What Standing Do the People Have in the Dirty Game of Politics?

My north Jersey neighborhood is pretty Republican. In fact, I claim on my blog site, Liberaloutpost , that the area is so Republican that even birds don’t have left wings. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s not a whole lot of political debate going on. However, I can’t say that without admitting to being part of the problem; I no longer have the patience to debate people who live in an alternate reality. Take the Republican beatification of Ronald Reagan, for example.

From the Heritage Foundation: “From the very beginning to the very end of his Presidency, Ronald Reagan was guided by the first principles of the American Founding, especially the idea of ordered liberty. In the opening paragraphs of his first inaugural address in 1981 – much of which he personally drafted – President Reagan echoed the preamble of the Constitution, calling on ‘We the people’ to do whatever needs to be done to ‘preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom’ – America.”

Whatever else one says about Ronald Reagan, no one can deny that he made a hell of a promoter-in-chief. But he also made a hell of a shambles of the Constitution.

In a 1989 book by Barbara Honegger entitled October Surprise, the author claims that, as a researcher working in the Reagan administration, she came across information that implicated George H. W. Bush and Reagan campaign manager William Casey in a plot to convince the Iranians to postpone the release of the hostages until after the 1980 election, so as not to improve then-President Jimmy Carter’s standing in the polls. The hostages were released on January 20, 1981 just minutes after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. In fairness, there are plenty of people who believe that Honegger’s conspiracy story is a fabrication despite the fact that it is supported by several people with unique knowledge of precisely what happened including the former Iran official, Mehdi Karroubi. Regardless, it wasn’t long thereafter that the completely documented and incontrovertible mess called Iran/Contra was uncovered. Iran was one of the main beneficiaries (the country received spare parts for weapons systems purchased from the United States prior to the Iranian revolution ). Was it coincidence or payback for helping President Reagan?

What makes this story of back-channel intrigue so alarming is that it is hardly unique. Recent disclosures by the Lyndon B. Johnson Library allege that the then President had proof that conversations took place between Nixon campaign officials and the South Vietnamese government in which the Vietnamese were asked to delay any peace overture to the North until after Nixon won the presidency. The purpose of the plot was to prevent presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey from getting positive spin if peace had broken out between North and South Vietnam during the waning months of the Johnson presidency. The following is from the transcript of a conversation between President Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen (R):

“Some of your folks…are going to the [South] Vietnamese Embassy and saying to please notify the [South Vietnamese] President that if he will hold out to November 2 he can get a better deal [with Nixon as President].”

Later on in the conversation Senator Dirksen admits to having heard about the conversations and that he would talk to Nixon who, he said, didn’t listen to us any more. Not incidentally, the Vietnam War went on for 5 more years after Nixon’s election, costing America an additional 20,000 lives lost.

While these disquieting episodes might seem like ancient history to some, they can also be seen as part of a Republican, win-at-any-cost playbook that is still being used: George W. Bush stealing the 2000 election in Florida; George W. Bush in 2004 in Ohio; and now the nationwide, ALEC-inspired voter suppression effort that seeks to disenfranchise as many as 5-million voters, most of whom would vote democratic.

An oft-heard explanation for all this crap is that politics is a dirty game. Surely, that’s the case. But what troubles me most is that while this dirty game is being played, the people’s needs get pushed aside — and that’s no game. Lives are at stake, whether they are lost on the battlefield of unjust wars, or through the despair of poverty and inequality. For me, those things are no longer open to debate and the game must end.
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Brian McCabe graduated from college in 1967, cutting his political teeth protesting against Viet Nam and for civil rights. Over the years he’s vacillated between tolerant of and angry at American politics and politicians, as well as the undemocratic nature of capitalism. Right now he is in an angry phase as America drifts toward theocracy and/or fascism (pick your poison). He blogs at Liberaloutpost, and you can follow him on Twitter.