The Art of Discourse

The weather continues to improve as we recover from a windstorm that left millions without power for days. As we shivered in the dark I reflected on the role of government in preemptively mitigating “disasters”, like burying power lines underground. I also reflected on the inability/desire of government to provide services real time to folks with special needs.

The Republican/No Government Is The Best Government party have come up with a great concept for governing. Pay me to do nothing. Send me to the Capitol and I promise I won’t do anything but cash my check. Now in the Mitch McConnell era, we see that if anybody else tries to do something, he’ll make sure it doesn’t get done. What a fiasco for governing. 

I began wondering where did this line of thinking come from? When did Republicans turn the corner from folks like Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower to our current nut jobs?

Turns out, there’s a documentary that parallels the timing of the schism, and the documentary includes one of the major players. The documentary is Best of Enemies, and it details the debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal prior to the 1968 elections. William F. Buckley was the founder and editor of the National Review magazine, and from his podium he espoused the ideas that only the elite, of which he was one, should have any say.

In his mind, Buckley thought he was in favor of democracy, he just didn’t see how letting every one having an equal say was good for the country. Buckley also was not in favor of “big government”, and he despised programs that benefited the general population. He was a smart guy, well educated, and spoke with a patrician, condescending tone that I’m sure was cultivated to make him appear to be all knowing.

Condemned by his own words, I’ll give you a Buckley quote on integration in the South and the struggle we were having: “The central question that emerges—and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal—is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”  

Ok, so now we know how the elite feel about preserving their place in a Democracy. Speaking for the common man is Gore Vidal.

Vidal is equally educated and extremely erudite. The fact that Vidal can claim more “roots” in the elitist area of society than his nemesis, Buckley, gives rise to the idea that Vidal came to liberalism as an intellectual process. Vidal was also a prolific writer. He wrote a great many histories of American figures, as well as eye opening fiction.

While he was a progressive, and ran for office as a Democrat, he was very realistic about the American political system, as he asserts here, “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently . . . and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.”

Not exactly a yellow dog Democrat, but still well left of where Buckley operated.

The classic debates between Buckley and Vidal were hosted by ABC and are studies in intellectual mayhem. If either contestant had been capable of exploding his opponent’s brain by power of thought, they would have done it. The fact that the debates ended in Buckley calling Vidal a “queer” and threatening physical violence, points out the intensity of the feelings between them. It also points out the winner of the debates. “When you lose your temper, you’ve lost the argument”, as the old saying goes.

For an immediate increase in IQ, and an insight in to how Buckley convinced politicians, starting with Reagan, that government was the problem, not the solution, check out “The Best of Enemies“. You might have to watch it twice to catch it all. Having a dictionary close at hand is a good idea too.

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