Still Waiting

Let’s say you were in Paris on February 17, 1952 – and of course you weren’t (probably) – but let’s say you were there, quietly sipping cognac, alone, and listening to the radio.

Ah, what’s this? Ah, an abridged version of a new play, live from the studio of the Club d’Essai de la Radio – the first performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot – cool.

But Beckett himself didn’t show up at the radio studio that day. He sent a note that was read on air:

I don’t know who Godot is. I don’t even know (above all don’t know) if he exists. And I don’t know if they believe in him or not – those two who are waiting for him. The other two who pass by towards the end of each of the two acts – that must be to break up the monotony. All I knew I showed. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me, by a wide margin. I’ll even say that I would have been satisfied with less. As for wanting to find in all that a broader, loftier meaning to carry away from the performance, along with the program and the Eskimo Pie, I cannot see the point of it.

There you have it. Life is waiting, for something that might not exist and probably won’t show up anyway. Life’s like that, and the full stage version opened on January 5, 1953, at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris. It was a hit. Or it hit a nerve. It became a classic. Beckett, the Irishman who preferred Paris to sad and stagnant dead Ireland, did translate Godot back into English, and the play is famous now, as an existential statement of sorts. Life is marking time. Life is waiting, and then you forget what you’re waiting for. What was it? Who knows now? But you keep waiting anyway. There’s nothing else to do.

This sort of thing has universal applicability. We’re still waiting for that hypothetical Republican Party to show up, the one that was unified in its policies and positions and strategy – protect and reward the highly successful, make sure everyone has a gun, except scary black people and Hispanics, end welfare and disassemble the whole social safety net, outlaw abortion and maybe contraception too, and outlaw labor unions, and close the borders and make gay folks disappear, and go to war as often as possible, to show strength, so no one ever thinks of attacking us ever again, and make America a truly Christian nation, as the founders intended, even if they didn’t. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans do want Christianity to be the official state religion of the United States – yes, the Constitution explicitly forbids establishing a state religion, but the idea is the founders didn’t really mean it – and Republicans pretty much agree on all the rest. It’s just that the party started to fall apart, over tactics. How do you get there from here – compromise for eventual success, or get all hard-ass and force every issue?

They didn’t choose compromise. In September, 2013, we were going into default and the government shutdown would last forever, or at least until Obama caved and gave up on Obamacare, or on all entitlement spending, or abolished the EPA and the IRS, or resigned, or something. It was never clear, but then it was over:

Congressional Republicans conceded defeat on Wednesday in their bitter budget fight with President Obama over the new healthcare law as the House and Senate approved last-minute legislation ending a disruptive 16-day government shutdown and extending federal borrowing power to avert a financial default with potentially worldwide economic repercussions.

With the Treasury Department warning that it could run out of money to pay national obligations within a day, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday evening, 81 to 18, to approve a proposal hammered out by the chamber’s Republican and Democratic leaders after the House on Tuesday was unable to move forward with any resolution. The House followed suit a few hours later, voting 285 to 144 to approve the Senate plan, which would fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7…

And that was that, but Ted Cruz had blown up the party. The shutdown was his idea, and they hated him for it. Approval of the Republican Party dropped to all-time lows, and now the Tea Party was universally despised – although Ted Cruz is their hero now, with the highest approval anyone has seen anywhere in a long time, but that was only among the Tea Party crowd. Others weren’t so happy:

“Goose egg, nothing, we got nothing,” said Representative Thomas H. Massie, Republican of Kentucky.

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina took a swipe at his fellow Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as House members who linked government financing to defunding the health care law, which is financed by its own designated revenues and spending cuts.

“Let’s just say sometimes learning what can’t be accomplished is an important long-term thing,” Mr. Burr said, “and hopefully for some of the members they’ve learned it’s impossible to defund mandatory programs by shutting down the federal government.”

Cruz would have none of that:

“Unfortunately, the Washington establishment is failing to listen to the American people,” he said as he emerged from a meeting of Senate Republicans called to ratify the agreement.

Cruz said his party wasn’t listening the American people, but he was, and at the time, Business Insider’s Josh Barro offered this:

Nothing has changed today to make delay and destruction any more futile than it was yesterday, back when Cruz was in favor of delay and destruction.

The only thing that has changed, I think, is that Ted Cruz has more to lose than to gain by continuing to wreak havoc. He made his point and drastically increased his national profile. He built an army of deluded conservative supporters who adore him. Taking another grandstanding opportunity and pushing this Senate vote back by a day or two won’t raise his profile very much, and it will make his Republican colleagues even more furious with him than they already are.

Republican pundits like Rod Dreher, had had enough of these guys:

I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I hope the House flips to the Democrats in 2014, so we can be rid of these nuts. Let Ted Cruz sit in the Senate stewing in his precious bodily fluids, and let Washington get back to the business of governing.

Daniel Larison thought the same:

After watching the display of the last few weeks, it is hard to argue that Republicans should have control over any part of the government. It is even harder to believe that they should increase what control they have.

And then they cleaned up in 2014 – taking back control of the Senate, barely, and solidifying their hold on the House with a new massive majority – but that didn’t mean they were unified. Many of them still despise Ted Cruz, but now they have a new party member to despise, Rand Paul – not in favor of lots of wars at all, and certainly not taking this scary world seriously, and still a Republican, and quite popular, and running for president. Like Cruz, he is tearing the party apart:

The Capitol Hill impasse over federal surveillance powers continued Monday, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) refused to yield to pressure from the White House and fellow Republicans to step aside and allow the reinstatement of key USA Patriot Act provisions that expired early Monday morning.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) again showed agitation with Paul when he came to the Senate floor Monday afternoon to make a request, requiring unanimous consent, to move up a set of votes scheduled for Tuesday.

“Everyone has had ample opportunity to say their piece at this point,” said McConnell, who has endorsed Paul for president. “Now is the time for action.”

But Paul, as he has done on several occasions in recent weeks, objected: “I think the bill could be made much better with amendments, and if we could come to an arrangement to allow amendments to be voted on, I would be happy to allow my consent.”

That puts the Senate on a path to pass surveillance legislation known as the USA Freedom Act as soon as Tuesday, although pitfalls remain. McConnell has set up votes on three amendments, the passage of any of which would send the bill back to the House, where its fate would be uncertain.

The guy is a pain in the ass, if not dangerous:

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday urged the Senate not to “get into a game where they start adding amendments to this legislation” that would delay Obama from signing the USA Freedom Act into law.

Besides “roving wiretaps,” two other Patriot Act provisions that lapsed Monday are Section 215, which not only justified NSA’s bulk collection but also is used in less controversial fashion to obtain records on individual terrorist suspects, and an authority that permits surveillance on a “lone wolf” suspect who cannot be linked to a specific terrorist group. The latter power has never been used.

Earnest repeatedly declined to say whether Americans were “less safe today” than they were 24 hours earlier, deferring questions to “national security professionals.” CIA Director John Brennan said Sunday that the authorities were “integral to making sure that we’re able to stop terrorists in their tracks.”

Politico has more:

Behind closed doors in the Senate’s Strom Thurmond Room, Republican senators lashed out at the junior Kentucky Republican’s defiant stance to force the expiration of key sections of the PATRIOT Act, a law virtually all of them support. Indiana Sen. Dan Coats’ criticism was perhaps the most biting: He accused the senator of “lying” about the matter in order to raise money for his presidential campaign, according to three people who attended the meeting.

The message may have gotten through to Paul except for one thing: The libertarian-minded senator skipped the hour-long meeting. That only infuriated his colleagues more. …

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted that Paul has missed “a number of meetings” Republicans have held on the PATRIOT Act in recent weeks. He contended there was an obvious political reason for Paul’s stance, pointing out how his colleague was tweeting supporters taking “selfies” of themselves next to Paul speaking on TV.

“I know what this is about – I think it’s very clear – this is, to some degree, a fundraising exercise,” McCain said Sunday. “He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation.”

The stinging personal criticism of Paul showed just how unpopular the Kentucky Republican’s demands to kill the surveillance law is among party elders – and portended how this battle is likely to continue to hover over his presidential campaign, for better or worse. It marked the first time in Paul’s brief tenure in Washington where he’s become the scourge of much of his party – not unlike how the party establishment turned on Ted Cruz over his role in the 2013 government shutdown.

Like Cruz, Paul is clearly relishing it.

“Tonight begins the process of ending bulk collection,” Paul said proudly on the Senate floor, just hours before the expiration of key provisions in the law. And in a sign of the ill will between him and his colleagues, Paul took a personal whack of his own.

“People here in town think I’m making a huge mistake,” he said. “Some of them, I think, secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.”

He later took that back, saying he was just a little worked up at the time, but the damage was done:

After skipping the GOP meeting, Paul appeared for a tense floor debate between him and his colleagues, including the man who has endorsed him for president: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentuckian. The GOP leader was incensed at Paul’s refusal to allow a two-week renewal of far-less controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act: The use of roving wiretaps for terrorism suspects that change phone numbers quickly and “lone wolf” provisions that allow tracking of suspects who are not affiliated with known terrorist groups.

Just as McConnell attempted to pass a short-term extension, Paul launched into his own impassioned speech – only to be shouted down by his colleagues.

And this did not end well:

To overcome Paul’s delay tactics, McConnell was forced to employ a rarely used prerogative to force senators to debate after a filibuster has been broken, allowing him to move to final passage as early as Tuesday.

As that vote was occurring, Paul was sitting at his desk. He huddled with two libertarian-minded House members: GOP Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. His fellow 2016 rivals, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, were yukking it up nearby with a small group of senators. (Rubio voted against proceeding to the House bill, while Cruz supported it.)

In an interview, Amash said Paul’s positions are supported “overwhelmingly” by voters of “all political affiliations.”

“It’s not politically risky to stand with the vast majority of Americans,” Amash said. “I’m astonished when I hear Republican candidates in particular speak as though people want the PATRIOT Act. They don’t.”

“He’s exposing the country to the Constitution,” Massie added. “And the senators that think that’s dangerous are saying the Constitution’s dangerous.”

Several dozen Paul supporters sat in the Senate gallery on Sunday night clad in red “Rand” T-shirts.

So, where’s this unified Republican Party we’ve been waiting for, the one that’s supposed to show up for the 2016 presidential election? It seems we’re in that odd Samuel Beckett play, but Slate’s John Dickerson adds this:

On Sunday night, Paul took to the Senate floor to continue his fight against the government’s bulk collection of metadata. By any objective measure, he was raising important questions. The first was whether the government has gone too far in its fight against terrorists. As a constitutional conservative who has argued this ground before, it wasn’t surprising he made this case. In fact, it aligns with the central tenets of the conservative bloc of the Republican Party that believes that lawmakers should remain vigilant about ceding too much power to government. It was in keeping with William Buckley’s line about conservatives being the ones who stand athwart history and yell “stop.”

There was, then, no reason for his colleagues to get on his case, and this could be useful to them:

So far in the Republican primary process the national security debate has been thin: Obama is weak and the proper response is strength. Whether you agree with Paul’s national security positions or not, he has interjected some complexity into the conversation that might force the debate into something more than a choice between “weak” and “strong.” Doing so will give voters a better window into the foreign policy views the candidates actually do hold, and presumably that would help voters make a better choice.

Rick Santorum was having none of that:

“You know, Rand, this is not about you. I know some people get into politics and they get full of all the press clippings they get. But this is not about one person, this is about what is in the best interest of our country, and we have far too many politicians in Washington who think everything is about them. I can tell you. I get it. You get all this media chasing you around, you think you’re really important, you think you are the center of attention, but the bottom line is this is about the national security of our country, the men and women who have fought and died to keep our country safe, and we are putting American lives in jeopardy and that’s just not about a person.”

Santorum is running for president too, and doing badly, so this outburst wasn’t surprising, but Dickerson adds this:

The Paul forces see this as a classic case of Washington versus the rest of America. Paul is advocating a position that has support out in the country, his advisers believe, and it only highlights how disconnected the Senate is from the real world. Other Republican strategists make the obvious case that it riles up Paul’s base and adds to his campaign coffers, which he needs.

But that’s dangerous:

Paul’s public fight and partial successes battling for his cause might bring in the group of nontraditional voters Paul hopes will give him a leg up in the Republican contests. But, while it might expand his chances in one area, it is going to create difficulties among traditional national security Republicans. Those voters are hearing a constant drumbeat from other Republicans that the world is more dangerous than ever and that Paul is weak on national defense. Hillary Clinton, they will argue, is to the right of Paul on foreign policy. For primary and caucus voters who care about national defense, this is going to make it harder to embrace Paul as the candidate who will ensure safety.

And then, right on cue, as all this was happening, the other side of the party stood up:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) launched his campaign for president Monday on the promise of a muscular national security strategy, hoisting his bitter rivalry with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) from the Senate chamber onto the 2016 campaign trail.

As he kicked off his long-anticipated presidential bid in his home town of Central, S.C., Graham never mentioned Paul by name. He didn’t have to. The two have been openly fighting for months.

“I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us,” Graham said. “Not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them.”

He later added, “The Obama administration and some of my colleagues in Congress have substituted wishful thinking for sound national security strategy.”

And he’s not alone, so he speaks for others:

Graham is in lock-step with most of the Republican field in emphasizing aggressive foreign policies amid rising concerns about the Islamic State and other terrorist threats. But his long-standing feud with Paul has stood out among his rivals for its length, its vigor and its bitterness.

Graham entered the race a day after the National Security Agency’s authority for bulk collection of telephone records expired as Paul used a Senate procedural tactic to run out the clock. Graham, like most Republicans running for president, disagreed sharply – and very publicly – with Paul’s move. As Paul spoke about the issue on the Senate floor late last month, Graham rolled his eyes, attracting widespread attention – including the attention of the Paul team, which began tweeting footage of the eye-roll.

That may not have been wise:

Polls show Americans increasingly worried about terror threats and most GOP candidates have rushed to embrace the staunchly hawkish views espoused by Graham. For Graham, this development has been the best possible scenario – and the worst. With most of the field adopting some version of his outlook, it has left him little room to distinguish himself from a crop of fresher, better-funded hopefuls with similar talking points.

Graham’s strategy to stand out: emphasizing his deep experience dealing with foreign affairs, from his time in the military to his many years of service on relevant congressional committees.

“I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race. That includes you, Hillary,” he said Monday, jabbing at the Democratic front-runner, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Fine, but of the nineteen or so Republican running, or thinking of running, he polls at or near the bottom – so someone else will have to be Not Rand Paul. Many can do that. America can wait until they sort all this out, but may not.

Will Bunch addresses that:

On foreign policy, the dude still wants to party like it’s 2003, in his beloved country of orange terror alerts and bad guys hiding in your shrubbery.

Graham never met a war he didn’t like, and it’s not clear if he wants to be the next POTUS or commissioner of the Thought Police. He once said famously: “If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining Al Qaeda or ISIL, I’m not gonna call a judge. I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you.” That’s the kind of thing that won’t get you to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – but it may net Graham a few votes in Iowa or his home base, the Palmetto State.

And that kind of thing is a big problem for the GOP. With a looming vacancy in the Oval Office, there’s little incentive for any and all manner of Republicans not to throw his or her hat into the ring. After all, running for president is a kind of fun job if you’re on any kind of ego trip – when you know that a lucrative gig as a lobbyist (look at how much blackmail cash Denny Hastert earned in such a short time) or a Fox News commentator is guaranteed on the other side.

That doesn’t make for a healthy political party:

The best known, best funded candidate, Jeb Bush, is actively disliked by the party’s base. Others – like freshmen senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz – have small rabid followings that aren’t going to grow any bigger, while the Mike Huckabees and Rick Santorums are yesterday’s news. The only candidate I see with breakout potential is what TV experts used to call “the least objectionable program,” a dim bulb named Scott Walker. It seems not only possible but likely that the winners in Iowa and New Hampshire will have less than 20 percent of the vote, and a limited delegate haul. All this raises the specter of the great white whale of American politics that had seemed likely to never surface again – the brokered convention.

It’s also worth noting that of all the people who want to be president, the second most popular right now – ahead of Bush, Walker and the rest – is the democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders. But the 2nd place Democrat doesn’t make it to the finals; that honor will go to whoever emerges from the Cirque du GOP. And then what if Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee stumbles?

That really is the end:

Will the fringe candidate who tallied 19 percent of the primary votes (or who got picked in a smoke-filled room in Cleveland) of an increasingly fringe party that denies science and that is increasingly out of step with the public on an array of social issues actually take the oath on 1/20/17? Or will the fall 2016 general election be as much of a joke as the Republican primaries are fast becoming? I think even most liberals agree the GOP’s self-immolation is bad for democracy, bad for America.

No, it’s not, but here we all sit, like those two guys in the Samuel Beckett play, waiting for something that’s not coming, something that may not even exist – Godot or the Republican Party or whatever. But you keep waiting anyway.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Still Waiting

  1. Rick says:

    Like the Republicans, but for completely different reasons, I don’t like Rand Paul either.

    Still, I am not so quick to trash-talk him on this PATRIOT Act/Freedom Bill stuff, even to accuse him of just trying to raise campaign money. I think the country was way too quick to jettison all our long-cherished American beliefs after 9/11, so much so that we find ourselves accepting their demise with nary a look backward. After all, who even knows what’s in these confusing bills? Just pass the goddam things and get it over with.

    And no, I’m not just talking about Republicans here; it’s also Democrats, and even President Obama. As much as I like his occasional liberal inclinations, I have to admit that, most the time, he’s to the right of me.

    And as much as I don’t take to the libertarian tendency to adhere to what I consider stupid Ayn-Randish ideas, especially worshiping all those lone-wolf architects and whatnot who always seem to be sneering at “the masses”, at least libertarians have the courage to stick to their principles, unlike some people:

    [Lindsey] Graham … once said famously: “If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining Al Qaeda or ISIL, I’m not gonna call a judge. I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you.”

    Can’t a lawyer get disbarred for getting caught saying something like that? I mean, don’t they swear some binding oath, affirming their belief in the “rule of law”, or something?

    Still, there’s that old 1960s saying — “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music” — and so maybe Graham can be excused, since he isn’t a real lawyer, he’s a military lawyer. But even then, one would assume he was more of a military lawyer than a military soldier, which makes you wonder what he was thinking when he said this:

    “I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race. That includes you, Hillary,” he said Monday, jabbing at the Democratic front-runner, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    “National Security” experience? Really? And so how many years being a hammer should qualify you to become chief carpenter?

    But I guess it doesn’t really matter what Graham says, since he’s just the latest also-ran to cram himself into the Republican clown-car — which raises the question of whether all these candidates actually think they’re helping their party do what it needs to do 2016.

    Rick

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