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It's been about ten years since I moved to Canada from Washington, DC, so I've gotten some perspective on the political process "down there."

Part of it has been living among people who, like myself, see the U.S. as a very conservative, generally right-leaning country. After all, in terms of the over-simplification called the right-left political spectrum, the Democrat/Republican divide runs somewhere through the Conservative Party, generally between Harper's erstwhile Reform Party and McKay's once-was Progressive Conservatives. A good 60% or more of the country votes against that block, and the only reason the Conservatives are in power is because they united their bigotry social conservatism and their greed pro-business agenda to get the most seats in parliament. 40% of the vote in most ridings means a majority in parliament.

[I won't go into how watching the Conservative party, now sanctified by a majority, unrolling agenda is a little like watching a south-facing monkey ape a navel-gazing gorilla. Interesting, possibly, but off-topic.]

Thing about getting perspective is that you tend to fall back on old analogies. Being raised for a good part of my childhood in the Mediterranean basin in a houshold steeped in diplomacy and the art history of Ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium, I tend to see the Republican/Democrat split in terms of Greece and Rome, with a little Byzantium. Who knew?

See, the Greeks as I was raised to understand them (which means Periclean Greeks) were bickery, flamboyant, clever, cultured, inquisitive, egocentric, and brash. The Romans, by contrast (by which we mean from the period of Augustus) were staid, honorable, simple-minded, self-interested, partisan, self-rightious, and ruthless. You see where I'm going with this?

Well, we all know where this led. It all comes down to the divide between strong societies and strong cultures. When a nation is strong on one, they tend to be weak on the other, and vice versa. The Greeks couldn't help sabatoging themselves whenever they went to war, and the Romans couldn't carve a simple statue of a soldier without having it come out like disjointed plasticine. But the Romans rolled over the Greeks in short order and stopped their incessant yammering, and it's the Greek politics, art, architecture, etc. etc. that we remember. What we truly remember of Roman culture is largely pornography and long-winded boastful speeches.

But the Romans did some cultural stuff really well. They enforced a standard religion and morality on everyone, and they had this huge taste for keeping the mob entertained and intimidated by their security drama, where whole nations were put to the sword for daring to attack Rome, with a special show set aside just for the torture and mutilation of religious extremists who threatened the moral fiber of the nation. Their reforms to keep virtue and moderation in Rome despite its incredible wealth were totally ineffective against the tendency for orgies of excess in the sex and drug department. And when the Romanness of Rome was thretened, the Romans simply invited the Barbarians in and made them theirs.

So like them, the Democrats or their more liberal forbearers are largely responsible for what Americans admire about the U.S.: sufferage, amazing ifrastructure, War against tyrrany, prosperity for everyone, cultural melting pot, and a solid banking system. The Republicans are largely known for mismanaging the financial sector, converting the nation to automobiles and suburbs, political witch hunts, and starting pointless wars [I'll leave out abolition, since that was when the Republicans were the liberals, and temperance since that was more of a bipartisan bit of jackassery].

But eventually, along comes Byzantium and the Greeks have learned better. They take up a lot of the Roman empire, largely by moving it over to their side, wall themselves in, and spend the next umpteen hundred years largely in maintenance mode, with the population kept docile with easy bread and lots of circuses. Not so bloody now, but with everyone up in arms over competitions between generally indistiguishable opponents.

Which is where we are with the Clintons and Obama. Conservatives, yuppies, with a cultural flair and a few tittilating vices. But nothing to rock the boat over. And every day is another competition in a pointless race between parties whose only real difference is the paint on their chariots or the insignia on their breasts.... or their haircuts. The importance is to make the conflicts not really mean any real change is possible, whether it's football, or caucuses, or pop stars or new foreign religions and secret societies. Keep the ball rolling. And let the elite jocky for their turn at the trough.