Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ceiling Our Fate

From a good piece by John Avlon in the Daily Beast today:

"This is a political crisis manifesting itself as a fiscal crisis. Deficit reduction is no longer the real goal. Principled differences have been abandoned. Instead, there is just the struggle to survive politically without taking the nation off a cliff. It is a failure of divided government, and that’s why the two prime time speeches last night offered a preview of campaign 2012...

As you watch this drama play out over the next seven days, don’t forget that this is an entirely forced fire-drill. The debt ceiling has been raised more or less automatically in the past -- 77 times since JFK, including 18 times under Ronald Reagan and 7 times under George W. Bush. Republicans were not rushing to the ramparts then -- consistent with their heightened concern over deficits that comes only when Democrats are in the White House...

Nonetheless, this is the first time in American history that the debt ceiling vote has been held hostage by hyper-partisan politics. It won’t be the last. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to put this genie back in the bottle."

Avlon's final point is something I've grappled with quite a bit over the past year or so -- the idea that there's really no way back at this point and what we're witnessing right now is the new model of politics. Get used to this kind of dysfunction on a massive scale because the often civil -- and occasionally begrudging -- compromise that was the hallmark of the political system of our parents' generation has been shot full of holes and now lies bleeding on the ground, I think well past the point of resuscitation.

The question is, why? What created the furious polarization that's so intransigent that it honestly, as we're witnessing right now, has the potential to flat-out drive this country off a cliff? I realize I've worked in the media for years so I tend to see things through this prism, but I really do think it's the sheer volume of ostensible "press" outlets that's to blame. I've said this more than once but it bears repeating yet again: The internet has made everyone a king, turned the whole world into wannabe journalists and the problem has become that you can't tell who's full of crap and who's actually telling the truth anymore; what's more, it's that constant flow of information from everywhere you look that's rendered the truth, seemingly, more or less moot. Everyone presents their view as fact; each person or outlet uses those kinds of "facts" to further bolster his or her views; the noise grows louder and louder; the sides diverge and every single subject becomes politicized, able to be regarded as a this-or-that fight and fiercely argued over by an endless, ever-increasing supply of partisans; no one even hears the other side anymore because it's now possible to get your news in ways that do nothing but confirm your already intractable biases; objective reality vanishes.

Put it this way: Nothing Lawrence O'Donnell says on MSNBC matters one bit in the big picture because no one but those who already subscribe to the beliefs he espouses are watching and if they are they don't believe a word of it. He's wasting his breath for an hour every night. Fox News? Don't even bother going there. It's an entire network created for the sole purpose of and thoroughly devoted to preaching to one very specific choir -- which is why no matter what happens in the real world, viewers of Fox will never see it, at least not the way it really happened. They'll get the funhouse mirror version of events as filtered through the talking points that come down from the top and trickle directly into the mouths of Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy.

Last night, President Obama called for compromise, a position for which he's taken plenty of heat from his own party -- maybe fairly, maybe unfairly. John Boehner, on the other hand, did exactly what his base expected him to do, what it demanded of him. He stood frozen in place, a man determined to burn America to the ground if that's what it takes to make his political point, protect his base's perverted values when it comes to taxes for the ultra-wealthy and ultimately return a Republican to his rightful place in the White House. He knew he could do it because he knew he could blame the president for it and his base would never know any vividly contrasting reality because all it would hear is the version of the story presented by Fox News. Which is why the people Obama spoke to were those Americans he called "collateral damage" in this ridiculous battle between the two extremes -- the independents who are fed up and who've had enough of this crap.

The problem is, they'd better get used to it. It's not going to get any better. This is just the beginning.


Steven D Skelton said...

I think this fight is a good thing.

The social contracts established under Johnson and Reagan have run their course and are now unsustainable. We can not keep the promises the baby boomers made to themselves in terms of tax rates, social services and global influence.

Mathematics and actuarial tables can be a bugger that way.

We have to reset things, and I admire the president for his willingness to compromise....but I don't think his willingness goes as far as he would like us to believe.

Your lament about the way we fight the battle is well founded. The polarization and hate we have created is killing us.

I don't spend much time on conservative blogs, but I have seen that progressives get treated very poorly there.

Of the liberal blogs I visit, only DXM treats me with any respect. Others have gone so far as to ban me from posting.

We absolutely have to figure out a way to talk to each other and understand that we can disagree without one of us being evil. We also have to understand that the truth we hear in our echo chambers may be truth...but it isn't the whole truth. There is a lot the other guy is saying as well that makes a lot of sense.

Chez said...

I agree that almost nothing in this fight should be completely off the table, but I do believe that Obama is compromising plenty. That said, the rest of your points are spot-on. This eliminationist rhetoric is catastrophically destructive to all of us.

namron said...

Time travel back to 1859. If there were a Fox, an MSNBC, and an Internet, the rhetoric and posturing you see and hear today would be eerily familiar. We know the end result of that period of hyper partisanship. Anyone up for a new Civil War, only this time with nukes?

Nate said...

I'm sick of this "polarization" meme. For three decades, the Republicans have moved ever farther to the right and Democrats have continued to meet them in the middle. Now, after these three decades of perpetual war and the constant march towards completely laissez-faire economics, we have the evidence that these policies do not create prosperity for the vast majority of Americans. Instead, it has created a new class of ultra-wealthy robber barons, the likes of which had not been seen since the New Deal. I am sick of being treated as an extreme loony for merely arguing that Multi-national corporations and mega-banks should be prevented from destroying our environment and our economy in the name of short-term profits; of being called crazy for arguing that insurance companies beholden to the whims of their shareholders do not have the best interests of their customers at heart; of being marginalized for thinking that ten-year occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan gain the US nothing.

These are not extreme views. Nor is it a major shift to the left. These were core American principles that helped spur the growth of the American economy in the 20th century. Liberals haven't gone anywhere, it's the conservatives who have driven this car off the cliff.

Fuck your polarization.

Chez said...

Polarization doesn't mean that both sides are equally extreme or crazy, Nate.

Mart said...

I will not RUSH to any conclusions as to who was a major player starting all this.

SDS - There is a way to give the baby boomers their cookies. Me being on the tail end of the boomers, I would like mine with milk. Reagan and Greenspan formed a committee to deal with baby boomers SS crisis. They raised the SS tax rate. (An example of how far the discourse has drifted right, and why us liberals do not understand Obama's rhetoric lately.) All our working lives we have been paying extra taxes and now we are told it is in crisis. (Even though fully funded to 2037 and 75% funded going forward -except if Obama keeps cutting the SS tax revenues.) So then they say the Treasuries are useless; which is another way of saying we will pay our obligations to China, but not to our citizens. A single payer health system would remove the 25% insurance company overhead, and spread out the costs of the most sickly portion of the population. (Also - would be kind to our citizens with no insurance.) The CBO rated single payer as No. 1 Health Care cost saver; and also the least likely to become policy. Declare victory and pull out of Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Cut national security and defense budget now totaling 1.2 trillion/yr by at least 400 billion/yr. Finally resume the historically low Clinton tax rates and increase % on earnings xs $20M/yr or so. All $$ problems solved.