I’m reading The Steel Flea, by Nikolai Leskov. It’s more a novella or even an extended short story than a full bore novel — emphasis on bore. I haven’t gone in much for the Russian scribes for no other reason than my own lack of ambition. One needs to have the drive of a Type A, ADHD-diagnosed, cocaine-and/or-meth-addicted only child to get through even a single late 19th- or early 20th Century Russian novel. Jeez, didn’t those guys have TV? The writing habits of the likes of Tolstoy et al must have served as the model for Speed — y’know, if they stopped writing for even a second, the bus would crash or blow up or what in the hell ever happened in that movie.
As mentioned previously, I’m also reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72. Or, more accurately, struggling through it. I’d never read Thompson before, mainly because he was de rigueur among my various circles — artists, writers, studied outsiders, and other such parasites — and therefore I felt obligated to shun him. I’m that way with Jimi Hendrix, the Beat writers, South Park, and other such compulsory cultural touchstones for the same reason. Nothing against any of them; I’m just a contrarian. Too often to a fault.
Anyway, Thompson. I had no idea he was such an industrious, conscientious, hell.., obsessive student of self. I went into F & L hoping to learn a little something more than I already do about the storied ’72 election, the one that gave us Dick Nixon’s landslide, the temporary deep six of the national Democratic Party, and Watergate. Instead, for every info-laden sentence or phrase or even isolated factoid Thompson offers, he tosses into the slop bucket hundreds — hundreds, I tell you — of revelations about how fast he drives, what liquors he guzzles, how unfair it is that his editors want him to keep to deadlines, what guys he once was friends with but is no longer because they turned out to be hypocritical, and so on ad nauseum. I’d hoped his take on that historic election would make the whole shebang an entertaining rollick.
It isn’t. And so, I struggle.
Thompson did point out something that apparently held then, 45 years ago, and continues to hold today. Background: In the early stages of the Democratic winnowing process, it appeared Maine Senator Edmund Muskie would be the nominee. Muskie had a lot in common with Hillary Clinton — a party stalwart, moderate, even drifting ever-so-slightly to the Right on occasion, and championed by the Establishment. Muskie was rolling to the nom. until his infamous “crying” episode during the New Hampshire primary.
Muskie Presides At His Own Wake
Thompson recounts another incident outside the “Sunshine Special,” Muskie’s whistle-stop train tour up the East Coast prior to his downfall. Some lefty radicals had gotten hold of press credentials — they turned out to be Thompson’s — got themselves aboard the train and raised hell both on and off it. At one stop, they pilloried Muskie in front of the assembled press for what they characterized as his flip-flop on Vietnam.
See, Muskie’d voted for the Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution back in 1964, giving President Johnson the Congressional okay to prosecute war in SE Asia. To the anti-war left, the Resolution was the Original Sin, much like Congress’s 2002 vote to authorize George W. Bush’s adventure in Iraq. By 1972, much as the rest of cognizant America, Muskie’d come to see Vietnam as a tragic blunder. He ran as an anti-war candidate.
His evolution on Vietnam wasn’t good enough for radicals nor for way too many other anti-war leftists, though. Rather than celebrate the fact that he’d come around, they attacked him. He wasn’t against the Vietnam incursion from the womb, so he could never be redeemed. Muskie was as bad as Nixon and Kissinger were on the war, even though he was running against them on Vietnam.
Well, whaddya know?
The same goddamned thing happened this past presidential campaign, didn’t it? Hillary Clinton’s yea vote for the authorization of force in Iraq in 2002 was held against her by philosophical purists within the Party and radicals without. She was as bad as Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld — hell, Satan himself, for that matter. It meant nothing to them that she’d apologized and said she’d made a mistake. To the purists, the positions one holds must be written into one’s DNA.
The Republicans, OTOH, welcome converts with open arms. For chrissakes, they don’t even demand a top-to-bottom hewing to the Party line — witness the very unconventional conservative they nominated in 2016. As long as our guy is generally on our side, we’re with him, they say.
You’ve heard the old line: The Republicans look for allies while the Democrats seek out heretics in their midst.
Until we Dems drop that bushwa, we’re going to continue to lose elections.
Fox & Hens
Speaking of Congress, how do you like that august body’s latest shenanigan?
The House Republican caucus has secretly voted to fold the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) into the the House Committee on Ethics (HCE). The GOP announced the vote late last night — too late for couch tubers to catch it on, say, Fox News.
Follow me here: The OCE was established in 2008 in the aftermath of several high-profile scandals including revelations that a number of Congessbeings had diddled, or tried to, some young staffers of the same sex. It was set up specifically to be independent. That is, not staffed by Congressbeings. In other words, prior to the OCE, Congress guys were in charge of investigating their own proclivities into sexual harassment, corruption, venality, and outright larceny.
The Republicans now have a stranglehold on Washington politics. Apparently, they’re not terribly infatuated with the idea of strangers coming in and nosing into their sordid affairs. At least they’re embarrassed by their Monday action, doing it behind closed doors and not calling for TV cameras, much like the way a number of them went about the business of fondling and groping underaged aides.
Just a little reminder that L’il Duce ain’t the only miscreant we have to deal with these days.