Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

American Political Insanity Explained

For your consideration:

1. The Bush years were absolutely disastrous, on multiple fronts.

2. Those disasters were the direct result of movement conservative ideology, and horrible mismanagement by the Bush administration and the GOP.

3. The majority of the American public rejected the Bush/GOP approach in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

4. The Republicans looked at all of the above, and said: "Let's propose the same policies as Bush."

They added, "Let's obstruct all legislation and presidential appointments, and all attempts to clean up the messes left by Bush and our party."

(The conservative base looked at all of the above, and said, "Bush and the Republicans weren't far right enough.")

5. The American media looked at all of the above, and said: "Obama and the Democrats should adopt the Republicans' policies."

They added, "That would be bipartisan. And America is a center-right nation. When voters said they wanted change, that meant they wanted the Bush approach. They didn't want the Republicans to change their policies or their level of cooperation."

Furthermore: "The million teabaggers gathering on the National Mall to call Obama a fascist, socialist baby-killer who will institute death panels to kill white grandmas have a point."


I could have kept #4 and #5 simpler, but I think this list covers most of the current dynamics. As the saying goes, insanity is trying the same approach over and over again expecting different results. The largest problem in American politics is the failure, or refusal, to acknowledge that the Bush years were horrible (#1) and that this was not accidental (#2). It's struck me that almost everything else flows from these factors – basically, the denial of a glaringly obvious reality. There are multiple theories for this. There's D.C. being wired for Republican rule. There's the Beltway gang's love of "he said-she said" reporting and disdain for discussing actual policies and their probable consequences (who will benefit). There's their isolation from the negative effects of the Bush years, and the simple truth that a ruling class is disinclined to question an establishment that favors them. Still, the biggest reason may be culpability. Bush and the GOP caused most of the damage. The more corporatist Democrats were happy to join in. The media largely said nothing, or acted as cheerleaders, or even as gleeful bullies themselves.

Some journalists and politicians will sorta admit to #1, but not #2 - thus, on economic matters, lately we've been hearing, "It doesn't matter who made the mess - the important thing is that it gets fixed." It's a neat partisan trick, but why the press plays along is another matter. Bush and the GOP nearly doubled the national debt from 5.73 trillion to 10.7 trillion, with 1.8 trillion in tax cuts (overwhelmingly to the rich) and pushed two wars without end – and in the Beltway, it just doesn't matter. Blue Dogs like Evan Bayh can have their Come-to-Ayn-Rand moments, and suddenly discover they're deficit hawks – except when it comes to military spending, which should be unlimited. (On other issues, like torture, the Village position is also that it was no one's fault, but that nothing should be fixed.) While it's fair to judge Obama on how he puts out the fire, it's colossally irresponsible to ignore who set the fire – especially when the same people in Congress and business and on the op-ed pages are trying to set more fires. This dynamic may be most maddening in politicians' reluctance to take on Wall Street, even after Wall Street players tanked the global economy and have shown staggering arrogance since – and eagerness to do it all over again. The Republicans aren't alone in sucking-up on that front, although they are the most shameless and reckless.

Some of this is nothing new. Conservative think tanks have been trying to sell a crucial pair of lies for decades now – that Reaganomics have been great for America, and that the New Deal was somehow a failure. (Even John Yoo's latest groundwork-for-a-torture-defense op-ed attacks the New Deal in passing.) Curiously, for this crowd, cutting social spending and giving more money to the rich are always the magic solutions to every single problem America faces (even though it's never worked out as sold). Meanwhile, there's a direct line from Watergate through Iran-Contra to the abuses of the Bush administration, with many of the same players (and their allies) involved. The Cheney gang felt the real mistake of Watergate was getting caught. Then-Congressman Cheney zealously defended the Reagan administration's abuses of power in Iran-Contra, and the perpetrators were barely punished. Shockingly, when men and women abuse power and aren't held accountable, the consciences they never possessed before do not magically sprout into existence. Strangely, when such abuses and bad policies go unchallenged, they tend to show up again.

As antiquated as the Senate and its rules are, it couldn't do as much harm if the GOP, and the Blue Dogs, and the media, responded to #1 and #2 with honesty, humility and responsibility. However, adopting a responsible, reality-based approach would depend on the culprits forsaking a sliver of personal gain, and might necessitate that they confront their own flattering, delusional self-images. The Conventional Beltway Wisdom is generally wrong - and often inane - but the political class will always believe in self-gratification. Unfortunately, the chances are not high that Paul Ryan will admit his policies will benefit the rich and devastate the middle class, that Jim Demint, Rush Limbaugh or Joe Lieberman will stop being assholes, that the teabaggers will realize they're fighting for the same people who have screwed them for thirty plus years, or that "centrist" David Broder will stop to take a whiff of reality rather than writing his latest Mad Libs column concluding that Democrats should let Republicans call the shots.

If there's a single story that exemplifies (American) politics, it's the Emperor's New Clothes. The only questions are who's the emperor, who are the crooked tailors, who are the public dupes who play along, and who are the truth tellers. No one likes to think he or she is a dupe, but the entire Villager mindset is built upon the painfully false, self-flattering notion that they're the wise, cynical, insightful ones. There's a grain of truth to this, because like members of the Bush administration, they create their own reality, and their inane, counterfactual analysis can become self-fulfilling. But in another sense, even as their games screw over most of the American citizenry, the Villagers are both the grifters and the marks for their own bullshit.

None of this means progress is hopeless, but any strategy that doesn't acknowledge (on some level) points #1-5 is likely to fail. The Democrats want to listen to all ideas? Fine – but they have to acknowledge privately that most of those opposition ideas stink, even if they don't call out every single one of them publicly. They want to keep a civil public image? Okay, that's one way to play it - but they have to acknowledge to themselves privately that the Republicans are obstructionists, and not working in good faith. Many conservatives have openly sought the destruction and failure of the Democratic Party. FDR was denounced as a "traitor to his class" in his day, and gave a great speech where he named his foes and 'welcomed their hatred.' A national political discourse with one party attacking false scapegoats and the other too gutless or corrupt to call out real villainy is simply toxic. The Democrats want to treat TV gasbags respectfully? Fine, that's only smart – but they have to go into those interactions knowing how vapid and superficial most of the chattering class is, and calculate accordingly. The Emperor has no clothes. In the short run, it might be wise to account for the Beltway's love of hippie-punching with some planned concessions, but the long game just can't be won using rules that say you – and the American people as a whole – must always lose.

(A companion piece of sorts is here. This post edited slightly for clarity.)


Comrade PhysioProf said...

The Democrats want to listen to all ideas? Fine – but they have to acknowledge privately that most of those opposition ideas stink, even if they don't call out every single one of them publicly. They want to keep a civil public image? Okay, that's one way to play it - but they have to acknowledge to themselves privately that the Republicans are obstructionists, and not working in good faith.

Assuming you are alluding to Obama's latest "reaching out" to Repubs on health care and budgets, I think it is conceivable--and I hope it is true--that Obama is finally sacking up and trying to put the Repubs in the position of having to take full responsibility for their own actual policy ideas and their obstructionism.

Unknown said...

I must often edit for clarity as well when I post in the wee hours of the morning; nonetheless, this post is exemplary in the concise way it summarizes our current political dysfunction. Good links too; thanks.

Anonymous said...

Just as there was a consistent undertone driven by big business, the media and the republicans that George W. Bush could do no wrong, (whenever he made some incredible blunder, it was mentioned then quickly forgotten with much ado about his fantastic recovery, and if he actually got something right he was elevated to national icon if not the first or second coming,) but with the current administration there is similar consistency with a single difference; Barack Obama cannot do anything right. Even when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, instead of it being received as a national treasure, it was demeaned as an undeserved disgrace. When he does something right, accolades for his accomplishment are greeted with derision, and if he errors in the slightest of ways it is harped upon as if the U.S. was on the verge of a national disaster. When he is merely competent his critics are undeterred; they simply make something up. His enemies have no trouble, inventing controversy where, in a sane world, there would be none. It is not everyone who falls for the propaganda, but too many of them do. Barack Obama is either being ill-advised, or he is so isolated that he no longer trusts his own judgment. This is how the propaganda disables him on his side of the equation. Genius is not required to handicap a president; he only needs to be left naked without the protection of the media or his own insiders. An individual cannot change anything without millions of voices echoing his desires with their own. He alone cannot accomplish a thing with the establishment directing the perceptions of events as they unfold. The enemies of freedom are creating their own reality and selling with the force of control over the manipulative aspects of misinformation.

DrDick said...

Much of the problems with our current media reflect a handful of interlinked factors. firstly, most of them are not really very bright, so they may not be able to figure out #2. Secondly as grossly overpaid sycophants they have directly benefited significantly from Republican policies, which means that even if they are bright enough to figure out #2 they have an incentive to deny it. Thirdly, media consolidation means that the news is increasingly controlled by a small number of very large diversified corporations who benefit in a large way from Republican policies and do not wish to see them changed, which also gives influences the decisions of our media elites. Finally, they really have bought into this false notion of he said-she said "balance" constituting objectivity, largely as a response to the unrelenting attacks by the right on the mythical "liberal media."

Anonymous said...

“…for this crowd, cutting social spending and giving more money to the rich are always the magic solutions to every single problem America faces…”

You probably do not speak Republicanese; so let me be of assisstance

“Our magic is based on one thing. We tell corporate America that we are the best at conning our followers into supporting the corporate overthrow of our mutual enemy, a democratic republic. We know that democracy is an impediment to profit and for a small percentage of the take we will promote legislation that lawyers for corporations write and make it sound necessary and patriotic. Since we and the corporations share the common bond of rolling the suckers to satisfy our heavenly inspired selfishness our bond is eternal, or until anyone with a better deal comes along. Only fools believe governance is about adherence to principles and the public welfare, while we know that it is all about us and the concentration of power. Let us bow our heads and pray. We are the realists and we are all sinners. If the good lord did not intend for us to harvest suckers, why did he make them so plentiful. There, but for the grace of god, go I. Amen.”

I know what you are thinking. “How did he get the above out of a partial sentence?

Anonymous said...

Tonight I heard a right wing business talk radio host refer to a slight increase in the wealthiest individuals' tax rate as President Obama punishing them for being successful. (one of those "hopey, changey" ideas founded upon socio-commie economic policies)

The whinny victimhood of the host and those he spoke for should be seen in the following light.

Several wealthy Germans volunteered to give $150 billion to the German government to mitigate some of the consequences of the global financial melt down. A spokesman for the group, (his wealth was due to inheritance,) said that he had no reservations about giving $100 million,) to help strengthen his country's economy.

The above is a slightly different attitude than that of the "you're on your own," victims of socialist envy.

For some people patriotism and superstitions are what one sells to the little people, because no one with a "lick of sense" actually believes that nonsense.

Phaedrus said...

Did the Dems reject the Iraq war authorization or any of the budget busting Republican legislation?
They could have blocked it (we're getting a lesson in that now) but they didn't.
Howard Zinn says you can't stay neutral on a moving train - the Dems have as much institutional responsibility for the current mess as the Repubs...

darkblack said...

One aspect of this oh-so-multi-dimensional Republican shuffleboard game that I am noting (As you have also, Batocchio) is the goading toward optical failure for progressive agenda items...Having obstructed every piece of legislation non-local to themselves and ostentatiously showing the cooperative spirit of a candy-deprived child screaming in a checkout lane, the sack-equipped aspect of the Obama administration might in turn make the sort of peremptory moves (recess appointments of government officials, for example) that will then allow these Big Movement conservatives to decry lustily that 'THEY DO IT, TOOOOO!'...which will then be mirrored eagerly by the David Gregory wing of 'Media Pals For Corporate Supremacy, Inc.' until such time as a beleaguered public gives up trying to update the scorecard and goes back to watching the jiggling chesticles on FOX.

Always a sunny win/win on the poop deck of the Bad Ship Lollipop for these people, eh?
In a contrasted sense, the Democratic establishment (at least the aspect of that brand that pretends to 'comity') demonstrates all the furtive tells of a punchy palooka 'encouraged' by their friendly neighborhood gambling combine to take a dive in the 8th round...Not very heartening for the voter class, unfortunately.


Wrench Stand said...

Any chance of a link to "Several wealthy Germans volunteered to give $150 billion to the German government to mitigate some of the consequences of the global financial melt down"?

Anonymous said...

None of this means progress is hopeless?

In some respects, but progress is certain not to happen without a greater acknowledgment of what real progress will actually take.

I do not think it is debatable that something fundamental needs to shift in our society in order to change the issues you write about. But the elephant in the room is that to date progressives aren't willing to do what it takes to make that fundamental shift.

You can continue to try to talk your way into a fundamental shift, but it is becoming obvious that isn't enough.