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

10 April 2011

The Proper Response is Rage

Sitemeter suggests that readers may be surfing this blog to see my reaction the House’s last-minute avoidance of a government shutdown. No doubt the Obama Administration expects gratitude for averting the train wreck. No doubt Idiot Boehner (1, 2 and 3) and his Tea Mob legions expect gratitude for making a minuscule contribution to deficit reduction.

But my response is far from gratitude. It is rage.

I’ve just returned from visiting seven countries on five continents. In none of them have I seen government as dysfunctional.

I’m furious that I live in a country where buffoons waste real power to improve lives in such useless political theater. I’m angry that my fellow citizens are so uneducated and uninformed as to take this charade seriously. And I’m mad that the president I worked hardest for and contributed most to in my 65 years has been forced to partake in it.

I know, I know. It’s mostly the Republicans’ fault. Of course it is. Deficit reduction is so far from our most serious problem as to make touting it a swindle of its own. And anyway this charade did not even make an appreciable dent in the deficit. It was all about posturing and preening for the great unwashed in the hope of winning elections without any sensible policy whatsoever.

The whole affair was and is a waste of time and money. Even though I’m now retired, I resent the little time I spent reading news reports of it.

But despite my placing blame where it belongs, I can’t help feeling disappointment at the Obama Administration. The President did (finally!) threaten a veto to move bargaining along. But the charade continues. Our governance continues to degenerate into useless, misleading and embarrassing political theater.

I personally would have preferred to see the President let the government shut down and put the blame where it properly belongs: on the party that doesn’t believe in government and wants to destroy it.

If the uninformed morons who pass for independents and fix our electoral fate these days can’t even yet see what is happening, they need a very rude shock to wake them up. Increasingly I think such a shock must come before we see any change in what is without doubt the least effective government on the planet, with the possible exception of North Korea’s or Zimbabwe’s.

My rage and despair are not without consequences. I must get five or more e-mails a day from various Democratic organizations, signed by various political luminaries, all asking for money. But why should I contribute to useless political theater that accomplishes nothing real? Why should I spend even discretionary income from my life savings on utter incompetence and foolishness?

If I want theater, there are much better places to go, even outside Manhattan. I would sooner spend the money on saving a rain forest or helping the victims of natural disasters in Japan, Chile and Haiti.

“Fight the right!” the e-mails shout, or words to that effect. “Don’t let the GOP get away with murder!” But all my money will support is more simplistic bumper-sticker ads to convince fools who are apparently incapable of rational thought to wise up.

I’m a dedicated teacher (tough retired, I still teach at times). I never give up on slow students. But that’s on a “retail” basis. This is wholesale. You can’t teach people whose minds are made up before they ever see the first piece of evidence, and who are trained like Pavlov’s dogs to believe in myth more than their own eyes. And no propaganda machine assembled by mere politicians can ever match the power of Rupert Murdoch’s empire.

So the only hope I see at present is the ruling class that pulls the strings itself wising up. Glenn Beck is on his way out of Fox Propaganda. The Wall Street Journal today published a short article in effect admitting how dysfunctional our health-care system is (while proclaiming with false equivalence that foreign government and private systems alike beat our own). The response of the FAA and the aircraft/air travel industry to the recent blowout of ceiling panels on a Boeing 737 suggests that our captains of industry and some regulators can at least respond rationally when the lives of innocent passengers are at stake. So maybe there is hope.

But the vile charade that passes for politics and government in our nation today will stop only when the rich folk who call the shots get tired of it. That probably won’t happen until the storm begins to shake their first-class cabins.

As for me, I’m going to watch the farce from afar, doing what I can on this blog to analyze real problems. I didn’t train for half a century in three demanding, evidence-based careers to become a literary critic of self-satire.

So don’t expect this blog henceforth, as in the past, to spend much time refuting inaccuracies, even obvious lies (1, 2 and 3). In our theater- and PR-driven culture, their fount is inexhaustible.

The only prescription I can now provide is one I’ve made before. Keep the President and Vice President safe not only from traveling together, but even from being in the same city at the same time. John Boehner is third in line for the presidency. If he ever gets there, this blogger and his spouse will emigrate, even at our advanced age.

Coda: A Chance Missed?

The more I think about it, the more I wish the President had called the right’s bluff and let the government shut down. Conventional wisdom says that it would have been hard to predict whom our idiot electorate would blame. But blame is not the issue. The issue is fighting consistent and highly effective right-wing propaganda and strategy for the last thirty years.

Ever since Reagan, the right has insisted that government is not the solution, but the problem. A generation and a half of propaganda has taught unthinking and uniformed Americans to hate their own government. And I don’t use the word “hate” lightly. Remember the nameless senior who screamed at the President, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”?

Demonizing government as ineffective, inefficient, corrupt and coddling freeloaders is the central pillar of right-wing propaganda. Not only that. It is also the central pillar of right-wing policy (insofar as you can call nihilism “policy”).

The right seeks a win for fascism in America not just by making government hated, but by depriving it of the revenue and political support it needs to function. The very charade we all just witnessed advanced those goals by convincing citizens that government is incapable of functioning at all, let alone rationally.

So many people have bought into this myth so strongly that contrary evidence (1 [search for “most robust”] and 2) is incapable of changing their minds. So the only way to reach them, I think, is with a swift kick in the stomach. Take away the government services on which they unknowingly depend, and they may discover the value of what they lost. A large fraction (though hardly all) of Tea Mob members are seniors; stop their Social Security checks and they may wise up.

Would it be a risky strategy? Of course. But so is doing nothing as government degenerates into farce and real issues (energy and preventing another finance-led economic collapse by putting teeth in financial reform) remain dangerously unaddressed.

Sooner the later, the people will wise up and rise up. But they might not do so until the next economic catastrophe, which is sure to come without effective government intervention. Reversing its effects in a bankrupt and rudderless country may take years or decades. Wouldn’t a short but painful engineered demonstration of how vital is government to ordinary people’s lives be better for all?

As I’ve opined before, the best way to teach children not to play with fire is hard experience. I’m afraid the train-wreck just averted was a good chance missed, which may not soon come again.

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