself. The administration was warned but ignored those warnings, and then set about fighting a war that would end up being the longest in US history, and arranged for that war to occur based on false evidence. In the process the Bush II administration destroyed American credibility on the world stage (whatever was left of it) torturing innocent people who just happened to be in a warzone at the wrong time.
To finish off his term, Bush II also failed to act on the looming financial crisis (also about which he was warned) and consequently handed the election of the next President to the Democrats. Handed the election to the Democrats who could have run the proverbial yellow dog, and it would have won. If it hadn’t been for Sarah Palin’s circus show, there wouldn’t have been anything of interest about the election of 2008.
With that as a backdrop, you can imagine what I thought of Barack Obama going into his first term. Don’t get me wrong, I voted for him in the primary in a vain (?) effort to throw the election his way instead of towards Hillary Clinton (I have no use for political dynasties) but I voted straight Libertarian for my last time in that general election. Held my nose and voted for a Republican in Libertarian clothing.
President Obama (surprisingly) did most of what he promised he would do in the election. Yes he did crater on a lot of issues that privacy advocates and conspiracy mongers think he should have taken a hard line on (failed to deliver mortgage relief too. –ed.) He did try ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and no matter how much saber rattling conservatives do, the anarchy currently afoot in Syria/Iraq doesn’t amount to much in the scheme of things unless you happen to have business there. Happen to live there (if you do, you have my sympathy. But do you really want to help Bashar Assad stay in power? Really?) The Syrian revolution managed to win the Republicans seats in the midterms, blowing out the possibility of a more productive congress in 2015, but in the end they remain on the wrong side of history.
Why, you ask? Why are they on the wrong side of history? Why would Obama be considered a good President? Because the general trends are predictive and obvious. I tripped over them even if you, dear reader, did not.
Since the Cold War ended and we blithely went on unchanging in or priorities, the Old World powers found their legs and stood on their own again. If you want to visit countries with the highest ratings for health, productivity, happiness, etcetera, look no further than the old economies that hard liners in the US still wrongly dismiss. Proof of this can be found by the ease with which Germany absorbed the poorer provinces of Eastern Germany, long held back under Soviet rule. How the French absorb refugees into France at a rate that rivals the US.
Canada’s adoption of the Canada Health Act hasn’t proved disastrous for the Canadian economy as predicted. It’s services continue to improve at an impressive rate, leaving the US in the dust. Even Mexico City has better healthcare than we have in the US, finally making the claims of liberal agitators like Michael Moore truthful, if only in hindsight.
The writing is on the wall, has been on the wall for sometime and US citizens apparently never noticed. Socialized medicine, for lack of a better appellation, appears to be the future. The notion that individuals can pay for health services as needed and build the kind of infrastructure that the average person wants (emergency services, research, etc) has been effectively shown to be a pipe dream; and that systems can and do function with the amount of complexity required to provide services in a timely fashion.
Ergo we will all be charged something to provide the services we all say we want but don’t want to pay for, or rather, underestimate the cost of. But that subject is beside the point I’m trying to make, and I don’t want to get distracted from it.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is out this morning and reveals that 15.9 percent of American adults are now uninsured, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months of 2013 and has shown improvements in every major demographic group with the exception of Hispanics who did not advance.
If the Affordable Care Act continues working, if we actually expand on the basics of standardized healthcare provision set down by the Obama administration, What then? When Presidents back to the time of Truman tried to get this done?
Because Eisenhower was the last President to put his name on a fundamental change that was positive to the US as a whole. Lyndon Baines Johnson might have done this with his Great Society had his plans worked out, but his term was marred with the Vietnam War, which could have been avoided and dominates both his legacy and Kennedy’s legacy, even in the face of the Voting Rights Act. Eisenhower managed to avoid any major conflicts, and he established the Interstate Highway System with funds Congress had given to the military.
I’m not planning on doing an exhaustive search back though 60 years of Presidential history just to make my simple point. When I first proposed the idea, I stated it as best President in our lifetimes not best president since Eisenhower. I was born in the age of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and while his ending was tragic, what LBJ achieved in his name was of more importance than anything he did aside from not starting World War Three during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the grand scheme of things that is what he will be remembered for, aside from his words that took us to the moon on LBJ’s watch.
Which is really all that matters to history.
LBJ might pull a close second, even with Vietnam on his record, but that just really speaks to the lackluster nature of our leaders post-WW II, not to any high achievement on LBJ’s record.
I’ve heard similar talk in the news lately, which is why this subject came back to mind, the subject of Obama’s greatness. Obama took the shellacking of his party in stride and decided he wouldn’t sit out the last two years of his Presidency and play golf; at least not yet anyway (If you ask me he’s earned it, having taken less vacation than the last two Presidents) he took his Presidential pen in hand (something else he’s done less than recent Presidents) in order to reduce the suffering of people that were within his power to help.
It is noteworthy that every president since and including Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower has taken executive action on immigration without facing threats of lawsuits, government shutdowns, impeachment, or loss of executive authority.
The title caught my eye Every President Since Eisenhower. Well that’s interesting. It’s not a recommendation, but it is a true observation on the consistent obstinacy of the houses of the US Congress across the decades. It seems like Americans have a hangup when it comes to the subject of immigration. So I went looking farther. A piece from this time last year in the New York Times lays the case out pretty well;
Mr. Obama, barring tragedy or resignation, will get to serve eight years, but his margin of victory last November was not overwhelming. He won 62 percent of the electoral vote, which ranks 16th among the 30 presidents who sought re-election after their first terms. Mr. Obama’s electoral vote percentage was better than any of the 10 first-term losers, of course — but among the 20 winners, it exceeded only James Madison in 1812, Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Harry Truman in 1948 and George W. Bush in 2004.
That’s just going on percentages. Puts him in the running with Clinton, well below Eisenhower or LBJ in historical importance based on electoral percentage.
But that’s a little dry, don’t you think? Surely it means more than that, historical importance? More than the President’s popularity with the voting public? Not necessarily. Specifically, I have a hard time believing that Reagan will maintain his high rating (historically ranked 10th in importance) even with his overwhelming second-term victory percentages, given the looting that his administration ushered in and is only now coming to light.
Still, the cost-cutters will be hard pressed to nay-say Barack Obama’s place in history if he stays on course through the rest of his term. Check out the stats in this image from Forbes.
You are reading that right. Obama was the most conservative federal spender since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Don’t hold your breath waiting for your conservative outlets to spin this the right way, they won’t be doing that. They might even take the Heritage Foundation’s tack on the subject and insist that Bush II’s war costs should be saddled on President Obama. In any case, the groundwork has been laid. My work here is done. Barack Obama is the best US President since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Financially speaking.
When I say that Obama was the best President since Eisenhower, this shouldn’t be seen as a compliment to Obama or to Eisenhower. I just want to make this point clear. It’s an observation on just how predatory our government has been in the past and continues to be at present. Imagine what our society, the culture in the United States, would look like if Americans thought of themselves as not engaged in a zero-sum competition with their fellows? If we elected a government that actually focused on common welfare and not killing perceived threats to our ever-diminishing piece of the pie?
That is how Obama is/was different than his predecessors since Eisenhower, or at least since Carter. This is the first time the military agenda hasn’t dominated every second of the sitting president’s time. The first time in decades that any social advancement has been registered; or more precisely, the first time the downward slide of the average American has been noted publicly.
What I find amusing in this Trumpist hellhole we have been trapped in, is that a lot of people are now saying that Obama was the best president during their lifetimes. So all the flack I got when I said the very same thing in 2014 means absolutely as little as I thought it did then. I was right, for once. We as citizens should build on this discovery, that Obama was the best president of our own experienced lives, rather than be distracted by the same-old glittery glamour of sabre-rattling and outright warfare that has come to be synonymous with US policy since WWII.
We will look back on the Obama years as a halcyon moment we should have known to cherish. Because it will be a long time before we ever have it that good again.