The answer to David Sirota's question o'the day is "We are S-T-U-P-I-D!" The Dumbo pinup girl is dumber than Alaska dirt. The Dubster was a wiseass dumbass. St. Dutch was able to hide his own Easter eggs long before he set foot in the Oval Office. (And Dutch was no tower of mental power at any point in his show-biz career.) However, stupidity isn't the sole possession of those in public life. About 1 in 4 U.S. adults could name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half of that same sample could name at least two members of "The Simpsons," the fictional cartoon family on the Faux Network. And so it goes. The Land O'The Free and the Home O'The Brave ranks in the middle (18th) of the 36 industrialized nations of the world. At the top of the heap? Finland, Japan, and the Republic of (South) Korea. If this is a (fair & balanced) despairing answer to David Sirota's question, so be it.
Why Are We So Willing To Repeat History's Mistakes?
By David Sirota
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Out of all the famous quotations, few better describe this eerily familiar time than those attributed to George Santayana and Yogi Berra. The former, a philosopher, warned that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The latter, a baseball player, stumbled into prophecy by declaring, "It's déjà vu all over again."
As movies give us bad remakes of already bad productions (hello, "Predators"), television resuscitates ancient clowns (howdy, Dee Snider) and music revives pure schlock (I'm looking at you, Devo), we are now surrounded by the obvious mistakes of yesteryear. And it might be funny it might be downright hilarious if only this cycle didn't infect the deadly serious stuff.
Vietnam showed us the perils of occupation, then the Iraq war showed us the same thing and yet now, we are somehow doing it all over again in Afghanistan. The Great Depression underscored the downsides of laissez-faire economics, the Great Recession highlighted the same danger and yet the new financial "reform" bill leaves that laissez-faire attitude largely intact. Ronald Reagan proved the failure of trickle-down tax cuts to spread prosperity before George W. Bush proved the same thing and yet now, in a recession, Congress is considering more tax cuts all over again.
These are but a few examples of mistakes being repeated ad infinitum. In a Yogi Berra country, the jarring lessons of history are remembered as mere flickers of déjà vu if they are remembered at all. Most often, we forget completely, seeing in George Santayana's refrain not a dark warning, but a cheery celebration. And the logical question is: Why? Why have we become so dismissive of history's lessons and therefore so willing to repeat history's mistakes?
Some of it is the modern information miasma. Though the Internet makes eons of history instantly available, the 24-7, moment-to-moment typhoon of cable screamfests, blogs, tweets, e-mail alerts and "breaking news" graphics makes last week's news feel old, and last month's news feel positively paleolithic. Add to this reportage that is increasingly presented with zero context, and it's clear that journalism is sowing mass senility.
Politicians also make significant contributions to the problem. With the age of the permanent campaign intensifying and the era of the long-term electoral majority ending, both parties deliberately focus only on the very recent past and obscure the larger historical record. From the national debt to poverty to the downsides of American empire, Republicans tell us it's all the fault of Democrats' two-year-old reign, while Democrats blame it on Bush's eight-year presidency. This, even though these emergencies developed over decades.
And then, of course, there is ideology.
With the present so radically departing from our past, history has become a damning package of inconvenient truths and those truths are often shunned because they threaten today's most powerful ideological interests.
This is why in the debates over war, economics and taxes, we aren't urged to consider past conflicts; we aren't encouraged to remember that America experienced its most storied growth under the New Deal's aggressive financial regulation; and we aren't told that wages and job growth expanded in the mid-20th century with a top income tax bracket above 70 percent. We aren't reminded of these facts because they threaten the defense industry, Wall Street and high-income taxpayers, respectively and those forces exert enormous influence over our political discourse, whether through media sponsorship, political campaign contributions or lobbying.
No matter the issue, this axiom is the same: When money has a vested interest in burying history, history is inevitably buried, ultimately leading us from Santayana and Berra's aphorisms to Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over again and somehow expecting different results. Ω
[David Sirota attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he earned his bachelor's degree with honors in journalism and political science. Sirota is a political journalist, nationally syndicated weekly newspaper columnist and bestselling author living in Denver, CO. As one of the only national columnists living and reporting outside of Washington, DC, he is widely known for his coverage of political corruption, globalization and working-class economic issues often ignored by both of America’s political parties. David Sirota is the author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our GovernmentAnd How We Take It Back (2006) and The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington (2008).]
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves