It's especially easy to do this time around because Iraq is so much like Vietnam. It's an attempt to “win” a land war in Asia where there is no effective opposition from those Atrios lovingly calls “dirty fucking hippies.” And it has failed.
So we have historians like Rick Perlstein (left) spending their time going over the last crisis period, from 1965-72, thinking they can find the lessons that will keep things from going wrong this time. What he may find is short-term fame and glory.
That's what Richard Hofstadter (right) found doing much the same thing in the run-up to that very crisis.
I have tackled Hofstadter before here. Books like The Age of Reform were seen as ground-breaking when I was a child, and were still required reading for me in college. But what gave Hofstadter his apparent depth was the fact that the previous two crises were economic in nature.
The 1896 crisis which gave us Populism and Rrogressivism, and the 1932 crisis that gave us the New Deal, both involved economic questions like labor's relationship with capital, and business' relationship with government. They resulted in a host of reforms the Bush Administration has (ironically) spent much of its domestic energy fighting to undo – economic regulation, antitrust, labor law, a progressive income tax. His is truly a bridge to the 19th century.
And to nowhere. Because the next crisis is not the last crisis any more than the last crisis was the one before. At the end of Hofstadter's life he became completely absorbed in the crisis before him, writing The Paranoid Style in American Politics, which endorsed the coming Nixon Thesis of Conflict. The result of his own vision, in other words, was to only see the next hill.
I think we can do more.
A clear understanding of American history shows us merely that there are cycles, that they have a cause in crises that, while predictable, are nevertheless opaque, that each crisis is different, and that the answer to dealing with each new crisis lies in new media and new values, taught by new myths that emerge out of the previous antithesis.
The next crisis is so immense we are doing everything possible to avoid looking at it. The harbinger, the destruction of a major American city, and its descent into barbarism, a “politics” that increasingly looks African in its viciousness and tribalism , with calls for reform unheard and only grasping for power understood – this is our future. This is what we must be fighting to avoid.
Look this man in the eye and realize there is nothing he will not stoop to to retain power, and that the same thing is true for his white counterparts elsewhere in the zone of ruin.
It is past time we got off our collective asses and started facing it. The next zone of ruin may be your city, your state, definitely your country. Consensus will be needed to face it, because narrow majorities only bring you fools like Ray Nagin and William Jefferson, Haley Barbour and Trent Lott.