THE CROOKED LAY OF THE LAND

It seems like the country has been discussing the faux debt ceiling “crisis” for six years, maybe since the turn of the century, instead of six weeks, or several months, or whatever the time frame has been for what has become our long, national mental stupor.

The national preoccupation with asininity launched in full with the endless months of discussing “death panels,” “government takeover of the health care system,” and “socialism,” before moving on to the dream-state reality of discussing whether the economy needed government stimulation in the middle of a near-depression, and when the private sector couldn’t stimulate a nymphomaniac who had swallowed a double hit of X.

Shortly thereafter, it was months of the life or death crisis of Obama’s place of birth, shortly followed by a “budget crisis” that could shut the government down, before segueing with a barely noticeable interregnum into the millennium of the “debt ceiling crisis.”

This indeed says quite a lot about the Republicans’ lack of character, doubtful patriotism surely, contempt for honesty, and fantastical or retrograde beliefs no doubt. But what it doesn’t say is that they have actually failed.

The conclusion is unavoidable, that if a party initially out of power entirely, and then only a minority in the American government is able to exert this level of pressure, and to assert this sort of domination of the national dialogue, and exact the kinds of results it has, that is a recognizable feat.

Given that 2009 began with a new, blindingly popular Democratic president, taking the reins of the presidency amidst the ashes of economic ruination demonstrably and conspicuously caused by years of Republican rule and conservative policies, along with large Democratic majorities in both houses of the American congress, the outcome has little resembled what many expected.

Given the abominable state of American health care and the vast and pressing need for reform, examination of where health reform started out, the enormous potential for revamping, and where it ended up, the comparison is less a sheep before and after shearing, than a lamb before it became a lamb chop.

The mere fact that a nonexistent “budget crisis” and then a nonexistent “debt ceiling crisis” ascended to the national stage and held it, rightfully must be called Republican victory. After reckless, unchecked and unregulated behavior by the real estate and financial sectors induced an economic myocardial infarction, what seemed sure to be sweeping financial reform and oversight now resembles a newborn baby bloody at the knees after being knee-capped while asleep in the crib.

Bog the nation down in a four year dialogue that occurs in some realm of extra-planetary warping of time and space, stopping all but the slightest incremental progress or problem solving, and one can call it gridlock, inertia,  low respiration or festering stasis, but it couldn’t be a more optimal outcome for Republicans if one considers where they started and what they started with.

The presidency is said to be a powerful office, but a Republican minority has all but run out of town many of the president’s key nominees or potential nominees for everything from judgeships to government oversight roles to the leadership of major agencies. There was a great deal of anticipation in the reality-based community that the ascendance of Barack Obama to the presidency would usher in a new progressive era, or more correctly, one that began to redress the severe damage years of corrosive conservative policies have caused the American middle class, and the nation’s health, educational, transportation and general infrastructure. Instead, other than real, but still vastly inadequate health reform (though in fairness, there is a foundation laid for future improvement), and some small, modest bureaucratic improvements, the Obama presidency has seemed more a period of holding back as much as possible an advancing tide of reaction than progress forward.

And now, after ages of surrealistic nattering , some sort of debt ceiling deal eventually, supposedly, is on the horizon. When John Boehner predicts, as he did today, some sort of “compromise” you want to reach for the bottle of nitroglycerin to nix the sudden pains in your chest. Every time there’s a “compromise” we know who usually walks away with the shorter end.

President Obama does appear to be winning the political battle, and winning it quite decisively. In one sense, he indeed has gaslighted the fractious congressional Republicans and exploited their woebegone intransigence to position himself as the reasonable centrist (which he is).  And Barack Obama’s political health is not a minor thing. Even if the last two and a half years have for most Democrats seemed decidedly underwhelming, given the expectations (which in some cases arguably may have been too high) there is no question at all, that were Republicans in charge, in particular at a time when the Republican Party has virtually no effective moderating components or remaining non-adherents to exotic and extreme mutations of ultra-right wing ideology, the lay of the land would be certifiably dreadful rather than just weird.

But in the likeliest deal, whether it’s the Gang of Six Plan or the McConnell plan or pretty much any plan liable to be accepted, the only concessions on substance will be made by Democrats. The decision by the administration to concede that deficit reduction is the nation’s highest priority rather than jobs or economic stimulus, was a white flag thrown down at the very start. Politically, this may turn out to be ingenious positioning. And as I said, that is no minor thing.

Still, in substance, with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in control of the upper chamber of congress, major legislation enacted essentially at the barrel end of a gun that retains historically low tax rates for the wealthy, raises little or no revenue, retains ocean-sized loopholes and rivers of incentives for major industries, no new regulations, contains no job creation, nor stimulus, and no improvement or even guarantees for America’s ragged safety net, and perhaps, even cuts, is an unqualified Republican victory in substance. I’m certainly aware of the demands of political realities and the structure of American government with its checks and balances. But this is still a pretty rueful state of affairs.

The best one can hope for is that Obama’s political gains will combine with improvements in the American economy and lift him to a second term, during which, freed from electoral timidity, he could indeed launch some version of a new, enlightened era. Maybe.  And one might even consider that Republicans do in fact view the current period as do or die, their hyper-intensity a kind of death panic, recognizing that the rest of the world, and the demographics and views  and values of their fellow citizens are moving sharply away from them, and will do so even more dramatically in the future. So they’ll do as much damage as possible, while they still can.

 

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