John Colson: Hit and Run
Aspen Times Weekly
It’s dejà-vu all over again.
This week, a coterie of Republicans and like-minded stalwarts of right-wing politics trotted out something called The Mount Vernon Statement. Hoary icons from the mythical heights of Ronald Reagan’s presidency came along, including Ed Meese, who was Reagan’s attorney general and is now revered as one of the right-wing’s elder statesmen.
As I listened and read about the media event, which was festooned with imagery from this country’s Revolutionary War era, I was starkly reminded of another media-savvy ploy by Republicans, the Contract On America … er, oops, the Contract With America.
For those unfamiliar with the Contract, it was a public relations move engineered by then-House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, that paragon of social virtue and morality who later abandoned his cancer-stricken wife to marry another woman.
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Gingrich’s political fortunes started to rise in the late 1980s with his war against Democratic Majority Leader Jim Wright, who Gingrich drove from the House speakership as a result of accusations of violations of the chamber’s ethics rules. That strategy – raging against real and imagined ethics violations by Democrats – ultimately catapulted Gingrich into one leadership role after another. But later he was charged with ethics violations of his own and was subjected to a $300,000 fine that, at the time, was reported to be the most serious sanction ever levied by the House against one of its own.
Anyway, the Contract was a wickedly successful ploy, leading to the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 and initiating a Republican resurgence that found full flower in the election of George W. Bush in 2000.
Clearly, the right wing hopes the Mount Vernon Statement will give them a similar boost in the confusing, anger-driven political atmosphere of 2010. They are counting on the ignorance of the American electorate, and its tendency to fall for hype and bombast over substance and intelligence, for good political theater over sound political ideals and policy. It is telling that this is happening at the same time as Sarah Palin’s illogical rise in popularity and prestige, despite her obvious lack of qualifications for national elective office.
But enough of all that, let’s get back to this Mount Vernon Statement.
Really, it does not say much beyond a bunch of empty rhetoric about adhering to the founding principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This is a characteristic tactic of those who have nothing real to offer in terms of future policies, but who are perfectly willing to appropriate the weighty and hard-fought actions of the past to their own present purpose.
What it does, say, however, amounts to a pleading, nostalgic invocation for an America that never existed except in the minds of privileged, wealthy, white pillars of the elite.
The document never mentions the word, or even the concept, of “equality under the law,” which was a founding principle even though it remained unenforced for black citizens until well after the Civil War, and remains an unachieved ideal for far too many Americans today.
The document is vague to the point of vapidity, of little interest to anyone other than those who know that the less said, the better – especially if that “less” is couched in phrases of empty patriotism and pompous negativity.
As for the signing ceremony, its was pure theater.
Dressed in costumes harkening back to the late 1700s, complete with wigs, the signers have affected the curley-cue script that was in vogue at that time and have done all they could do to paint themselves in the image of the tough-minded men who defied an empire and created a nation. The fact that it is all hype, of course, is left to others to note with irony and disgust.
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