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.