Philip Terzian’s petulant Weekly Standard column, Slouching Towards Washington, is no less instructive for being petulant. His thesis, that the press always welcomes a shift from Republican to Democratic administration but not vice-versa, is debatable. But, by detailing some of the honeymoon punditry of the past, he reminds us of the pitfalls that lie in Barack Obama’s path.
In tying current coverage of the incoming Obama administration to past coverage of incoming presidents, Terzian does create a bit of false equivalency. If the salons of Washington and New York sighed in relief the day Jimmy Carter restored Democratic rule, the whole world will sigh in relief when Barack Obama does so. And there are good reasons for that fact that Terzian does not explore. Having said that, there is a surface familiarity in the following:
Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency was so catastrophic that, in retrospect, we tend to forget the circumstances under which he took office in 1976-77. After eight years of Republican rule, featuring the dead weight of the Vietnam war, the oil embargo, and the Watergate scandal, it was, so far as the press was concerned, as if a great menacing army had besieged the body politic since Nixon’s election and been thrown back, at long last, into retreat, perhaps forever.
Yet, the menacing army (Al Haig, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld) would return again…and again. There is a real, if somewhat deluded, sense in which the left would like to believe that the Republicans (of Watergate, of Iran-Contra, of the Niger documents and Downing Street Minutes) are some aberration. Rather than see them as the semi-dominant force of the last forty years of political power in Washington, we’d like to believe that they are merely some disturbance in The Force. Our positive vision of our country does not, and cannot, include them. But they never go away. They are always there, ready to retake the reins of power and lead us into dark places.
There is always some stumbling block upon which Democrats falter and open the door, again, for right-wing rule:
Of course, this is all amusingly quaint three decades later, and during the Carter Transition, nobody mentioned gas lines or Iran or inflation or national malaise or anticipated a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. During the Clinton/Bush Transition in 2000-01, the phrase “War on Terror” was nowhere heard, or even pronounced.
This may seem astonishing in retrospect, but reassuring as well. Especially now, in the middle of the Bush/Obama Transition, when the prose is particularly lurid, and America slouches toward another Bethlehem to be reborn.
Here we see Terzian openly finding hope in the surety that our nation will find new crises, through which the Republicans can create division and find their way back to the White House. We’ve seen this before: a communist revolution in China, a faltering war in east Asia, gas lines and a hostage crisis, or fellatio in the Oval Office…there will always be something, some doorway that leads back to the Dark Side. Obama’s job is twofold. First, don’t believe the hype. Second, put a stake in the heart of the movement that has shadowed us from Liddy to North to Libby. Shine a light on these folks, or they will be back.