The Ceausescu Moment
By Joseph Vecchio
n December 21st, 1989, Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu appeared on the balcony of the Central Committee Building in Bucharest and began to address the crowd of 80,000 who filled the Piata Republica (Republican Square). The event, a political rally organized by the Communist Party, was meant to show support for Ceausescu following the arrest of Rev. Laszlo Tokes, a dissident minister who had been sermonizing against Ceausescu in the city of Timisoara. Romanian television carried the rally live and broadcast it throughout Romania.
Eight minutes into his speech, something went wrong. Chants of "Shut Up!" and "Timisoara! Timisoara!" rang louder and louder throughout the square. A visibly stunned Ceausescu, unaccustomed to such blatant acts of defiance, stopped in mid-sentence. The shock on his face was seen across the country, and later, around the world. It was the last speech he ever made. Within days, his regime had ended, and he would be hastily tried and brutally executed. The suddenness of his fall shocked the world.
To those of us on the left who have just witnessed the end of America as we have known it, perhaps the only consolation we can take is that someday, somewhere, the leadership of the GOP will face a Ceausescu moment of its own. The rise of the American right has been impressive, methodical, and up until now, unstoppable, but as we have seen with all such attempts to achieve and maintain complete ideological power, it cannot last.
What Ceausescu didn't understand was that the ideologically-based policies of the hardcore left were making the lives of its citizens miserable. What the right-wingers and the liberal-haters in America don't understand is that their ideological policies are just as bad. This was proved in the last Gilded Age, and unless the laws of economics have suddenly changed, it will be proven again. Liberalism didn't emerge spontaneously from a vacuum, it was created because of the policies of laissez-faire capitalism. It's a lesson we will apparently have to re-learn. As for the GOP, what they're about to discover is that getting power is easy, maintaining it is another thing altogether.
But we should not attempt to sugarcoat the events of 11/5. The right wing now has complete control of the entire government, and are being shielded from their incompetence and corruption by a mass-media almost as well-controlled as any Communist regime. It's nearly impossible for any left-wing leader to be portrayed in a positive light, or for left-wing causes to be given coverage in any mainstream media venue without the pre-requisite sneer. This, more than any other reason, is why the Dems lost. It's not that they didn't have a message, they were just never allowed to present it. And American voters, at least those who decided to actually participate, have decided that the time for debate concerning the direction America's future was over, and that the policies of the right are the path we should travel. As distasteful this is to us, we should accept it and work towards the day when it will become clear how dangerous that path is, when no amount of propaganda will be able to shield the right from the inevitable backlash.
In the meantime, what we on the left can and must do is regroup and plan for the time when the Ceausescu moment comes at last. It's true that the leadership of the left has all too often aligned itself with the right for the sake of expediency, but it's not enough to simply be the vocal opposition. We need to be clear about exactly what it is we stand for and how we plan on accomplishing it. And since the mainstream media is denied to us, we need to take advantage of the tools that we have, especially the internet.
And once more, those of us on the left who are wealthy must be prepared to make use of it towards the cause. The right survived because it had people like Richard Mellon Scaife who were willing to use their money to advance their cause, and while it took time, they eventually succeeded. We must be prepared to do the same thing, remembering always that this is a marathon and not a sprint.
In Blackpool, England, at the Labour Party Conference, President Clinton talked about the differences between policy based on evidence and policy based on ideology. The ideologues on the right view any government interference with the economy as an intrusion. For them, the government exists only to keep the borders safe from attack, and to keep the peace internally so they can go about their business unhindered. They believe themselves to be, in Ayn Rand's words, the "motor of the world" who create wealth and prosperity, and no evidence to the contrary will convince them otherwise. The ideologues on the left, those like Ceausescu and other Communists, were no different: they believed that they could achieve prosperity by destroying private industry.
Liberals know better. We know that, from an economic point of view, the purpose of government is not to destroy private industry like the Communists want, but neither is it to insulate private industry from accountability, as the laissez-faire capitalists want. The main purpose of government as we see it, from an economic point of view, is to keep private industry open and competitive, to encourage entrepreneurs, prevent the over-accumulation of wealth into too few hands, and to ensure that working people are treated safely, paid fairly, and can retire in peace and comfort. To do this, government must have the power to combat the wealth of the big corporations and hold them accountable for their crimes. That doesn't mean we hold government itself to be a sacred entity whose power should not be questioned. Indeed, government should always be held to an equally high, if not higher, standard than private industry. It should be held accountable for its actions, freed as much as possible from the corrupting influence of special-interest money, and keep secrets only in the direst of needs.
The lesson we liberals failed to learn is that the war is never over. We believed that our ideals had become as unassailable as the walls of Jericho. We were wrong, and we're paying the price now. But not forever. If the war wasn't over for right-wingers in the 70's, then it is also not over for us now. There are battles still to be fought, and we should ready ourselves for them. The Republicans haven't yet reached the point where they're willing to, or capable of, killing us outright, so as long as we still live we can fight on. If we plan, and if we're patient, we will be ready when the time comes for the Republican Party to have their own Ceausescu moment.