House of Mirrors
by Jack Kenny
by Jack Kenny
We live in a house of mirrors — and even that reflection is, well, a reflection of something else. It reflects the fact that many of the most talked about events of our world are not really events at all. They are non-events. They never really happened. They are the pseudo-events thought up, quite often, by image consultants and magnified by the media megaphones, manned by that "herd of independent minds" that make up the American press corps.
We struggle, we skeptics, to cling to a healthy skepticism and not abandon it to an unhealthy cynicism. I don't know if Henry Ford actually said, "History is bunk," but I can see where he might get that impression. Yogi Berra offered his peculiar insight when he declared, "I never really said some of the things I said." Yogi's not the only one. Often what gets "repeated" was never actually said in the original. Case in point: That famous New York Daily News headline that proclaimed; "Ford to City: Drop Dead!" Ford, who opposed a bailout for the financially troubled city, never said that. It didn't matter: People "knew" that he had. They saw it in the Daily News.
Jimmy Carter never used the word "malaise" in his famous "malaise speech" to the nation, in which he suggested the American people may have lost some of our spirit. (A more accurate and telling summation of that Carter speech turned up in a headline that mysteriously appeared in an early edition of the next day's Boston Globe: "More mush from the wimp.") According to linguistic detective William Safire and others, Marie Antoinette never said, "Let them eat cake." Sometimes reality can't catch up to history.
And many of the events about which literally millions of words have been spoken, written and analyzed never really happened. President Bill Clinton, for example, declared "The era of big government is over" in his first State of the Union Address after the "Republican Revolution" of 1994.
"WE WIN!" declared the Weekly Standard, the flagship publication of the neo-conservative crowd. At that time the neo-cons were still pretending to be against "big government," even if that put them, for a brief time, seemingly on the same side as Bill Clinton.
It didn't take long for that bubble to burst. Soon George Will was stating the obvious: "The era of saying ‘the era of big government is over' is over." And not just because of the transparent insincerity of Clinton's conversion. It was because another non-event, the "Republican Revolution," never happened.
What really was that much heralded "Republican Revolution" about? Look again at the "Contract with America." What, really, did it promise? Procedural things, mostly. Term limits, or at least a vote on term limits. A balanced budget amendment. Not a balanced budget, mind you, just an amendment that mandates one. Or a vote on an amendment. Because neither the Grand Old Party nor any other party in Congress can promise an amendment to the Constitution, since any such proposal that gets through Congress must be ratified by three-quarters of the states. Many of the representatives who were campaigning for term limits when the ersatz "revolution" was launched are campaigning for reelection now, 12 years and six terms later. Considering what some of them have been up to, you can appreciate the story of the voter who was asked if she was in favor of term limits for members of Congress.
"No, " she said. "I think they should serve their full sentence."
In a few years, we had a balanced budget. Or so they said, anyway. It disappeared awfully fast for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the undeniable fact that the much-publicized Republican desire for fiscal discipline vanishes like the wind when a Republican is in the White House. And we have another Bush there now, setting records for red ink that exceed even his father's free-spending follies. As I have said before, money doesn't grow on trees in Washington, but deficits definitely grow under Bushes.
Now we have Time magazine heralding the "end of the Republican Revolution," replete with a cover photo showing the end — the rear end — of an elephant. Clever, huh? Except you can't have an end without a beginning and I will insist to the end of my days that there never was a "Republican Revolution" from 1994 to 2006. "Big government" is bigger and "worser" than ever.
October 18, 2006
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.
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