Yes, We Could

I guess one of the most depressing things about getting older is realizing that, just like Grandpa used to say, (or, in my case, my crazy grandmother, Etta…), since one’s youth, things really have indeed gone downhill.  Growing up in Oregon in the 60′s and 70′s was a little bit like living in the socialist hellhole the right never tires of invoking, but it was, for those of us who lived here, pretty good.  Marijuana had been decriminalized, Vietnam had, we thought, taught everyone a bit about the futility of imperial wars, and our Republican senators and governor, with their vocal and successful advancement of numerous progressive goals, would have made Barack Obama look like Barry Goldwater.

It was Republican Governor Tom McCall who shepherded our landmark land use laws, coastal protection, and Bottle Bill through the legislature, and rebounded from retirement years later against right-wing “property rights” activists to preserve that legacy, during his final bout with testicular cancer which had rendered him, in his own words, “one-ball McCall.”  Republican senator Mark Hatfield was a lonely and eloquent voice against not just Vietnam but also Desert Storm, and for all his flaws, which included being a closeted gay man unwilling to stand up for gay rights, he not only represented Oregon values when it counted the most, but also brought home the bacon like there was no tomorrow.  Even ol’ Bob Packwood, that scamp, whom I had the pleasure of meeting once as he shamelessly flirted with the girls in my history class, had an equally complicated record that I rarely supported, but his staunch support for women’s rights, including the right to legal abortion, would put many of our current Democratic senators to shame.

What has happened to our country since those days, had someone tried to predict it to me at the time, I would have dismissed as insane nonsense, but not anymore.  The first cracks appeared with the election of Reagan, which happened to just precede my eligibility for the draft, and lo and behold, the hated Selective Service was brought back, and registration therewith had even been made mandatory for those of us who might be available for what little college aid was left in The Great Communicator’s wake.  The first shoots of the aggressive militarism that finally bloomed into one of those stinky flowers they grow in Asia when George W. Bush came into office were clearly, an unapologetically, planted at that moment.  Then came the War on Drugs and the ruinous tax cuts and military buildup.  Then came, perhaps worst of all, the relentlessly marketed idea that Government Can’t Do Anything, which has now seeped into our pores like the toxic gunk with which we continue to be assaulted.

Now, this ought to have been a pretty tough sell for the kids of my generation.  We had, after all, just put a man on the moon, among other things, that looked pretty good to most observers.  And locally, I personally saw many great public endeavors reach fruition, like the Fremont Bridge in the picture, which mesmerized me as it rose from the ground with its fantastically high and numerous concrete monoliths, but to top it all off, they floated the middle piece down the river and lifted it into place, and the danged thing fit perfectly.  Mission Accomplished.  No Michael Browns were evidently involved.

It’s sad, really, that as we live in and begin to assess the supposedly progressive presidency of Barack Obama, we see that government has lost, almost completely, its ability to do great things, and thus its inability to inspire.  In our militarized austerity of the last few decades, we do see nothing but the waste, incompetence, and self-dealing Republicans love to crow about even as they engage in it most lavishly themselves, and are paradoxically taught that this is just the way things are.  And for people who don’t remember the  quite recent past, of whom there are way too many (mostly in the media…), there has been little evidence to the contrary.  What few bridges we’ve built, even as we’ve burned so many, either lead to nowhere or are in Baghdad; I hope the ones we built in a more rational era last a while.  We could, back then, do a lot of things we just can’t anymore.


  1. michlib says:

    Republic party hacks love to run on the mantra that government can’t do anything, and if elected, they prove it. They wail against redistribution of wealth – except when it has been upwards. They lecture our poorest citizens with nostrums on self-reliance, hard work, and ” ownership society ” Frank Lundisms, while raising crony capitalism and nepotism to state policy.
    Blessed it must be to live in a world where all problems have one of three solutions – tax cuts, more de-regulation, or a combination of both. For foreign policy, only one solution exists in the Repulicants quiver – military force.
    It will be fun watching the tea bagger wing of the party and corporatist wing of the party battle the religious right. Start the popcorn.

    • cocktailhag says:

      There was this guy on Thom Hartmann today from the Ayn Rand Institute who insisted, not unpredictably, that the Gulf oil spill proved that business knows best, etc., calling it “socialist” for government to require any safeguards. It was like listening to an Alzheimer’s patient.

      • Skeptic says:

        Most of the time, I wonder if Rand’s apologists have ever really read any of her books. If they had, they’d know that she valued competence very highly and ranked incompetence somewhere below the curb. Somewhere in those novels, I distinctly remember reading “value for value.”

        Of course, I am in no way an apologist for Rand, but even so, it’s a shame to see her tenets so sadly abused.

        • cocktailhag says:

          Indeed. In order to “go Galt,” one must have something to go Galt from. Today’s Randians are more about thievery and incompetence than “producing.”

          • sysprog says:

            Once while I was driving through an industrial wasteland in South Jersey somewhere between Trenton and Camden I happened upon a road named “John Galt Way.”

            I told a friend of mine about it and my fried immediately responded, “I bet it’s a long boring road going nowhere.”

          • cocktailhag says:

            The company that was hired to dismantle the Deutsche Bank building damaged on September 11 was an outfit called “John Galt.” Naturally, they racked up an impressive array of safety violations that eventually led to a fire that killed firefighters. (I guess they were just “parasites.”)

  2. After much wringing of hands and counting of pennies, I’ve finally bought the e-book reader I’ve been promising myself since 1970, long before they actually existed.

    My first book, as it happens, is C. McCarthy’s The Road. It fits the mood this evening surprisingly well — with Tom off roasting a baby somewhere, we can forget about what is, and devote a moment to contemplating what might have been.

    Twenty years from now, no one will believe what you’ve written here. For now, though, there are still a few of us left who can confirm that every word of it is true.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Is that the post-apocalyptic story? If so, it’s a coincidence; some friends of mine watched the movie over the weekend and told me about it. Congratulations on your new toy!

      • Yes, that’s what it appears to be on the surface, every middle-class white American’s worst nightmare. What if all of this — the stuff that Tom figures is his by right — is, in fact an illusion, and a poisonous one at that? What’s left to keep us going then?

        It’s very much a kind of Zen meditation, if you can imagine a Zen meditation practiced by a self-regarding dyspeptic with a fondness for chiseling words into his own personal slab of imaginary marble.

        It’s a tedious book on one level, but in the end an engaging one, which achieves its aims largely because we aren’t as different from the author as we’d like to think.

  3. dirigo says:

    Well it would be a big help I’m sure to the people trying to stop the oil flow in the Gulf to have as many opinionators as possible on deck, temporizing on various ideologies 24/7, in support of the effort to finally stick a cork in the pipe down there.

    More talk would be greatly appreciated. That’s the ticket.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Don’t forget the people tasked with thinking up cute names for each failed Rube Goldberg scheme to plug the hole… These people are working overtime. (Maybe they used to work for the paint industry, thinking up color names?)

      • dirigo says:

        Tickets should be sold so people can board a couple of cruise ships, or as many ships as there are takers, so all the kibitzers can stand on deck, commenting, tut-tutting, and pointing fingers – at each other and toward the bubbling blob in the distance.

        I have no doubt there would be a usable utterance among the vast throng, something that could lead to the right corking maneuver, thus stopping the awful flow.

        Hosts on the ships could be: James Cameron, Kevin Costner, Michael Brown?

  4. nailheadtom says:

    “And locally, I personally saw many great public endeavors reach fruition, like the Fremont Bridge. . . .”

    The bridge wasn’t built by the “Federal Dept. of Bridge Erection” or the “Oregon State Water Crossing Bureau” or the “City of Portland Spanning Commission”. It was built by a private contractor, with materials supplied by private companies. What was your point again?

    • dirigo says:

      Say, Tom, how about a comp ticket on one of those Gulf cruise ships I mentioned?

      In exchange for some sun and fun, you can report, on a blow by blow basis, subject to the dictates of editorial discretion (Don’t scare the children!), the heroic free enterprise effort to put a cork in the big, gushing oil pipe a mile down in the murky waters.

      I’m sure the worldwide Cocktailhag News Network audience will thrill to your every utterance, observation, and masterful ideological huzzahs, in support of the great, albeit somewhat benighted, international conglomerate – its prescient leaders and faithful servants (not to mention armies of minimum wage casual workers in green tees) – as they tackle the untackleable, corral the uncorralable, and otherwise tame the untameable, mighty spew.

      How ’bout it, rube?

    • cocktailhag says:

      No, Bozo, just as Hoover Dam was built by Bechtel, few government projects are built by some commie drones. The point is whether they’re any good or not, and only more liberal governments bother with that consideration.