The legacy media always seems to exist in the present moment; history, if it exists at all, is remarkably fungible. This is for at least three reasons. The first is simply the MTV-level attention spans of the people who report the news. And the second is the natural assumption of journalists and intellectuals, which Orwell noted almost 70 years ago, to assume that whoever is in power today will be in power into perpetuity; which will always reflect current conditions.
The third is that is such a present-tense approach makes it much easier to rejigger assumptions when politically expedient. Saddam must go! Regime Change in the Middle East is wrong! No wait, it isn’t! Eurasia? East Asia? Who cares — the choco-ration’s been raised to 20 grams! Pay no attention to John Kerry or Al Sharpton’s past misdeeds when it’s time to reshape their image from radical to chic. Reverend Wright? He’s been tossed down the Memory Hole known as the Wright-Free Zone.
Similarly, Time magazine this week has this remarkably cynical cover:
Note the text in the middle-right of the page: “How the Tea Party Hijacked America.”
But back on October of 1989, when George H.W. Bush was president, and floundering between his natural tendencies as a center-right moderate liberal Republican, and continuing the Reagan legacy that propelled him into office, Time asked on its cover, “Is Government Dead?”
Back then, the original George W. didn’t have a shiner; he was merely crying, likely the first, but certainly not the last former president shedding a Photoshopped tear on Time’s cover:
“Government isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.” As a candidate and a President, Ronald Reagan loved that line. But Reagan seemed simply to be indulging in harmless hyperbole or offering his version of the time-honored aphorism that government is best when it governs least. Surely he did not seriously propose to dismantle an institution that had brought the U.S. through two world wars, restored stability during the Depression [Stability? That’s one way to put it — Ed] and played a major part in developing one of the highest standards of living on earth. [Which Time would later go on to trash once it became obsessed with environmentalism. — Ed]
Or did he? If Washington was “the problem” when Reagan took office in 1981, it looks like a costly irrelevancy today. After almost nine years of the Reagan Revolution, Americans may wonder whether the Government — from Congress to the White House, from the State Department to the Office of Management and Budget — can govern at all anymore.
Abroad and at home, challenges are going unmet. Under the shadow of a massive federal deficit that neither political party is willing to confront, a kind of neurosis of accepted limits has taken hold from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. Whatever the situation — the unprecedented opportunity to promote democracy in Eastern Europe, the spreading plague of drugs, the plight of the underclass, the urgent need for educational reform — the typical response from Washington consists of encouraging words and token funds. Yet voters, especially the better-organized ones, continue to demand — and often receive — more benefits and services while rejecting higher taxes.
Even some Republicans are expressing concern about the paralysis. Conservative [if you say so –Ed] analyst Kevin Phillips described the problem two weeks ago in the Washington Post as “a frightening inability to define and debate America’s emerging problems.” Last week’s 190-point stock market tumble was the immediate result of economic developments, namely UAL’s failure to obtain financing for its leveraged buyout. But Washington’s glaring inability to control spending hardly inspires the confidence that markets need.
Ironically, the best depiction to date of the nation’s gridlock may have come last summer from a ranking member of the Bush Administration: Budget Director Richard Darman. In a speech at the National Press Club, Darman blasted both the Government and the voters for mimicking spoiled children with demands of “now-nowism — our collective shortsightedness, our obsession with the here and now, our reluctance adequately to address the future . . . Many think of ((the deficit)) as a cause of our problems. But it is also a symptom, a kind of silent now-now scream.”
While the bias against Bush #41’s administration is palpable, the gist of the story dovetails remarkably well with today’s events. The bill has come due for the actions in DC that Time described back in 1989, along with the exponentially-increasing spending of the last 82 years. You can blame the Tea Party for forcing the issue, but only if you haven’t been paying attention to the ever-expanding bloat of government, super-sized by someone whom Time dubbed the second coming of FDR; only to wonder why what their editors dubbed the “New New Deal” immediately after Obama’s election “unexpectedly” didn’t work. (See also, the original New Deal, and LBJ’s Great Society, which was the actual New New Deal.)
Also, note the disparity between this week’s cover story, “How the Tea Party Hijacked America” and Time’s collective “Person of the Year” in 2006, “You — Yes, You.” Back then, Time’s Lev Grossman wrote that 2006 was “a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before,” adding, “It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”
That’s actually a pretty nifty summary of the Tea Party, come to think of it. But forget “liberals” not wanting to acknowledge that corporations can be considered to be people for legal purposes — Time doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the Tea Party is made up of individual people, either.
It didn’t always used to be like this at Time, though. As stated in the original prospectus for initial investors taking a flyer on the nascent magazine in the early 1920s, Henry Luce’s vision for his magazine was consciously designed to include “a prejudice against the rising cost of government; faith in the things which money cannot buy, a respect for the old, particularly in manners.”
That worldview at Time died along with Luce in early 1967, of course. Today, the only faith Time has is in the form of government and environmentalism as intertwined substitute religions. The only respect the publication can muster for the old are misshapen memories of FDR, and the opportunity to pit dead Republicans against live ones. In contrast, Luce sought to pitch his magazine towards the “man from Main Street” who believed that the word for America is Freedom, because “Without Freedom, America is untranslatable,” as he wrote. But for the elitist Bobos in the editorial bullpen of today’s Time, the Tea Party are definitely NQOCD — Not Quite Our Class, Dear. (Which is why they can be attacked with impunity by the magazine, unlike earlier mass protest groups, to which the post-Luce version of Time often sought to attract reader empathy.
Is Government Dead? Well a form of it is certainly looking awfully sclerotic these days, isn’t it?