PRIMAL SCREED/James McCarty Yeager

It's Party Time

Washington, D.C.

We're a long way from Lincoln. He labored his entire political career to save the national government from those who believed that property was paramount, and that it even extended to people. He objected to the concept of permanent hired labor. He hated the claim of "states' rights" as superseding those of the Constitution and of the Union. Therefore the "Party of Lincoln" not only would not nominate him today, it would repudiate him.

We're a long way from Jefferson too. When he died, forty years before Lincoln did, the merchants of the seaboard still profited from the settlers/debtors of the frontier (which was about Ohio at the time.) Jefferson's dream of a nation of small independent agrarian producers had not yet failed, nor been fully tried. His use of presidential power to purchase Louisiana offended Congress as much as his successor Jackson's veto of the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States. Yet the "Party of Jefferson and Jackson" has only a small amount of room in it any more for those who would challenge the underlying economic assumptions of the corporate world.

Question: which party has betrayed its origins the least? (This is a lifetime philosophical question, interim answers to which may be sought every two years despite no final answer being available.)

It is fashionable to ridicule the television spectacles of the national party political conventions. Indeed there is an excess of posturing and persiflage in them, in which they do not materially differ from any other advertising. However, there was something reassuring in the Tweedle-twin Tweedle-coronations of the challengers. Not that the candidates are indistinguishable -- Al and Tipper having lived in a trailer park while he was in the service, Shrub and Laura wanting trailer park votes without having to do anything for them -- but that the conventions are. The reassurance of the conventions lies in their meaningless traditions, their gusty self-importance, and their vestigial reminders that people are supposed to control the political process, even though corporations do so in fact. The conventions came to us in the same way opening day in the football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer seasons arrive: expected, necessary, overrated.

Writing in the Irish Times this summer, Fintan O'Toole observed that there was no monument to those killed in Northern Ireland during 30 years of "troubles" that was anywhere near as simple and noble as the one in Oklahoma City to the victims of the Murragh Building bombing. He wondered how a nation so allegedly aesthetically challenged as the US could have managed to do so much better than the supposedly artistic Irish. "Where [the Irish] have monuments to the victims of terrorist bombings, they tend to be small, unimaginative and rather embarrassed," wrote O'Toole.

Well, it's pretty simple, really. As a country, what we lack in understanding of beauty we make up for in sentimentality. Massive public sentimentality equals good monuments. Most of the grandeur of Washington's public architecture lies in that equation.

Meantime, the shadow of the Murragh Building lay over the 2000 Republican convention in no auspicious manner. The bombing was almost a logical consequence of the anti-government rhetoric of the then-newly-empowered congressional majority under Reps. Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Dan Burton, Henry Hyde, and Sens. Trent Lott, Don Nickles and Jesse Helms, dancing to the tunes of their unelected ringmasters George Will, William Buckley, William Bennett and Robert Novak. (The Republicans fear that journalists are the theorists of the Democratic party; the Democrats know that journalists are the intellectuals of the Republican party.)

When it became clear that a soldier so hated his country as to want to kill some of its federal workers, a large gulp of surprise escaped the electorate, if not those who had whipped up Timothy McVeigh to his deed. As soon as a friend heard about it he said, "Ain't no Arabs doing no bombing on account of there ain't no Jews in Oklahoma City." So it had to be the right wing that did it, and it was. These forces persist in hating Bureau of Land Management agents so much that a western district superintendent resigned her job this year rather than face any more threats. However, in 1995 the legitimacy of the black-helicopter Reno-hating Clinton-bashing right wing was 168 times removed. Still, even the media-sainted Sen. John McCain is going around telling vicious Janet Reno/Hillary Clinton jokes in public this summer.

The impeachment farce of 1998-1999 was a symbolic acting-out of the Murragh Building tragedy. Stung to fury by the rational and inclusive actions of a federal government they hated worse than they hated the Russian government, the right wing suckered the respectabilist wing of the Republican party into giving it cover. Just as McVeigh didn't care which federal employees he killed, the impeachers didn't care how much they damaged the country in their sexual frenzy. Now they are trying to install a Bush dynasty, as if all it took was a lot of in-laws to emulate the Kennedys. No, sorry. It would take a sense of public service as distinguished from public advancement.

PHYSICAL, NOT MENTAL, TASTELESS PROPHECY DEPARTMENT. Dick Cheney's well-known heart troubles make him this year's candidate for the Former Senator and Former Vice Presidential Nominee Tom Eagleton Award for Most Likely To Have To Be Replaced On The Ticket. Like Eagleton, he was a sop to the more conservative wing of the party, which in the case of the Democrats is labor. Unlike Eagleton, Cheney does not represent any betrayal of the primary voters who nominated his standard-bearer.

HISTORICAL CLUE DEPARTMENT. Until September, 1988, Governor Michael Dukakis led Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush in the national public opinion polls. Democrats don't need to worry about the Presidency in 2000. Even Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan won't make the stock market crash fast enough to affect the election.

James McCarty Yeager's teen-aged children have successfully located some of the poison-ivy beds along the banks of the Potomac River above Little Falls.

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