FULL disclosure, clipped from yesterday in my never-ending quest to provide a succinct summation of the Day's Events: Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., who has too many consonants in his name, and whom I, lover of the Coen Brothers earlier, funnier films, am always in danger of calling "M. Emmet [sic] Tyrrell" (or simply "sic"), once provided my mother-in-law with a "Nuke the Whales" t-shirt, or else with the necessary purchasing information for the one she gave me one Christmas, after I'd laughed about the one he was wearing--I must be remembering this correctly, since it'd be too bizarre to have hallucinated, even for those days--in a late-70s People magazine profile. I hadn't asked for one; I'd just laughed at the gag, which was later to be driven so far into the ground that pneumatic caissons were required to keep the gagsters from developing the bends. As I remember it he lived near them--maybe in the bunkhouse of Bircherite Channel Four founder Sarkes Tarzian, who later, I think, moved entirely underground. My in-laws found Tyrrell more than a little distasteful--which couldn't have been caused by political differences--and mom-in-law said he balked more than once about coughing up the shirt. For all I know it may be the one he wore; if I'd'a known she was doing it I would have requested he autograph it.
At any rate, the thing turned out to be powder blue, which is a color I'd already sworn off wearing after my sister's wedding, which dates to the same period. Not that there really was any question. And so I think it's still folded up in a box in the basement, so that under the right set of circumstances, Tyrrell DNA could still be recovered from the thing. Better go find it and run it through the HOT cycle two or three times.
Two things: first, I hadn't asked for it, and then I had to act seasonally joyous to get it, and there was no question of my explaining that what I'd found funny was the self-deprecating humor of the thing, which wouldn't translate if I were the one wearing it. Though, to be perfectly honest about it, I'd been subject to walking through the IU Student Activities Center on a regular basis, where some Ur-PETA had commandeered a table and a Victrola in order to play Songs of the Humpback Whale unceasingly and at high volume while begging for Spare Change, which prompted my friend Gary to approach them one day and ask if they'd dedicate the next one to his girlfriend. (He had a talent for such things. He's the same Gary who called a local AOR station earlier in the decade and asked the jock, "Do you take requests, or are you personally responsible for the shit coming out of my radio?") Second, the illustration was funny, if somewhat crudely executed: a friendly, smiling whale with a mushroom cloud coming out of his blowhole. The cartoonishness made the violence acceptable and let more people in on the joke.
So when I thought about that shirt yesterday, and went looking for the People illustration, I was prepared to find that some people think this sort of thing still sells, but, really, not that they'd illustrate it with a knee-slappingly indiscriminate strike at ocean life. But then, you know, Meh.
Anyway, this got me thinking about political slogans which have held on like kudzu despite everything changing underneath. And about the fact that I used to imagine wingnuts engaging in self-deprecating humor.
I mean, "conservatism", back when one might have considered typing it without the quotes, used to be about conserving values; now it's about enshrining data points from a June afternoon when the sun was particularly flattering to its own dog's ass. Flag decals still announce one's support of spending American blood and American treasure, if any, in hopeless overseas gestures, despite their earlier invocation having resulted in loss of blood, gilt, and international standing. Tax cutting and Smaller Government are still wowin' 'em at the bumpersticker factory, despite their being a) disastrous or b) chimerical. A "Conservative" is still a liberal who's been mugged, except that "mugged" has been redefined as "forced to pay minimum wage to brown people". "Drive 90: Let the Yankees Freeze In The Dark" is about the only one that's disappeared. Not that I've forgotten it.
"Fiscal conservatism" and "free markets" still make a strong showing, despite five Republican administrations resulting in two major banking meltdowns which directly resulted from gaming the rules, not reforming them; and which are to be made good through what is described, in other, more favorable-to-the-GOP situations, as "seizing your money", "You" being the long-suffering Taxpayer whose side they take. (If nothing else, one has to admire the dedicated husbandry that goes into maintaining the breeding stock: David Brooks, for example, hasn't written a word about gas prices since July, and then only to suggest, in passing, that they shouldn't be as big a campaign issue as Folks think they oughta be; it's remarkable how stupid the public becomes, and how fast, when it starts meddling with the economic intentions of its erstwhile champions.) Still, somebody has to be paying attention. Right?
The Bush administration, the Fed and Congress, meanwhile, continue to focus on the immediate crises, with little attention to the underlying reasons that the economy has gotten into this mess — a stagnation of incomes, an explosion of debt and a decidedly outdated, and limp, approach to government oversight. Remarkably, the presidential campaign has gotten less serious, while the economy’s problems have become more so.
I'm sorry, did you just say "remarkably"? You're a young man, Mr. Leonhardt, but a smart one, and you work for the New York Times. Search the archives for "1988 Presidential campaign" and "any mention of the multi-billion-dollar bailout of S&L criminals". If you find one kindly report it. It's been missing for twenty years now.
A good way to see the problems with a fingers-in-the-dikes strategy is to look back to the first big bailout of modern times. Before A.I.G., before Fannie and Freddie, before Bear Stearns, there was Chrysler.
Okay, let's just zip this along: sure, the Chrysler "bailout" was a roaring success, and returned a premium to the US Treasury, ahead of time, even, but it allowed the Big Three to pursue antiquated ideas and production techniques without fear of failure, leading to the present climate of...
Is there someone, somewhere, who really believes that? That major corporations are run like preteen slumber parties? That in 1978 executives at the two largest auto manufacturers in the world were utterly flabbergasted by the realization they were too big to fail? That under the circumstances they'd just as soon not bother to succeed? Olly, Olly Oxen-fuckin'-Free, the Democrats have opened the Treasury?
Bullshit. Whatever's wrong with management culture in Detroit--and it's a small internet; I'm not sure there's room enough to cover it--it's not this sort of crappy Welfare Cadillac For Rich, Well-Born Idiots routine the hidebound free-market mouseketeers hope to peddle. You think a lightbulb suddenly went on over Hank the Duce's head? They just then decided they could push the Government around? For cryin' out fuckin' loud, by 1978 the Big Three were more than fifteen years into tying the Gee in knots over mandated safety, emissions, and milage regulations. It's kinda curious that today's free marketers don't remember that, or how working to meet, rather than defeat, government-imposed standards would have meant The Big Three would have been producing the sort of cars Americans wanted after Gas Crisis #1, reducing the impact of the Germans and the Japanese. For that matter, maybe Ford picked up some notions about the relationship between Big and Washington in WWII, when friendly military brass slipped it American Bantam's Jeep blueprints.
But then, y'know, that's always the risk when you try to turn the evils of Government Intervention (even when it works) into simple Morality tales: you take one step back too many, trying to get the bigger picture, and you fall into an even worse pit of cess, and no "principled" way out without eating some.