Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

01 November 2014

Big Questions Tuesday

    The answer is blowing in the wind.—Bob Dylan
Three days left.

The money-grubbing e-mails in my inbox have spiked to well over fifty per day. Most predict the Apocalypse if the Repubs take the Senate, or if a particular Democratic candidate loses.

The targeting is good. For this entire election cycle, not a single money grub has come to me from a Repub. Sending me one would have cost almost nothing. But pushing the few electrons needed would have been an utter waste of time. While I consider myself open-minded and amenable to change, I’m unlikely to vote for a Repub again as long as I live.

I voted two weeks ago, on October 18, the first day it was possible in New Mexico. I could have voted six months ago or six years ago. The result would have been presicely the same.

Since the dawn of our twenty-first century, one party has been trying to solve real problems, however unsucessfully. The other has been trying to gain political power for its rich masters by any means, fair or foul, to inculcate a rigid political dogma based on meaningless abstractions, and, in the immortal words of Dubya—who was by far the worst president in my 69 years—to “make [its] own reality.”

The reality this party is trying to make is one in which rich and comfortable folk have yet more money and enjoy fewer restrictions on their making more, and the focus of public angst is real or imagined enemies abroad. It’s a “soft” oligarchy this party wants, with an echo of our original voting rules, which allowed only white, male property owners to vote.

Yet in truth, this hard-fought midterm election will have very little short-term effect. The only way it could work a big change would be to give the Dems a majority in the House. That’s not going to happen. So either way, gridlock will continue.

The President will still have veto power. Don’t think he’ll use it? Then you underestimate him and the strength of his convictions, just as a large portion of the American public has underestimated him all along.

In the absence of any meaningful legislation, we’ll have lots of Chinese-style “show trials.” In our country, they go by the Orwellian name of legislative “investigations.” If only in the House, the Repubs will “investigate” this or that. They will blame this or that hapless public servant for some past-tense and unforeseeable or unavoidable event.

Darrell Issa in the House will become a political celebrity. He will unite with Ted Cruz in the Senate to make negativity our Yankee way of life.

They will do this not in order to learn anything or fix anything, but in order to garner free publicity and score political points. No doubt we’ll hear lots more about Benghazi, IS, ebola-infected and terrorist immigrants, and how the Dems “lost” Iraq—a country we never “had.”

Those of us old enough to remember know the drill. How many years did Nixon and his ilk accuse the Dems of “losing” China to Communism? As if we Yanks had ever been so omnipotent and so competent that we could fix the fate of a nation of five times our population, half way around the globe, of whose long history we knew nothing, and whose rich and subtle culture we’ve never understood! Apparently the Repubs’ strong faith in an omnipotent God slops over into their own self-image. Humility is not their forte.

Perhaps we’ll hear more about ebola, which so far has killed a grand total of a single individual in the United States, and that due to a clear hospital error. If any more should be unlucky enough to die here, you can be sure the Repubs will blame the Dems in general, and President Obama in particular.

The game plan will be clear as day. Find mistakes, flaws and lapses. Where there are few, make them up. Then blame, blame, blame.

Don’t fix Obamacare, which has forced insurers to cover pre-existing conditions and put another 7.3 million people on the rolls of the insured. Instead, repeal it. Then hope the voting public will forget that you have no alternative, and never did, as you let millions suffer and die without health insurance. Just pray to your harsh God that those millions don’t create a nice, soft underbelly through which ebola can enter America hard. Even the rich can get sick.

Perhaps the cultural differences between us Yanks and the Russians will begin to disappear. We’ll start looking for faults in others and among ourselves and stop trying to improve ourselves.

Remember our Eleven Big Ones—the major problems our nation faces and has faced, on the average, for at least a generation? Whatever happens in this election will do little or nothing about them. They will continue to fester freely for at least another two years.

Inequality will get worse. Our crumbling infrastructure will continue to rot. The only thing holding rogue bankers back from causing another Great Depression will still be our daunty Fed and, to a lesser extent, central banks worldwide. (We can thank globalization for giving savvy foreigners some influence on how much pain our rogue Yankee bankers can cause.) And the “soft” corruption of PACs and Citizens United will continue to put us Yanks in a race against corruption with China, which is getting better while we are getting worse.

What is at stake in this election is the direction of our Yankee culture. Are we reaching an inflection point of the mindless, so-called “conservative” revolution that began with impeaching Bill? Or will it continue? What is “conservative” about letting our infrastructure, science, education and social cohesion decay, or letting our priceless and irreplaceable wilderness be destroyed in a mad dash for fossil fuels that will run out in less than a century, more likely a few decades?

Will a third or fewer of eligible voters continue to decide our midterm elections? Will the rich folk’s party continue to make it harder for ordinary people to vote, both by gaming the voting rules and by using brilliant ads that make every pol look like a scoundrel? Or will the voting public wise up, rise up and pass the Woody Allen test?

Will party zealots—the so-called “base”—continue to rule us, aided by the clueless uninformed, who make up their minds at the last minute, motivated by whatever clever video propaganda reached their retinas last? Or will we find some clever way to return to something that resembles real democracy, where pols persuade informed voters by addressing serious issues seriously, beginning with our Big Eleven?

Will the well-to-do and comfortable, i.e., the American bourgeoisie, come to understand that a modern society built on the backs of a large underclass cannot long stand?

Will we Yanks resume and restore our former mastery of pragmatism and engineering, both social and physical? Or will we degenerate into further bickering about the meaning of abstractions like “liberty” and “freedom,” while insuring that only the rich among us have either?

More fundamentally, was Alexis de Tocqueville right? Can a society in which “liberty” is the primary value, and “liberty” means doing what you please, regardless of the consequences for others or for our planet, avoid degenerating into an oligarchy of the strong, smart and selfish?

In short, can our Yankee “experiment” in our unique (and uniquely vain) brand of democracy survive? Can we Yanks, whose experiment is still less than 2.5 centuries old, hope to stay a viable democracy for half as long as Britain, whose world-leading culture will have lasted eight centuries since Magna Carta next year?

Of course Tuesday’s election will not answer these questions. Human social evolution is much faster than biological evolution. But it’s nowhere near that fast. It proceeds in fits and starts. In the best of all possible worlds, it takes two steps forward for every one step back.

But this election may help decide whether we Yanks will soon begin to take a step forward after a decade and a half of walking backward. The answer to that riddle is blowing in the wind.



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