Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ronald Reagan Is Dead

"In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Ronald Reagan
January 20, 1981

THIS JUST IN: Ronald Reagan has died.

Yes, I know what you're saying. You're probably asking yourself, "Does Tom Degan even read the papers?" I realize that the feeble-minded old freak shuffled off this mortal coil nearly four years ago. What I'm trying to say is that with President Obama's address to the Congress and the nation last week (and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to that speech) the co-called "Reagan Revolution" which (let's face some serious facts here) has been in its death knells for over two years now, was declared dead; deader than the Gipper himself. The Reagan/Gingrich Revolution is history. It's over. Goodbye and good riddance.

I am completely ashamed to make this confession but since I've made it on this page before, I might as well come clean to those of you who have only recently started reading The Rant:

I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

This is not to imply that twenty-nine years ago (Eek Gads! Where has the time gone!) I was ideologically in tune with Reagan and that in subsequent years I have seen the light. The sad, pathetic truth of the matter is that on the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 1980 I got so falling-down intoxicated, I voted for the man just as a joke. A failed, "B" movie actor in the White House? That ought to be good for a nice, long chuckle , I thought. Nearly three decades later, I'm not laughing.

On that ominous night, I was a reporter for a community radio station that has since been Clear Channeled out of existence, W-ALL of Middletown, NY. I had been assigned the task of covering the Republicans. But since they had all skipped out of town to celebrate "this great victory for the American people" at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, I had no other choice but to walk across the street with my recording gear in hand to the restaurant where the Democrats were holding what I can only describe as the political equivalent of an Irish wake. I was more than happy to participate in their joyful, drunken mourning. At exactly 8:45 PM, with fifteen minutes left before the polls closed, I staggered one/tenth of a mile to the Town Hall and voted. It was in that condition that I cast my precious ballot for the likes of Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Mothers Against Drunk Voters. Does such an organization even exist? It should, you know. It really should.

If the era of deregulated, "government is the problem" madness was delivered a knockout punch on Election Day last, President Obama's speech to the nation on Tuesday night, I am convinced, will prove to be the death blow. Anyone who denies as much is being delusional. As they did seventy-six years ago this Wednesday when they elevated Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the presidency, the American people, whether they fully understand it or not, have taken a decided turn to the left. The pendulum has swung the other way, baby!

As I
always like to remind people, I never once - not even for a minute - succumbed to Ronniemania. My inebriated vote of 1980 notwithstanding, I just never got Ronald Reagan. Nearly thirty years has passed between then and now and I still don't get it. The "sunny optimism" that so many of my clueless, fellow countrymen and women found so irresistible, I always saw for what it obviously was: pure stagecraft. Remember, the man was a professional actor. As I wrote on this site on November 30, 2007:

"No administration had ever used television so effectively to distort reality as this one had. No administration would surpass it in its ability to "catapult the propaganda" until the second Bush administration a generation later. Reagan's career as a screen actor was pretty much kaput by the mid nineteen-sixties. His very last film, made in 1964 and called, "The Killers" (which contained an interesting scene of him beating the bleeding mortal shit out of poor little Angie Dickinson) barely registered with the public. He had come to the point in his life where he needed to make a major career change. Within two years he would be governor of California. Fourteen years after that he was living in the Executive Mansion. From being a perfectly mediocre actor to being the president of the United States of America....I'm not making this stuff up!"

Reagan's historical reputation has been that of the "Great Communicator". And why not? He was able to communicate the wonderfully silly idea that the system of programs and regulations that Franklin D. Roosevelt put into place in the nineteen-thirties - a system which, by the way, worked beautifully for over half a century - were, in fact, a bad things for the American economy. Forget the fact that the period between 1940 and 1980 saw the largest economic expansion in the history of the world; forget the fact that the middle class (which until very recently was taken for granted) didn't even exist prior to the New Deal; forget the fact that the stock market did not crash once between the day Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933 and October 19, 1987 - nearly seven years into the Reagan presidency - forget all that. As Ronald Reagan himself once memorably said, "Facts are stubborn things". Just place your economic future into the hands of the plutocracy, my fellow Americans. The wealth will "trickle down" to the rest of you. The events that have transpired since the late summer of 2008 have forever proven the utter fallacy of that philosophy.

The fact is this: In the years between January 20, 1981 and September 15, 2008, the American people were blissfully slumbering under a self-induced, right wing coma. They awoke from that decades-long snooze to confront a plundered economic landscape. The economy has been destroyed by these hideous bastards and bitches. If the American Dream was moribund on the eve of the November election, it has at least been revived to the point where it has been put back on life support. It is my hope that President Obama is successful. But that success will come - not because of the "Grand Old Party" - but in spite of it.

This is the moment where Democrats and Progressives have to start focusing on the 2010 mid-term election - It's never too early, boys and girls! The behavior of the Republican representatives (within Congress and without) during the last month is all the proof one needs that they must be swept onto history's trash heap. The only hope for them on Election Day 2010 will be the utter failure of the president of the United States - and the American people. Rest assured between now and then, they will be attempting everything humanly possible to see to it that he does fail. Does that sound just a tad paranoid? We shall see.

While the Right Wing tries to terrify the populace with shrill cries of "SOCIALISM!", it would do us well to recall that their ideological forebears used the same tactic three-quarters-of-a-century ago when FDR presented the country with his stimulus plan. That terror is now being broadcast on a daily basis by people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Weiner and Sean Hannity - running around the political barnyard like headless Chicken Littles: "THE SKY IS FALLING! THE SKY IS FALLING!" We would all be wise not to fall prey to their propaganda.

These may be the worst of times (no doubt about it) but in a very real way, they are the best of times as well. I don't know how you feel about things, but these are exciting times to be alive. The American people are waking up and a new social revolution is in the air. A new New Deal is within our grasp. It doesn't get any better than that. It really doesn't!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


The Acting President
by Bob Schiefer


At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Chinese have a curse: may you live in interesting times.

At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the art work!

I think you give presidents and administrations too much credit and blame for what the economy does or doesn’t do. You give the democrats far too much credit for the economic growth between 1940 and 1980; and place far too much blame on the republicans for recent economic events. There are as many economic theories as there are Nobel Prize winners presenting them.

I am really surprised that you want the democrats free to rule without being questioned. Totalitarianism doesn’t interest me. I just hope the American people wake up and realize that they need a balance of power. I’d like to see the Senate have a republican majority.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


As I've written on this site too many times to count, there are more than a few Democrats at whose doorstep the blame for this mess catastrophic may be properly and fairly laid. But at the end of the day it cannot be denied that it was the Republicans and the policy of deregulation and "trickle down" economics that did this to us.

And as far as blaming the GOP is concerned, Eisenhower is today remembered as a great domestic president (we won't go into his atrocious foreign policy). Why is that so? Because he was smart enough to understand a very simple fact of life that the right wing has never been able to understand: The country does well only when sound investment is made in its infrastructure. He was the last GOP president to fully get it.


Tom Degan

At 3:52 PM, Blogger charles moore said...

Joel, you talk about totalitarianism. What do you think we have had for the last eight years with Bush and a Republican majority? And where did it get us; deeper and deeper into trouble. Bush and the Republicans were a complete and total failure in all respects. Do you think if they had a Senate majority they would try to work with Obama? Hell no, they would simply dig in their heels as usual and push for more of their failed policies. There is no such thing as a balance of power.

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I have to agree that “trickle down” economics never made sense. Every time I here the term it makes think of someone pissing on my leg. But I think the current economic mess is a combination of the lack of regulation in the mortgage and banking industries, the fraudulent activities of some loan originators, and the stupidity of a small percentage of the American public. I really don’t think you can blame it all on the republicans. After all, the democrats started the deregulation push to make it easier for everyone to own a home; Jimmy Carter I think.

You are right about Eisenhower and infrastructure. Wasn’t his justification for the highway system to be able to move troops and military equipment quickly? If you think about it, military spending does the same for the economy as infrastructure spending. All the money is spent here in manufacturing. Of course, I’d rather build bridges than bombs.

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles, your points about the republicans only supports my position that you need a balance of power. I wish the democrats had stamped their feet a little more when Bush was in office.

At 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>I wish the democrats had stamped their feet a little more when Bush was in office.

The truth on this one really came home when Pelosi said, 'impeachment is off the table...'. Two years ago when everything should have changed - nothing changed.

Cowardice? Corruption? I think a little of both hardly begins to cover it.

At 1:08 AM, Blogger larkrise said...

Far too many of our fellow citizens value style over substance. How many of them have purchased McMansions they cannot afford; and SUVs they did not need?
Ronald Regan was an actor. He left California with a huge budget deficit. People knew that when they voted for him; but they adored his cheery attitude and the "part" he played as Mr. President. He had incipient Alzheimer's during his last term. When the man said he didnt remember this or that, he didnt remember this or that.
The Republicans have created an entire myth around him. The public likes the myth and wants to hang onto it. The Media, adoring Hollywood, has expanded on the myth and continues to perpetrate it, much to the glee of the Far-Right Republicans. Conservatism, as it has played out under Bush/Cheney/Rove/Norquist is a toxic brew of deregulation, total incompetence, no-bid contracts, corruption and give-aways to the wealthy. The proof is in the pudding. The country is in dire straits. It wasnt even this bad after Regan. The Republican Party has drunk an evil elixir; and cannot let go of their addiction to power, money, and changing the rules to suit them. It has made them toxic and dangerous, obstructionist and very negative. Until the Republican Party sends the Far-Right Conservative Wing to the Lunatic Fringe where it belongs with Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, they are not worth one damned vote from an intelligent voter. Charlie Crist is, at heart, a moderate. Even Indiana's governor, Mitch Daniels, is a pragmatist.He has not embraced Far-Right ideologies in Indiana. These men should be the shining stars of the Republican Party, not some idiot like Sarah Palin.

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joel, you're absolutely right, military spending does have a stimulating effect on the economy, as was evident during the second world war. Unfortunately, it's not sustaining. For example, when a highway is built (such as Eisenhower's contribution of the Interstate Highway System), that highway not only creates jobs initially through the design and construction process, but also for years and decades later through increased commerce, private investment along the highway route, etc., etc. When bombs are designed and manufactured, for example, there isn't the same multiplier-effect taking place. The bombs can only be used once. When the bomb is detonated, its economic-stimulating effect is essential over.

At 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patricia, your comment:, "They are not worth one damned vote from an intelligent voter.", rings so true with most progressives and liberals. The scary part about that, though, is that the number and percentage of intelligent voters seems to be dwindling in this country. In the past election, the popular vote margin wasn't reflective of an intelligence surge within the populous, but rather a smooth and slick marketing strategy on the part of the Democratic Party. There are so many trip-wires that the Obama Administration is going to have to navigate in the next four years. Just one misstep, and the Republicans could be back in the driver's seat the next presidential election cycle, if not before.

At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, because you voted for Ronald Reagan, inebriated or not, you helped contribute to the sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in today. I hope you've been very reflective of the horrendous choice you made that fateful election night. Somehow, down deep, I believe you're trying to make up for that dreadful decision by publishing The Rant.

Maybe people should have to submit to alcohol-testing before entering the polling booth. "Pee for the truth; so we're not all seduced."

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

You may be onto something there, Mr. Frank. Perhaps my strong reaction to what has happened to this country is a deep-seated guilt for not being a responsible enough voter all those decades ago. Lord knows I've often found myself over the years chastising myself over that vote. But you must admit, I was right about one thing: Reagan did provide us with a lot of laughs, unintentional as those laughs might have been.


Tom Degan

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


>>The bombs can only be used once.

That's why they drop a lot of extra bombs - to get that multiplicity effect.

Suggested writing, 'waste based economy'...

At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bombs aren't "in" anymore anyway. I'm wondering if Obama is going to ramp up drone production. I saw some emissary from Pakistan being interviewed and he said he wanted the US to give them the drones to use as they saw fit in order to reduce collateral damage. I think he even wanted the technology so they could make them themselves. I nearly spilled my beer I was laughing so hard.

At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the drone technology does very cool things.

Of course morally its quite grotesque to have a bunch of assassins siting in their offices in Virginia. The spin is that the military leadership is concerned with protecting American servicemen. It is evident that reality is far away from this when inventory is taken of veteran's experiences. The military has exposed these people to spent uranium & who knows what else. And then for so many, the whole experience fucks up their minds, at this point, they arrive home to inadequate care an no job prospects. Basically they are discarded. We see these people all over the country. They were not regarded more highly than a mechanical drone.

The fact is that killing people cannot be sanitized. Are the people pulling the trigger remotely any different than the guy who opened the gas valve in a room full of Jews?

A thought that recently occurred to me, was if there is any correlation between the escalating suicide rate among serving servicemen and the increased use of drone technology? The military, of course, could answer this in a second - but I doubt we would hear about it if it were so.

Going back to the drones, I think the transfer of technology isn't too big a deal. Any number of effective devices could be produced with off the shelf components. When you consider that you can buy a computer that fits in a usb dongle the possibilities are endless. Don't despair, its just a twist of the same old thing.

At 2:48 AM, Blogger larkrise said...

Dear Frank,
After Bush was able to steal both elections because the vote was so close, I was convinced that intelligent, well-informed voters were scarcer than hen's teeth. I suspect that is still the case. The Democratic Party did a much better job this time, with Howard Dean's help, and Obama's organization, in getting out the vote and pushing the issues. I will give them that. But, in my cynical heart of hearts, I will always believe it was the depth of the economic crisis that turned the tide. The horrors in Iraq didnt turn it in 2004. Not enough people were directly affected by the war. It was not until people began losing their homes and jobs in large numbers, that the sheeple began to realize how much snake oil they had been drinking. Plus, all of the misery had to start hitting the middle class not just the poor. When that happened, the tide turned. A lot of butts began to be kicked, and a lot of pocketbooks were emptied. The Republican Party is the party of not only Fat-Cats but Wannabees. These folks love to be trendy, keep up with the Joneses,max out their credit cards for designer labels, SUVs, and buy houses that put them on the brink. They are feelin' the pain and do not like it.I have zero sympathy for them, but there it is. They want to be socially prominent; and see being a Republican as one of the steps to their shallow goals. I have neighbors who are just that pretentious, though my neighborhood is not.
To be re-elected, Obama will have to see some successes with the economy. I wish him well. It is an uphill battle. I dont see how he can succeed and keep pumping big bucks into Afghanistan. The Media also adores being negative and jumping on any rumor or misleading observation,
masquerading as fact, that is put out by the Conservatives and lying idiots like Limbaugh and O'Reilly. At least, Obama has come to terms with the fact that hardcore, fanatic ideologues will scoff at bipartisanship.

At 5:53 AM, Blogger PetitPoix said...

".... but rather a smooth and slick marketing strategy on the part of the Democratic Party."

Good point Mr. Spangler. Here is another slick marketing tactic that could work for the Democrats:

"Pee for the truth; so we're not all seduced."

Yes, I think we should start printing up buttons to pass out just before the next presidential election day.

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Beautifully put, larkrise....

One would hope that the 'Sheeple" have finally woken up. Time will tell, I suppose. I certainly a tad more hopeful than I've been in a while though.

We shall see what wee shall see.


Tom Degan

At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Bombs aren't "in" anymore anyway."

Joel, you're either missing the point, or you're deliberately avoiding a discussion about the subject that you brought up.

I'll assume the latter.

At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Frank, I’m not trying to avoid anything. I agree with you that building a bridge is an investment, whereas a building a bomb isn’t. I just think it was amusing, in a sick sort of way, that Pakistan wants us to give them our military technology. Maybe they would be less inclined to blow up their own civilians than our military; they may have a point.

Also, I thought your reply to Patricia regarding slick marketing was on the money. I don’t think a lot of people knew what they were voting for. The blacks voted for him because he is black, the young people because he is young and talks change (for the sake of change), the liberals because he is liberal, and the rest because they hated Bush. Other than the liberals, I don’t think most really understood his platform.

As for my buddy John, I strongly disagree that sending in a drone in an attempt to blow up a strategic target is the same as gassing a few million Jews. I know for certain he is smart enough to recognize the difference, and was just trying to make a point.

At 7:25 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

"Other than the liberals, I don’t think most really understood his platform."

Joel, I don't think anyone really, truly, knew his "platform". Most politicians, today, speak in terms of "values", avoiding discussion of the ideas and points that matter most. Besides, I'm not convinced, yet, that Obama's truly liberal. The jury's still out on that. He's running his government as a centrist, and in a neo-liberal mode when it comes to Afghanistan. It seems we're going to trade that major black-hole called Iraq, and start throwing all kinds of treasure and manpower into that other unwinnable situation.

I still contend that Candidate Obama, during the period of June 5th through the 8th, attended the Bilderberg conference at the Westfields Marriott in Chantilly, Virginia. His whereabouts are shrouded in secrecy immediately after he gave a rally at the Nissan Pavilion, near Manassas, on June 5th -- a stone's throw from where the Bilderberg Group was meeting. I don't believe the rally was the focus, or main concern, for being in Manassas that day. Rather, I believe it was to get his marching orders while in Chantilly.

That's precisely why, as much as I'm in favor of nationalizing the banking structure that's in total chaos, it'll never happen because Obama is a good soldier. He knows how to take his orders and execute. He'll keep pouring good money into TARP, as he's expected to do, and will undoubtedly propose and initiate a TARP 2.0 before the summer begins. As I mentioned numerous times on Tom's blog, Obama will continue the tradition, Democratic or Republican, of putting business first. He has no other choice.

At 8:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>As for my buddy John, I strongly disagree that sending in a drone in an attempt to blow up a strategic target is the same as gassing a few million Jews.

Of course you are right about this difference. My comment probably should have read, '...the guy who is ordered to open the gas valve...'.

A drone operator is following orders like a valve turner or machine-gunner or a truck driver. Naturally the drone operator's risk of being shot in return is low - but I was wondering in thread if the psychological risks for this type of soldier are the same - or perhaps to some - quite a bit higher.

That said, the 'collateral damage', of a few hundred thousand dead, does fall into the atrocity category. We heard about the precision of modern munitions since the war began and particularly through the 'shock & awe' campaign. I believe that these weapons are very precise. Knowing this and the history of how we were taken into this war, it is appears to me that the people on top, who conspired to make it happen, committed atrocities that rival those of the great war criminals of history.

P.S. I also like the artwork...

At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joel, I think Obama won by default, as you insinuated, but that's usually the case, isn't it? John McCain's campaign was a total disaster, almost as if it was designed to be, so Obama was able to sweep in without too much resistance. It was the Democratic Party's turn to rule the roost, so-to-speak. As Obama so eloquently, and often said, "Our time has come!"

Although President Obama is taking a lot of flak from the opposition with his Keynesian approach, he really doesn't have any other choice. It's apparent that the deregulated financial and housing markets, along with tremendous corporate and personal debt, has put the economy into a position never seen before. Although the similarities with the early 1930s are comparable, this mountain of debt is what's making any stimulus a potshot at best. As I mentioned earlier, I firmly believe the $787 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to what is actually required. But, spending the type of money that's needed to create the required nudge, might be the tipping-point toward financial and economic collapse -- on a grand scale.

So, it's almost like picking your poison. It's almost as if -- and this is my conspiratorial state-of-mind talking -- we're being set-up for the ultimate game of disaster capitalism.

Let's hope that's not the case.

At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is kind of weird that these bailouts are such astronomical sums. Here is the question that concerns me. As the value of all of the assets that are held by 'normal people' has contracted, the bailout money is artificially propping up the value of companies within the financial sector. Wouldn't this result in even wider financial inequality in this nation?

Underlying the entire economy, the world has a certain amount of assets. It doesn't matter how many units represent it all - just the ratios. If this changed (and how could it not), a big play of disaster capitalism may well be all this is. The guys rolling the dice probably loaded them - but I still don't think they know exactly where they will land.

The companies behind the fed have been playing their game for a long time. The current crisis may be about slapping down upstarts with hedge-funds, or whatever other fortune building scheme... since any newcomer must get his slice of the pie at the expense of the old-timers. I'm sure the entire nation is indebted to them for another thousand years with each additional bailout installment. I expect the old game is still on the table.

At 3:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what does a pinkocommiefagjunkie have to say?

Dan O'Brien
St Petersburg, FL

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

"We'll get the world tonight".

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

At 1:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

uncle tom, i find so much of this offensive im not sure where to begin. but it's late and a school night so i guess i'll just say that it was john adams who said "facts are stubborn things," in his closing arguments to the boston massacre trial. the ronald reagan quotation to which you are refering is "facts are stupid things," which was obviously a joke. I understand that your writing is political and therefore controversial, but I can't think of any reason to refer to republicans as "bastards and bitches" or to a late president as "feeble-minded old freak." i know you don't like reagan and you have every right in the world not to, but i think that you owe him at least a modicum of respect. i imagine that you could easily find a way to criticise him without attacking the fact that he suffered from alzheimers. And i'm sure he's thanking you for your vote in the afterlife.
ttyl-love katie d.

At 8:26 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Dearest Katie,

First of all, let me remind you that when you were born in December of 1991, President Reagan had been out of office for nearly three years. The difference between you and I is the fact that, number one, I remember what life was like in this country when Reagan was president and, number two (and most importantly), I can remember what this country was like before he became president.

Don't get me wrong, Kate, your mother, uncles and aunts did very well when the Gipper was in the White House. You see, your late grandfather (whom I'm sorry you never had the chance of knowing) was a very wealthy man. People of his class did very well indeed under Ronald Reagan.

But you see, my beloved niece, during the years between 1981 and 1989, I was not sheltered on an ivy league college campus like too many of the scions of the upper class in this country. I was actually out there among the working and middle classes working in a blue collar job; I was a front row witness to the damage that his atrocious policies were doing to our once-great nation. I saw it first hand. Nearly thirty years later, that damage is complete.

As I've written on this site before, Reagan was essentially a mask, with a twinkle in its eye and a fine, Irish smile. Remove that mask and what is revealed is the hideous, twisted smirk of George W. Bush. That, my dear, is the real face of the so-called "Reagan Revolution".

Three more points.....

1. Once during a press conference when an inconsistency in one of his programs was pointed out, Reagan replied to the reporter, "Facts are stubborn things. He was not joking. He was serious.

2. When I referred to the late president as a "feeble-minded old freak", I was not referring to his Alzheimer's Disease. My only argument is that by 1984 when he sought a second term, it was obvious to even the most casual observer that he was losing a grip on his mental faculties. Re-electing him was a big mistake.

3. When I refer to the "bastards and bitches" who have done such harm to our beloved country, I certainly am not referring to regular people who have chosen to register to vote in Republican primaries. I am referring to
Republican politicians and political operators.If that were the case, I wouldn't have a friend left in the world.

Please understand, Kate, that I am not an apologist for the Democratic party. I left that silly party over ten years ago and never looked back. I would only ask you this, Kate: In 2012, when you cast your very first vote for president of the United, look out upon the economic carnage that has decimated the American landscape.

It was Ronald Reagan that did this to you.

All my love,

Uncle Tom

At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just saw this. It was more appropriate for the chisel rant - but here it is:

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


Hitchcock on Mount Rushmore? I can live with that, no problem. Just not Ronald Reagan, okay?


Tom Degan

At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The man was a master!

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mon oncle-
i think you missed my point. i couldn't really argue politics the politics of a decade where i wasn't present, and I wasn't trying to. it doesnt really matter to me who you're talking about. i just think you do yourself and the nature of political argument a disservice by writing with such vehemant hate and mockery. There is no reason to call anyone "bastards and bitches" in political discourse. i think there are other ways to convey the deep sense of anger you clearly feel at their political ideologies and the actions they've taken as leaders of the country. you can argue that it's your style but it doesnt change the fact that it's unnecessary and fundamentally offensive.
of course, this is a blog and the internet and you have every right in the world to say whatever you want, however you want. But as a critical reader, I'm offering you my opinion. Besides, I love you the heck out of ya, either way :)

At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bit of a typo there sorry.
"i couldn't really argue the politics of a decade where i wasn't present, and I wasn't trying to."

At 9:19 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Dear Katie,

In the meantime we'll agree to disagree. But your points are conceded and well made. In the meantime, read tis piece that Frank Rich wrote in this morning's (3/8/09) New York Times.

Love the heck out of you, too, darlin'.

Uncle Tom

Some Things Don't Change In Grover's Corners

by Frank Rich

“WHEREVER you come near the human race, there’s layers and layers of nonsense,” says the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Those words were first heard by New York audiences in February 1938, as America continued to reel from hard times. The Times’s front page told of 100,000 auto workers protesting layoffs in Detroit and of a Republican official attacking the New Deal as “fascist.” Though no one was buying cars, F.D.R. had the gall to endorse a mammoth transcontinental highway construction program to put men back to work.

In the 71 years since, Wilder’s drama has become a permanent yet often dormant fixture in our culture, like the breakfront that’s been in the dining room so long you stopped noticing its contents. Requiring no scenery and many players, “Our Town” is the perennial go-to “High School Play.” But according to A. Tappan Wilder, the playwright’s nephew and literary executor, professional productions have doubled since 2005, including two separate hit revivals newly opened in Chicago and New York.

You can see why there’s a spike in the “Our Town” market. Once again its astringent distillation of life and death in the fictional early-20th-century town of Grover’s Corners, N.H., is desperately needed to help strip away “layers and layers of nonsense” so Americans can remember who we are — and how lost we got in the boom before our bust.

At the director David Cromer’s shattering rendition of the play now running in Greenwich Village, it’s impossible not to be moved by that Act III passage where the Stage Manager comes upon the graves of Civil War veterans in the town cemetery. “New Hampshire boys,” he says, “had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than 50 miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends — the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went and died about it.”

Wilder was not a nostalgic, sentimental or jingoistic writer. Grover’s Corners isn’t populated by saints but by regular people, some frivolous and some ignorant and at least one suicidal. But when the narrator evokes a common national good and purpose — unfurling our country’s full name in the rhetorical manner also favored by our current president — you feel the graveyard’s chill wind. It’s a trace memory of an American faith we soiled and buried with all our own nonsense in the first decade of our new century.

Retrieving that faith now requires extraordinary patience and optimism. We’re still working our way through the aftershocks of the orgy of irresponsibility and greed that brought America to this nadir. In his recent letter to shareholders, a chastened Warren Buffett likened our financial institutions’ recklessness to venereal disease. Even the innocent were infected because “it’s not just whom you sleep with” but also “whom they” — unnamed huge financial institutions — “are sleeping with,” he wrote. Indeed, our government is in the morally untenable position of rewarding the most promiscuous carrier of them all, A.I.G., with as much as $180 billion in taxpayers’ cash transfusions (so far) precisely because it can’t be disentangled from all the careless (and unidentified) trading partners sharing its infection.

Buffett’s sermon coincided with the public soul searching of another national sage, Elie Wiesel, who joined a Portfolio magazine panel discussion on Bernie Madoff. Some $37 million of Wiesel’s charitable foundation and personal wealth vanished in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. “We gave him everything,” Wiesel told the audience. “We thought he was God.”

How did reality become so warped that Wiesel, let alone thousands of lesser mortals, could mistake Madoff for God? It was this crook’s ability to pass for a deity that allowed his fraud to escape scrutiny not just from his victims but from the S.E.C. and the “money managers” who pimped his wares. This aura of godliness also shielded the “legal” Madoffs at firms like Citibank and Goldman Sachs. They spread V.D. with esoteric derivatives, then hedged their wild gambles with A.I.G. “insurance” (credit-default swaps) that proved to be the most porous prophylactics in the history of finance.

The simplest explanation for why America’s reality got so distorted is the economic imbalance that Barack Obama now wants to remedy with policies that his critics deride as “socialist” (“fascist” can’t be far behind): the obscene widening of income inequality between the very rich and everyone else since the 1970s. “There is something wrong when we allow the playing field to be tilted so far in the favor of so few,” the president said in his budget message. He was calling for fundamental fairness, not class warfare. America hasn’t seen such gaping inequality since the Gilded Age and 1920s boom that preceded the Great Depression.

This inequity was compounded by Bush tax policy and by lawmakers and regulators of both parties who enabled and protected the banking scam artists who fled with their bonuses and left us holding the toxic remains. The fantasy of easy money at the top of the economic pyramid trickled down to the masses, who piled up debt by leveraging their homes much as their ’20s predecessors once floated stock purchases “on margin.” Our culture, meanwhile, painted halos over celebrity C.E.O.’s, turning the fundamentalist gospel of the market into a national religion that further accelerated the country’s wholesale flight from reality.

The once-lionized lifestyles of the rich and infamous were appallingly tacky. John Thain’s parchment trash can was merely the tip of the kitschy iceberg. The level of taste flaunted by America’s upper caste at the bubble’s height had less in common with the Medicis than, say, Uday and Qusay Hussein.

The cultural crash should have been a tip-off to the economic crash to come. Paul Greenwood and Stephen Walsh, money managers whose alleged $667 million fraud looted the endowments at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, were fond of collecting Steiff stuffed animals, including an $80,000 teddy bear. Sir Robert Allen Stanford — a Texan who purchased that “Sir” by greasing palms in Antigua — poured some of his alleged $8 billion in ill-gotten gains into a castle, complete with moat, man-made cliff and pub. He later demolished it, no doubt out of boredom.

In a class apart is the genteel Walter Noel, whose family-staffed Fairfield Greenwich Group fed some $7 billion into Madoff’s maw. The Noels promoted themselves, their business and their countless homes by posing for Town & Country. Their firm took in at least $500 million in fees (since 2003 alone) for delivering sheep to the Madoff slaughterhouse. In exchange, Fairfield Greenwich claimed to apply “due diligence” to every portfolio transaction — though we now know Madoff didn’t actually trade a single stock or bond listed in his statements for at least the past 13 years.

But in the bubble culture, money ennobled absolutely. A former Wall Street executive vouched for his pal Noel to The Times: “He’s a terribly good person, almost in the sense of Jimmy Stewart in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ combined with an overtone of Gregory Peck in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ”

Last week Jon Stewart whipped up a well-earned frenzy with an eight-minute “Daily Show” takedown of the stars of CNBC, the business network that venerated our financial gods, plugged their stocks and hyped the bubble’s reckless delusions. (Just as it had in the dot-com bubble.) Stewart’s horrifying clip reel featured Jim Cramer reassuring viewers that Bear Stearns was “not in trouble” just six days before its March 2008 collapse; Charlie Gasparino lip-syncing A.I.G.’s claim that its subprime losses were “very manageable” in December 2007; and Larry Kudlow declaring last April that “the worst of this subprime business is over.” The coup de grâce was a CNBC interviewer fawning over the lordly Robert Allen Stanford. Stewart spoke for many when he concluded, “Between the two of them I can’t decide which one of those guys I’d rather see in jail.”

Led by Cramer and Kudlow, the CNBC carnival barkers are now, without any irony whatsoever, assailing the president as a radical saboteur of capitalism. It’s particularly rich to hear Cramer tar Obama (or anyone else) for “wealth destruction” when he followed up his bum steer to viewers on Bear Stearns with oleaginous on-camera salesmanship for Wachovia and its brilliant chief executive, a Cramer friend and former boss, just two weeks before it, too, collapsed. What should really terrify the White House is that Cramer last month gave a big thumbs-up to Timothy Geithner’s bank-rescue plan.

In one way, though, the remaining vestiges of the past decade’s excesses, whether they live on in the shouted sophistry of CNBC or in the ashes of Stanford’s castle, are useful. Seen in the cold light of our long hangover, they remind us that it was the America of the bubble that was aberrant and perverse, creating a new normal that wasn’t normal at all.

The true American faith endures in “Our Town.” The key word in its title is the collective “our,” just as “united” is the resonant note hit by the new president when saying the full name of the country. The notion that Americans must all rise and fall together is the ideal we still yearn to reclaim, and that a majority voted for in November. But how we get there from this economic graveyard is a challenge rapidly rivaling the one that faced Wilder’s audience in that dark late winter of 1938.

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