As the Reign Of The Morons enters its third day, let us pause for a moment to pay tribute to a political visionary whose entire career presaged the current moment, anticipating the essential dynamic in play in Washington right now in all of its petulant, kindergartenish glory. Let us raise a morning glass to Donald Segretti, the ratfucker.
(As any student of Watergate knows, "ratfucking" was the word used by Segretti and a number of other officials in the Nixon White House for the dirty tricks they ran in student elections when they all were at the University of Southern California. Segretti -- as well as his pal, Dwight Chapin -- simply transferred these techniques to our national elections.)
There are two basic philosophical foundation stones to ratfucking. The first is that political sabotage for its own sake is a worthy enough goal. There doesn't necessarily have to be an obvious purpose or obvious logic behind it. Everything is simply tactics. Those tactics either work or they don't. To believe this, of course, one must first believe that all politics is a essentially a zero-sum game of power; you win and the other guy loses. Who rules? Period. One cannot for a moment contemplate the notion that politics -- and therefore, government -- has anything to do with the public good. I trust I don't have to spell out the parallels between this elemental basis of ratfucking and what the Republicans are about in their current campaign of vandalism. This has now entered a time in which we are seeing sabotage for sabotage's own sake. Remember, the conservative rump faction has brought this shutdown upon the country because its members refuse to agree to a federal budget that contains lower discretionary spending than even Paul Ryan contemplated. That's because now -- as Congressman Marlin Stutzman pointed out clearly yesterday -- this isn't about the budget, or even about economics, it's about who wins and who loses. It's about whether or not John Boehner, the castrato Speaker Of The House, can keep his job. The public, as was said during our previous Gilded Age, be damned.
The second basic philosophical tenet of ratfucking is that it is essentially bullying. It is essentially about ridicule and deceit as ends in themselves. Segretti's activities were meant to bring embarrassment and public scorn upon his targets. They were not aimed at proving to voters that the opposition was wrong. They were aimed at making it look ridiculous. Hubert Humphrey's bastard child. Edmund Muskie's rallies cancelled. Sooner or later, of course, the viciousness and the schoolyard taunting can't be contained. Segretti's activities, while relatively harmless, opened the ballgame for the late Lee Atwater's vicious race-baiting and for the entire public career of Karl Rove, in which the latter has not drawn a single breath in which he did not dedicate himself to the degradation of the political process and the poisoning of the political debate.
We are seeing this aspect of ratfucking playing out now. We saw it when Representative Randy Neugebauer bullied a Park Ranger. We saw it when Rep Todd Rokita told CNN anchor Carol Costello, essentially, to sit there and look pretty while he unspooled whatever the line of the day was. We saw it when Rep. Darrell Issa flipped out at a reporter a few days before that. And we are seeing it in the cynicism of the the now-daily Republican gimmick of finding a government service that polls well and then pretending to care about funding it, as though the whole party hasn't been running against "government" since before Don Segretti was cheating the student body at USC. We will open the National Parks, and all the other good stuff, and we can do it without really paying for it. The last victory of pure Reaganomics is on display.
We are coming into the first weekend -- and therefore, the first Green Room festival -- since the Reign Of The Morons began, so I suspect we will see a lot of ratfucking gussied up as high rhetoric come Sunday. But, for the rest of us, we are living through a living history of sabotage, through a single extended dirty trick. We are all of us, milling around the public square, wondering who cancelled the rally today and somewhere, in a Days Inn near the airport, a clever young man snaps his suitcase shut and moves on to the next town. There is always another rat to fuck, after all.
Read more: Donald Segretti Tribute - The Triumph Of The Ratfuckers - Esquire Follow us: @Esquiremag on Twitter | Esquire on Facebook Visit us at Esquire.com