Largely, I haven't said anything about politics lately because I've had other things on my plate. (This isn't to imply that politics isn't important. It's just that, as I once observed, there's no international crisis so major that it can't be interrupted by a small, stupid crisis close to home.)
This has been true even though one branch of my government has just debated and passed a bill that freaking legalizes torture and the indefinite disappearance of anyone the president considers a terrorist. Or perhaps even more true: After all, what the hell is there to say? How far have we fallen that Americans of good conscience have to specifically state, "I don't think our country should be legalizing torture and secret extrajudicial detention of suspected enemies"?
Ah, but now we have a scandal threatening to tear the GOP apart -- the whole Mark Foley sexual-pursuit-of-pages thing. Now that's worth my time to comment on!
... In a meta sort of way, anyhow. See, here's the thing. The nonstop Foley coverage has crystallized something that's been bouncing around in my head the last few weeks: I now have to say, with some regret, that I expect America as we know it to end within my lifetime.
I'm not sure what end is most likely. It might be a simple slide into coup, destruction of constitutional principle, and petty fascist dictatorship. A lasting shutdown of oil imports might spiral into anarchy. A power-mad president might lead a war of expansion, Germany-in-the-1930s-style, that ends up with the U.S. being defeated and invaded by whatever country is able to amass enough military force to fight back. Or that world war might end with nuclear holocaust. Maybe another Lincoln-era-style secession by Jesusland. Hell, maybe California walks into the ocean on December 12, 2012 and I get to drown before any of this goes down; all I'm trying to observe here is the big picture.
I really, really hope I'm wrong. Granted, the last time I said "I hope I'm wrong" -- as the currently fashionable-among-right-wingers "hindsight bias" fad reminds me to cite -- I went on to spotlessly predict our descent into Iraq madness, going 6 for 6* in my fears of clusterfuck.
Back then, I didn't see my fears as an inevitability, just as the outcome the evidence favored. Today, I don't think America is inevitably dead -- but I don't think anything as simple as a Democratic win in November will fix it. (Of course, if the GOP maintains control through 2008, I may have to revise my USA-death timeline up significantly.) There are deep problems with our culture and political system, deeper problems than fresh faces can fix. I don't think a swing left will bring us to where we can address these problems, merely the short-term ones. Democratic control can prevent Bush from dragging us down -- to be honest, I don't expect Bush to be the one to end America -- but I don't think Democratic control will fix the country.
So what does this have to do with Mark Foley?
It's simple. As far as I can tell, the public didn't care about the torture bill. This was such a flagrant attack on American principles that we should have seen streets full of protesters countrywide and worldwide. But Democratic politicians dithered in silence and finally tepidly voted against it, Republican politicians supported it almost to a man, and howls of outrage among the intellectual classes mostly preached to the choir. Meanwhile, just let one senator cyber a couple of teenagers, and suddenly the country's up in arms.
Although there's a political problem here (how could even the Democrats in the Senate only have a 75% anti-torture vote?!), that's not what's going to destroy America. The cultural problem -- which is to say, the public's laser focus on sexual scandal to the exclusion of, oh, everything else our leaders have bungled these 6 years (and, since it's not mentioned there, don't forget New Orleans) ...
... No, more than that, and simpler than that. When we have a public that doesn't care about torture but goes into hysterics about sexual immorality, the door is open. There is now literally nothing that can happen in Washington that the American public has shown it will give a fuck about, unless it happens to involve the diddling of Our Precious Children.
As a leftist with "I told you so" credibility stretching as far back as pre-Iraq War, I've sat and watched the current administration destroy piece after piece of the country I loved in its blind, partisan flailings. In 2004, I tried to tell myself that Bush's re-election didn't mean anything, that even though the public had shown a remarkable collective blindness to the failings of our Worst President Ever, we could ride out the next four years and let folks stay asleep.
But now it's come to torture, and if America hasn't woken up yet, it's going to sleep through the crash.
I'm not seeing any realistic method by which this trend can be turned around. At the very least, it would have to start with impeachment and war crimes trials. I'm not going to deny those might happen -- and, boy, would it be nice to ITMFA -- but America's problem isn't actually George W. Bush.
America's problem is that it's gotten the leadership it deserves.
* Possibly 5 for 6, if you want to argue how many deaths it takes to kill "lots of people," but that's still an impressive batting average.