November 2, 2021
This issue's contents Current issue My Back Pages Search The Ethical Spectacle

Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace


Despite eight years of Eisenhower, the Democrats were a strong, dominant party from 1932 through the Kennedy assassination and after. The Party has never really recovered from Johnson's decision not to run, Mayor Daley's overreaction to the demonstrations outside the Chicago convention in 1968, and the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, which caused a repositioning of American power-structures and the voter psyche which survived Watergate and was consolidated by Ronald Reagan. Every Democratic President since, from Jimmy Carter through Joe Biden, has been relatively weak, fearful, not in full control of his own party, and has acted as though he lacks a clear electoral power-base, chased from place to place by triumphalist Republican rhetoric (think of the inversion by the dark forces of phrases like "liberal", "secular humanist", and "Black Lives Matter", as well as inventions like "job-killing" and "death panels") and afraid even to end the filibuster.

I am not certain what 2024 holds, but have a pervasive sense we are reenacting Weimar's last years.

Heath insurance

It seems almost irrelevant in this time of violence and lies to be worrying about health insurance. I had a health scare last Spring which involved a trip to the ER and then a visit to my PCP, an MRI, an ultrasound, and some X-rays. I had three kinds of insurance, Medicare, gap insurance, and prescription. I am nonetheless being billed for almlost a thousand bucks in charges, about six hundred of it for the MRI in the ER. Why?

An "own goal"

I am not a sports person-- I have no idea what the Infield Fly Rule is-- but appreciate the Metaphor of the "own goal", defined as: "(in soccer) a goal scored inadvertently when the ball is struck into the goal by a player on the defensive team". It seems a unique historical phenomenon of democracies at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st to commit "own goals"-- I define Brexit as one, and the election here of the Trumpoid Object, and I collect instances of democracies actually voting to end themselves, like the Germans did in 1932 and Algerians almost sixty years later. Of course what is at stake here is whether democracies work, and what it would take to get them to work. I write that not wishing to live under any other system.

Gladstone and Disraeli

As part of my research for the Mad Manuscript, I have been reading eight hundred page bios of both Prime Ministers. They seem Iconic types to me-- Gladstone was the unexceptionable mole-like worker in a democracy; uncharismatic, he knew, like an American House speaker, how to pass legislation, how to get shit done. Disraeli brought to the Tory party the concept of victory at all costs-- he opposed any idea of interparty coalitions to pass legislation, figuring the Tories should simply oppose anything their adversaries wanted, even if they privately believed in it; whenever they won power, they could then pass any needed reform themselves. Gladstone and Disraeli have come to represent for me the Good and Bad Angels of Democracy: we live in a world now which would have made even Disraeli queasy, because at heart he was pragmatic, ready to do the right thing when he was in control. He would not have understood or approved how far the spirit of faction he invented has gone, with vaccinated Republican governors playing to the crazy base (which their party itself created) by issuing anti-vaccine and anti-mask mandates.