US Politics & the Myth of the Pendulum Swing

Pacified & Lulled, Still Waiting for the Pendulum to Swing

PendIt was a rainy April day in 2004, and I was in the office of one of my professors at the university’s Public Policy Graduate Department. I was having one of those defeated and disillusioned moments that kept recurring during that time period. I think you would have found it justifiable: I had been slapped with two separate gag orders via two separate invocations of state secrets privilege, I had just witnessed the Congress being hit with another gag order in my case via retroactive classification issued by the Justice Department, we were at war in Iraq based on lies, the PATRIOT ACT was in full swing, secret kidnapping and detention operations by our paramilitary were taking place all over the world, congressional corruption and revolving door scandals were popping up one after another…So, you see, all this and being almost at the end of my masters program specializing in US public policy, where what we were taught didn’t match reality on the ground (US politics and government) whatsoever, gave me a certain degree of justification for feeling  the way I felt that day.

Sitting across from my professor I threw out the questions: Why can’t I see a single instance of practices indicative of our so-called system of checks and balances? Isn’t it more like three illusionary branches but actually one system serving the interests of a very few? Isn’t our nation headed towards a police state; fast and furiously? How do all these in-theory-only fanciful policy concepts apply to real-politics on the ground? ...

My professor smiled and nodded. After letting me vent, he calmly replied:

You are young. You have to look at what’s been happening and place it in historical context. If you look at the US political climate over the last century you’ll see this Pendulum Trend. Things get really bad for civil liberties and good governance for a few years, sometimes even for a decade or more, then, things swing back the other way, and you see Renaissance-Like changes towards the other direction. We go through a hawkish period with wars, and then, we get into a more pacifist mode. We get a conservative administration and lose some of our welfare gains, but a few years later we get a liberal government and put in place new welfare programs…Things don’t stay the same. It’s been only three years or so since 9/11. Very soon people will get over the initial shock and fear, and they’ll push out the current national security state of government…This is the cyclical nature of US politics…

I looked up at him, and asked:

So you are saying this Pendulum will swing the other way? All by itself? So we just sit tight and wait for this pendulum to swing the other way?

He shook his head, and replied:

It’s a bit more complicated than that, but yes, time takes care of some of that. Other actors outside the state will play their role…you know, various NGOs, etc. Changes in the economy will be another ingredient…of course, the media…the Bush administration will be replaced, and most likely, it will be replaced by the other party, bringing in a liberal oriented administration… So, yes, give it some time and you’ll see the Pendulum swing the other way…

Tell you what: I have heard this ‘Pendulum Swing’ story-theory many many times since; especially from academians, tunnel-vision analysts, crusty politicians, and to a certain extent, from the general public - those with a bit higher education who consider themselves politically involved and savvy. The more I study history, the further I delve into our real governance record, the more I look at the last half century’s graph on fluctuation of the real ingredients (here at BFP we call these the real diseases, the macro causes)…well, the more I get pi..ed with this utterly nonsensical and false yet widely-held notion of ‘just wait for the ‘Pendulum Swing.’

The only area where the ‘pendulum swing’ applies, and even that with a major caveat, is this yoyo illusionary cosmetic change of party every few years. That major caveat being: two parties as two sides of the same coin; the monopolistic power above made to look like a duopoly where naïve and ignorant citizens are led to believe they’ve been given two choices - Product A packaged in Red & Product B packaged in Blue. If you haven’t read my pieces on this, the ones that brought loads of attacks due to ‘me not giving enough time or chance to Obama,’ read the pieces here  and here. You don’t have to go far back in history to see this exact phenomenon. Just take a look at the ‘actual’ records for the Bush and Obama administrations, and you’ll see that on everything that actually counts (again we are talking macro level factors) the records match; Product A (Bush) in Red & Product A (Obama) in Blue, and of course, beneath the two, all the poor suckers who are still under the illusion of having a say, having a choice, when it comes to their votes.

Back to the damaging misguided illusionary ‘Pendulum Swing.’ If poor suckers count the same product in different packaging as governance choice, the two-party system as two opposite ends of governance, then they certainly can argue that this ‘pendulum swing’ notion applies. I’ll leave this group alone, and go to non-suckers, almost all my known readers who look for the master factors, the big bubbas of US politics-governance determinants: the ever expanding Military Industrial Complex, the  ever extending and expanding federal police and intelligence sector, the ever increasing campaign finance domination by the very few, the ever ongoing-increasing government-elected official corruption and revolving door practices, the ever expanding US wars (and their ever increasing costs), the ever failing-damaging hypocrisy-ridden foreign policy practices, the ever diminishing civil liberties and citizen privacy rights…We pretty much named all major trends-determinants-ingredients of US politics-governance, and one look at the record on these will tell you, with 100% certainty, that NO, there ain’t no swinging pendulum involved in those things that matter and really count. It is a myth. If there is a pendulum it is broken and totally malfunctioning; it is stuck, travelling only in one direction, and going fast, my friends.

I came across the following quotes in a well-written article published at New Internationalist Magazine:

Some people take comfort in the back-and-forth sway of the political pendulum. It is part of the greatness of our ‘two-party system’, they contend; it reflects the American aversion to extremism on ‘either side’. For the mainstream media, charting each degree of the pendulum’s swing is the essence of the 24-hour news cycle.

The problem is that focusing on the to-and-fro of electoral politics, like staring at the hypnotist’s medallion, can lull you into a trance. Once there, it is easy to miss those political trends that transcend episodic US elections. A graph of these trends would not show undulating curves that rise and fall based on shifts in Congress. It would be marked by arrows pointing steadily upwards.

In recent decades, raising the budget for US military spending has been a bipartisan passion. That budget now amounts to around $680 billion per year, more than seven times the military spending of the US’s nearest rival, China, and enough to sustain a network of more than 700 bases scattered globally across some 130 countries.

Economic inequality is another arrow, and perhaps the most distressing one. Since the 1970s, the once-garish sight of a CEO making more than 250 times the pay of an average worker has become the norm. This, combined with the steady growth of corporate power, has given the wealthy a firm hold on the levers of our democratic politics. A landmark Supreme Court decision in January, which eliminated restrictions on corporate spending in elections, only strengthened their grasp.

When I was living in other parts of the world I came across oppressed, repressed and abused people, the perpetrators being the government and or the monarchy’s extensions. Some of these people, not the majority but the irate minority, had the fire in their eyes and the will and the energy to fight for change. There were others, perhaps not far from being the majority, who took pride in their faith-religion, and refused to do anything about their conditions; they even smiled about it. They would be open and quickly tell you why they refused taking actions and just waited, and that with such conviction. You see, their religious leaders whose strings were in the hands of that same oppressive government told them, day in and day out, that their suffering was temporary since it was only worldly suffering, and that when they died, when they entered the land of eternity, they would be handsomely rewarded for all their suffering and live happily, and forever. They hung on to this notion administered to them like opiates by those in power; it was their version of ‘Pendulum Swing,’ it was what pacified and lulled them, and it was exactly what the powers above wanted.

Maybe my experiences rightfully or wrongfully helped shape my loath and disdain for this utter nonsense called ‘Pendulum Swing’ and the elite advocates I keep encountering here and there. It is here in my home country today that I often see those lulled and pacified, some even smiling, doing nothing and waiting for their pendulum to actually swing…magically. How about ‘You’? Are you waiting for the Pendulum to Swing?

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Comments

  1. Your ‘where in the world are we question’ invites different responses. From my past posts, I gather you can understand that I think outside the box. I was reading a comment from my investment portfolio by Harold Levy of First Eagle Funds. He stated, “Commodities have become the real currency of the world as faith in fiat currency weakens.” I don’t imagine he really grasped that practical essence of his own comment, but I will place my spin on it. Learn how to grow your own food and create a local barter system. Our disconnect with nature is from an arrogance that Americans continued when they sought to replace the Native American watchkeepers of Turtle Island.
    I was working with a large population of college students in the past several days and had to head off a potential conflict with a member of the Elite whose money came from Carnegie steel. They too recognize that sustainable ag is the real currency, but driven by a capitalist model of mistaken ‘the fittest will survive’, they have overlooked the need to respect the weakest members of the tribe.
    It is amazing once a European, or in your case of a Persian/Turkish background, educated under a European model, can first get a glimpse of the intricate symbiosis we have with nature. Can’t help illustrating this by a chance I had to interview Lynn Margullis who is credited with the theory of endosymbiosis. When I began to develop within a scientific context that the entire earth was a living ecosytem, she could follow me within the confines of paleogeology but when I got to biophysics, she exclaimed, “That’s biophysics!”
    What is the practical application of this? Once you learn that you are a part of Nature instead of a parasite that thinks it can dominate nature, a whole world of allies open up for your use to effect change. Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it.

  2. I have to agree with you on this statement
    “The only area where the ‘pendulum swing’ applies, and even that with a major caveat, is this yoyo illusionary cosmetic change of party every few years.”
    I have not waited for the pendulum to swing. I’ve gone back into History and watched the patterns.. if they wish to call it cyclical, fine. I don’t see it though. I see a pattern of creating crisis, and diverting attention of one crisis by creating another… like a huge dysfunctional family. (some one has to keep the FUN in it)
    I had a moment of naiveté and truly hoped for change. I know now that was a mere illusion, like that of said pendulum. I wanted HOPE as badly as the US wanted oil and opium.
    Once again, I have to lower my expectations and embrace reality. IF the pendulum swings, it only goes one way. I have no expectation to the contrary.
    ~k8

  3. @kmwakak8: “if they wish to call it cyclical, fine.” Oh yes they do, and they will. Realism=Cynical, and it has become one of my labels;-)

  4. I believe the days of the Pendulum Swing are over. I believe it did happen for a time, but I think what we see now is more of a slight sway where we have two steps to the right and one to the left all the time pushing towards a police state and corporatism.

    I think the Pendulum Swing theory is to just keep passivity amongst non-rights.

  5. Well being just a man raised in a rural area, taught in a community school, I was raised to believe and taught that we were a nation of law, that all of our laws had to line up with the parameters set forth in the Constitution. I was taught that our elected representatives were just that, people we sent out to speak on our behalf.
    I don’t know how anyone could truly believe that is true today. The closest thing I’ve heard to the truth did come from my congressman a few years back on a local radio show. Dan Burton said our system of government was so broken it could not be fixed.
    I see people living lives of oblivion today, and I wonder how we got this way. It’s as plain as day that special interests are bent on destroying us. I just wish I could figure out their end game. Just how bad is the next shock and awe going to be and what shape will it take? That seems to be the other shoe getting ready to drop, to me.

  6. As a former government homeland security analyst and emergency preparedness specialist, I frequently encountered this kind of thinking, i.e., the past can be used to predict the future. Many, many disasters have resulted. Typically, people fail to take into account one of two things:

    1) the scarcity of data that might prove a theory wrong. Example: Earthquake hazard maps produced by the US government. Earthquakes occur on faultlines that may be thousands of years old, but our data goes back barely more than two centuries, at best.)

    2) a new development that fundamentally changes the equation that worked in the past. Example: Flood risks. In communities where considerable development has occurred on floodplains, previous calculations of flood severity and frequency are meaningless because development changes the equation that produces floods. Less vacant land to absorb heavy rains means more runoff, more floods.

    In the political sphere, we have some fundamental changes. i) A prominent change is technology, which is having a major impact on world governments right now. Technology permits unprecedented levels of surveillance and control by an authoritarian government. But, it also gives citizens a means to organize more quickly and widely than ever before. ii) Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US has held the pinnacle of military power, without peer. iii) Corporations have been transformed into extremely wealthy organizations with worldwide reach and unprecedented power. These three elements, combined, create a landscape, like the modern floodplain, that is unlike anything previous.

  7. gosh darn it Sibel!…ya got me all ablushin n stammerin, to think that you gone and read my thoughts n all, an here I was thinkin you just don’t care! Just days ago t’was (2.7.11)I was over at Gord’s place an as usual bein the s**t shoveling rube what I be, couldn’t help but notify all them smooth talkers there bout what was comin down the turnpike…

    “Soon the call center in tel aviv will be notified to begin the international campaign which lifts the lid on the {Amerikan!?!} atrocities committed against civilan populationS across the globe…that’s right…the largest recipient of American “aid”[blackmail payoff] will start the pendulum swinging over the helpless and terrified body of the innocent, whose leaders sold them into slavery and then left them to be tortured and debased at the hands of the department of hebraic supremacy. All exit doors will be closed to fleeing American refugees at that point, because the rest of the world will have been inveigled into thinking of them as criminals to be barred from entry…they’ve planned out everything.
    Go now or enjoy the final days of Pompeii.”

    Lord a’mighty, here ye be, just a hen’s feather later talkin bout pendulum swings!…well, sister, I’m tickled pink to think either you n I are big big fans of Edgar Allan, or you been readin my thoughts all along!! Either way, it’s just horse sense what you n me writin, and may the Lord above be lookin over ya!

  8. BK Broiler says:

    Americans who are sitting around waiting for the “pendulum to swing” are fools and cowards who lack the courage of any kind of conviction or principle. Sibel, your professor should have been ashamed of himself for offering such mindless, simplistic pseudo-analysis, but such is the sorry state of American academia these days.

  9. BK Broiler – I agree with most of what you say, but not all. Academia, in general, is not to blame. But, certain programs within academia are highly ideological. Although I’ve never studied ‘Public Policy’, I’d wager that it is highly ideological and unlike thermodynamics or mathematics and the pure sciences, her observation that theory does not align with facts on the ground is not surprising. I think one can find the same sort of schisms in other academic departments, too: MBA programs, economics, history, Political Science, and even the so-called social sciences like psychology and sociology. Name me a psychologist, sociologist, or economist that agrees with others in their profession – the Jungians, Skinnerians, and Freudians are divided, as are the monetarists, Keynesians, Schumpeters, et al, and it can be quite difficult and confusing.

    Change is inevitable. But it’s not cyclical or analagous to a pendulum. However, change will never occur without it being guided by theory that not only matches ‘facts on the ground’, but aids action on the ground. Her professors’ ideology is rather mechanical and in a sense metaphysical. And, like all mechanical/metaphysical abstractions they sound empty, petty and strike with a remote tinkling sound in ones’ ears.

    The US, with its’ workshops, its’ lab’s, its’ material solidity, is always present below real being and is a kind of vast reservoir of the unknown, unconscious and irrational in every man. Moreover, there is a kind of carapacian rigidity about the conscious part of society that resists change, even while, below these generalisations, changes in material and technique and real detailed being are going on. This gives rise to a tension which is a real dynamic force in society, producing artists, poets, prophets, madmen, neurotics and all the little uncertainties, irrationalities, impulses, sudden unreasoning emotions, all the delights and horrors, everything that makes life the thing it is, enrapturing the artist and terrifying the neurotic. It is the sum of the uneasy, the anti-conservative, the revolutionary. It is everything which cannot be content with the present but causes lovers to tire of love, children to flee their happy parental circle, men to waste themselves in apparently useless effort.

    So, I agree with you that her professor lacked courage and his pendulum theory, if one had to rely upon it for practice, would only lead to despair and defeat.

  10. “This is the cyclical nature of US politics…”[your professor]

    If this is a cycle, it would be better served calling it a wheel.
    To which we are bound.
    If it a pendulum, it gets shorter at every stroke. Until nothing
    comes between them.
    Then we will see who they are.

  11. They don’t give rights back once they take them away. They don’t decide the world is safe enough to leay off police and dispense with security checks and rip out the security cameras.

    The national security measures do not work to defeat an outside enemy but are a vector which points in one way only – state control of the population – fascism.

  12. Chomsky: US is a one party state, the Business Party, with two marginally different subsidiaries.

  13. Do you think Mr. Frields could help us push the pendulum? Where is he, anyway?

  14. I think this short video helps explain why people believe the illusion of being free in today’s world:

    “The Story of Your Enslavement”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbp6umQT58A

    I don’t necessarily agree with everything he’s saying but it’s something to think about.

  15. Ethan Allen says:

    While the “Pendulum” metaphor apparently seems apt to those in academia who try to retrospectively attribute sociological trends to society at large, it can only credibly explain such events if it first considers the specific element of society that controls/drives the swing of such a proverbial pendulum. The omission of such prerequisite considerations often renders any opinions that ensue “the fruits of a poisoned tree”, and certainly not the stuff of properly reasoned education.

    “Sibel” says in closing:

    “When I was living in other parts of the world I came across oppressed, repressed and abused people, the perpetrators being the government and or the monarchy’s extensions. Some of these people, not the majority but the irate minority, had the fire in their eyes and the will and the energy to fight for change. There were others, perhaps not far from being the majority, who took pride in their faith-religion, and refused to do anything about their conditions; they even smiled about it. They would be open and quickly tell you why they refused taking actions and just waited, and that with such conviction. You see, their religious leaders whose strings were in the hands of that same oppressive government told them, day in and day out, that their suffering was temporary since it was only worldly suffering, and that when they died, when they entered the land of eternity, they would be handsomely rewarded for all their suffering and live happily, and forever. They hung on to this notion administered to them like opiates by those in power; it was their version of ‘Pendulum Swing,’ it was what pacified and lulled them, and it was exactly what the powers above wanted.”

    Rather we like it or not, this cogent and honest paragraph speaks volumes to the current state of affairs in our society, and all of those who are fortunate enough to have retained their fealty to truth and reason, in spite of the past several decades of the corruption and compromise of our foundational institutions, must join in the enormous challenge of comprehensive societal reforms that, if achieved, will pave the way for the resolution of more personal priorities and issues.

  16. Dennis Leahy says:

    The pendulum will swing back when we push it back.

  17. I think of a pendulum swing when I see what is going on all across the Middle East and North Africa. The people there have had enough of US dominated governments there.

  18. Optimism is the insane state of saying everything is fine when we are miserable. Pessimism is being plagued with worry even when things are actually fine.

    Realism is when things are stated how they actually are. When things actually are terrible it isn’t cynical to admit it, it’s honest. It’s dishonest to not admit it.

    It’s called yelling “that’s a spade” instead of sticking your head in the sand or in a TV set.

  19. I think your professor was speaking from a position of cultural/religious dualism. I think it had to do with the backlash you encountered and was what I consider a transference or psychological projection problem. Look at what has happened in the wake of 911 with politics. I haven’t read your blog enough to truly know your views but I think if you consider literary discourse and genre as part and parcel of American views of Theocracy you’ll see the Orientalism in it.

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