Roger L. Simon

Storm Clouds on the Fourth of July

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my country so divided and depressed on the Fourth of July in my lifetime and – no matter what Bob Dylan dreamed up – I’m not young, forever or otherwise. That includes the Vietnam War period when both sides at least had some conviction and excitement for the future, even if wrong. Not so now. The current situation is grim.

Obama is already over. In six short months the now-spattered bumper stickers with “Hope and Change” seem like pathetic remnants from the days of “23 Skidoo,” the echoes of “Yes, we can” more nauseating than ever in their cliché-ridden evasiveness. Although they may pretend otherwise, even Obama’s choir in the mainstream media seems to know he’s finished, their defenses of his wildly over-priced medical and cap-and-trade schemes perfunctory at best. Everyone knows we can’t afford them. His stimulus plan – if you could call it his, maybe it’s Geithner’s, maybe it’s someone else’s, maybe it’s not a plan at all – has produced absolutely nothing. In fact, I have met not one person of any ideology who evinces genuine confidence in it.

On the foreign policy front, it’s more embarrassing. He switches positions every day, such as they are, while acting like a petit-bourgeois snob with our allies and then, when people with genuine passion for democracy emerge on the scene (the courageous Iranian protestors), behaves like a cringeworthy, equivocating creep. Enough of Obama.

Only the Republicans are barely any better. We have yet to hear any original ideas from them and there isn’t a real leader on the horizon, mostly retreads like Gingrich and Romney and disappointments, to put it mildly, like Mark Sanford. I write this only hours after Sarah Palin’s announcement of her resignation as Alaska governor and don’t know yet what to make of that. I certainly agree with those who say the attacks on her were unconscionable, but I challenge her most staunch defenders to say that this is really the kind of person to lead us out of our Twenty-First Century malaise.

The Tea Party Movement has some promise, but it too looks backwards. Madison, Adams and Hamilton were clearly great men, but where are their modern equivalents? Surely we don’t want to rely entirely on ideas honed in the Eighteenth Century, laudatory as many of them are. It’s good to be reminded of them, but it’s also good to have a plan. I haven’t heard one yet, just a lot of no – no to taxes, no to spending, no to socialized medicine. That’s all fine as far as it goes, but it’s not exactly inspiring.

But don’t get me wrong – I love my country. And maybe it’s because I love it so much that I am so depressed. Yes, I know it’s always darkest before the dawn and all that. And I want to “look at the bright side,” as my grandmother always advised. Still, these are dark times and it’s hard to pretend otherwise. Obama’s eager aide-de-camp Rahm Emanuel wants to seize on this as an opportunity – and perhaps he’s right. Only not in the way Emanuel would suggest, ramming through Obama’s ill-conceived notions. No, my suggestion is even more radical. We should junk the liberal and conservative orthodoxies that have divided – and blinded – us for so long and go back not to Eighteenth Century America, but Nineteenth, to the days of that most American of philosophies – pragmatism. “The pragmatists rejected all forms of absolutism and insisted that all principles be regarded as working hypotheses that must bear fruit in lived experience.” Now there’s a thought that might brighten even grumpy me on the Fourth of July.

And speaking of “lived experience,” the darkest times call for the biggest parties. Get drunk and boogie. It may be your last opportunity. (Just kidding – Happy Fourth).