The Times, They Have a-Changed
One hundred sixty-eight people died when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was brought down by people we initially thought were Middle Eastern terrorists in the first few panicky hours after the destruction. Ten years ago, in this column, I tore into a local radio shock jock who started up a drumbeat of anti-Middle Eastern rhetoric—the usual “nuke them until they glow” threats—until it became apparent that it wasn’t Muslim fanatics, but our own homegrown nutjobs that did it. And up until 2001, it was the biggest example of terrorism on our native soil in history.
But back then we didn’t drastically curtail civil rights. We didn’t declare war on a scapegoat who had nothing to do with it. And we methodically and legally tracked down, prosecuted, and convicted the criminals who perpetrated the crime.
I note this in order to point out that I am not the same columnist that I was 10 years ago. I’m more shrill, more biting, and more impatient of the ridiculousness I see in public life than I was a decade ago. Back then I saw it as a game.
Nowadays, it’s still a game. But the stakes are far higher, the scope is larger, and the terms are far uglier than they ever were, not that the loss of 168 lives is anything to sneeze at. But let’s look at it in context:
In 10 years, a concerted effort has been made by a hard-right conservative minority to drive an elected president from office over a lie about a consensual sex act. A president was installed, via the Supreme Court, after a contested state election whose apparatus was run questionably at best by his brother.
The largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil occurred after a clear-cut warning was issued to the president, who remained on his vacation after receiving this warning. A president and his vice, who maintain ties to the energy industry, succeeded in hiding their policy apparatus from the public, while their main campaign contributors gamed the energy system in the largest Democratic state in the union, thereby causing the ejection of its governor and the election of a Republican actor to the job. The illegal shenanigans of that same energy company caused one of the largest public bankruptcies in U.S. history.
In five years, we went from a balanced budget with a surplus to a budget hole with deficits as far as experts can project, with not one, not two, not three, but four tax cuts (if the permanent repeal of the estate tax the House passed last week is fully enacted) for the wealthy since this president was elected. And he presently campaigns to destroy the safety net that is Social Security.
I’d love to laugh at politics like I did 10 years ago. I’d love to be able to say, “This is only a silly game—they’re funny people doing stupid things, and in a few years it’ll be a different set of clowns doing the same thing.” Only I can’t.
The same clowns have been running the show for the last five years, and many of them have been there for the last 10. With total control of the machinery, they have gradually given the lead to the most fundamentalist, most reactionary, and most intolerant of their kind, and we have seen more than 1,500 Americans die in an unnecessary war whose end can only be declared by the man who began it, because Congress has abdicated its constitutional role. We are nation-building in a land that has historically been resistant to the idea, and it’s being run by a man who declared that he was against nation-building before he even became president.
Ten years ago, I would have loved to have kept laughing and pointing out how silly politics is. But I was woken up by 168 people dying in an Oklahoma office building. Now, we are at war abroad, the right-wing crazies are not only still among us but also running our government (ask Terri Schiavo’s husband), and Americans working to scrape together a living have no idea what to make of their future.
Times have changed. Politics just isn’t funny anymore.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201