Dispatches From the End of Empire
Well folks, there’s good news, and there’s bad news in America today.
The good news is that people seem to be waking up just a bit to what’s being done to them.
The bad news is that it really is just a bit that they’re waking up.
The good news is that the Republican Party is showing some serious signs of preparing for self-immolation.
The bad news is that that leaves us with Barack Obama and the other Republican Party as an ‘alternative’.
Such is the state of America at the end of empire.
This week, one of the reddest districts in the country voted to send a Democrat to Congress. There was a special election to fill the seat, after the highly moralistic married Republican who had been holding it previously got busted sending out hunky topless pictures of himself as he trolled for a little babe action on Craigslist. What a shock to find that those who lecture us incessantly about our sexual morality turn out to be, er, somewhat hypocritical about it all, eh? If you ask me, it’s one of the few iron laws of political science. You can bet the house that any politician who makes it his or her business to speak and legislate on your sexuality is, in fact, secretly one of the most twisted vines in the jungle. Count on it.
But back to our story. A Democrat won the special election in a hugely Republican-leaning district simply by pointing out that her opponent had said that she would have joined almost every other Republican in the House in voting for Paul Ryan’s Medicare Massacre. Interestingly, that alone was enough to destroy the GOP candidate in what was otherwise going to be a slam-dunk victory. Then, amazingly, Harry Reid actually stumbled accidentally into going on the offensive for the first time in his life, and forced a vote on the same legislation in the Senate, the very next day. Almost every Republican voted for it there as well.
But they sure didn’t want to. Talk about your proverbial rock and a hard place. Your Scylla and Charybdis. These guys are really in a bad way. And, remarkably, because of their own ideological inanity, they are poised to lose a presidential election in 2012 to a guy who by then will have presided over four years of vast unemployment, high gasoline prices, endless wars and unpopular legislation. I mean, think about it. Just how ugly do you have to be to pull off that feat? And all this after having won a crushing victory over Democrats just six months ago.
The problem for Republicans, of course, is Republicans. The problem is that they take their rhetoric and their ideology sorta seriously. Well, that’s fine, but sooner or later one would expect Americans to cease hoisting themselves up for their regular voluntary pi?ata beating. Yes, even in America, where there seems to be almost no imaginable limitation to the depths of political stupidity, you’d think the laws of political physics would ultimately kick in, and, if nothing else, naked self-interest would be enough to shut down the national rape factory that is today’s GOP.
For a while there, I was wondering if we hadn’t somehow shot through the wormhole into some alternative universe where gravity was inverted or something. As it turns out, what it was instead was that inane voters were more than happy to vote against “wasteful spending”, provided that term referred to welfare for negroes and foreign aid for, well, foreigners. Once you start talking about their own gubmint bennies, well then that’s a whole ‘nuther story, brother.
Which brings us from the laws of physics to the laws of mathematics. Even the magic of religion is not enough to turn lead into gold, try as one desperately might. If you insist on spending even more for ‘defense’ than we already do, and if you insist on cutting tax revenues even more than we already have, and if you agree that defaulting on the interest owed from previous borrowing would be a very bad idea, you then come up headlong against a very stiff and well constructed wall otherwise known as basic math. Even by slashing social spending mercilessly, you still cannot remotely balance the budget given the above sacred cow assumptions as your starting point. Indeed, since the Ryan plan calls for slashing taxes even more than they already have been these last thirty years, what Republicans never tell you is that ? according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office analysis ? it will actually produce the precise opposite effect to that which is being claimed in order to sell it. It will actually increase debt, not lower it. That’s right. When all is said and done, and the smoke clears, seniors will be far sicker and far deader, in exchange for which the national debt will have only grown fatter. Such a deal.
But the thing for the GOP today is that they have become so rabid that they cannot divorce themselves from their own litmus tests and fairytales, and they are now eating themselves up from within, like the rapacious cancer they in fact truly are. What can you possibly say, this side of Lewis Carroll or Salvador Dali, about a party in which the likes of Newt Gingrich is drummed out for being insufficiently regressive, and just plain lacking in an adequate degree of meanness?
Gingrich, a veritable cartoon of what it means to be a regressive today, pushed the self-destruct button on his own presidential election campaign when he called the Ryan plan “too radical”. It’s not like the guy all of a sudden found morality or something, notwithstanding (actually, despite) his newly-adopted Catholicism he is placing at the center of his campaign. Gingrich is absolutely capable of being, saying or doing anything in the endless quest to salve his boundless personal insecurities by grabbing the White House. So, rest assured that he didn’t make those remarks because he recently got clobbered by the honesty stick or anything like that. What he did was to make a political calculation that killing Medicare was an electoral loser, at least in a general election. He didn’t need New York’s 26th district to tell him that, though ironically he might not have gotten mugged so violently by his own school of pirana if he had waited to make the same remarks today, rather than a week ago.
Might. Quite likely, though, it still wouldn’t matter. There’s a certain powerful suicidal tendency to regressive politics today (which ? by the way ? suits me just fine). They are, of course, completely divorced from logic, empirical evidence, and, therefore, reality, and completely wedded to dogmatic faith in their magical incantations. That’s why you have to support the Ryan plan to have a prayer at the Republican nomination, even though it actually increases deficits, not lowers them. Math no longer matters. Objective analysis is for socialists. Truth is for pissing on when urinals are otherwise unavailable.
Which brings us to an interesting little field test of just how insane America truly is that is likely to play out over the next several years. The nature of this experiment can be boiled down to one more or less simple proposition and one more or less simple question. The former is that it is increasingly clear that no even remotely sane (or, more accurately, honest) person can hope to win the Republican nomination for president. Increasingly, this logic also applies to other races down the ticket, so that even a far-right senator like Bob Bennett can get primaried out of existence for lack of ideological purity. This is why we’re seeing the astonishingly hilarious sight of human prostitution machines like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty constantly trying on extremely ill-fitting gladiator costumes, and asking us to forget everything about their histories, in a truly pathetic effort to placate the tea party voters of the GOP, who (especially in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina) will be picking the Republican nominee. Get used to it. This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. This is the sort of electorate for whom believing that Barack Obama was actually born in America makes you suspiciously Marxist.
So that’s the premise. No one who isn’t as regressive as The Inquisition and as caustic as sulphuric acid will emerge with the Republican presidential nomination. The much beloved (in hagiographic form, at least) Ronald Reagan could never satisfy these monsters, so tame was he in comparison. So the question then becomes, can such a person hope to win the presidency in the general election? And that is the aforementioned test of American sanity.
The last decade ? and really, the last three ? have not been so good in that respect. I confess that I have spent most of the last dozen years or so with my jaw firmly attached to the floor, incredulous at the idiocy of which Americans are capable. From impeachment, to Election 2000, to the tax cuts, to Iraq, torture and beyond, I have just been stunned at how unenlightened a people we are capable of being. And it’s not a simple matter of policy preference discrepancies, either. It isn’t just that I prefer Path A while others prefer the equally legitimate Path B. I’m sorry, but this is about national hallucination. And, worse, we have mostly been doing this tripping during times of relative prosperity, which raises the question of what the country is capable of when things get worse. Like now, for instance.
It’s hard to get a good reading on America these days. We are, more than anything, in an extended period of political oscillation which reflects, I think, a fairly profound fundamental dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. In 2002, the electorate went strongly for the Republicans and their fear-mongering campaign against the same foreign bogeymen GOP administrations had just gotten done ignoring or, earlier, even supporting. By 2004, this bit was already getting so tedious that a pair of turds like the Johns Kerry and Edwards could almost win the election (and actually may well have, but for the theft of Ohio) against an incumbent president fighting two wars, bathing in the ‘heroic’ glow of 9/11 and presiding over a decent economy. The floodgates then opened in 2006 and 2008, with crushing defeats of Bushism. But these were then quickly followed by the Democratic train wreck of 2010, which seemed a century removed from the election of just two years earlier.
What this represents, I think, is a sort of bratty toddler of an American body politic, badly in need of a diaper change. The little bastard knows that it is unhappy, though it can’t quite discern why. It is agitated and acting up in the name of change, but it wants somebody else to take care of the matter. This country is fighting three or four wars at the moment (or is it more? ? I’m a professor of international relations, and I can’t even keep an accurate count), suffering through the worst and most prolonged economic crisis since the Great Depression, is plunged heavily into debt, and is (not) grappling with the ?ber-crisis of global warming ? and that’s all just for starters ? and yet there were more votes cast recently for American Idol than there were in the 2008 presidential election. Need we say more?
Apparently people are angry, but not angry enough to roll their obese American physiques off the couch, turn off the TV’s latest episode of “This Or That Cloned Breathless Police Drama!”, and actually take ownership of their democracy to the extent necessary to learn about issues and demand credible solutions. Such a combination of angry petulance and a lazy desire to have someone else wave a magic wand and solve the problem is, history has made emphatically clear, quite a fine prescription for disaster. Can you say, “Man on horseback”?
This is the main reason ? among very, very many ? that the Democratic Party generally and Barack Obama particularly are so disastrous. If no one provides real, constructive solutions, the scary monsters of the right will gladly offer the fake, catastrophic ones. The most charitable reading of Obama is that he seems to believe that affability is what people want in their president. Maybe in the era when Leave It To Beaver was the top show on national television that was true, but certainly not today. People want solutions to personal and national problems, and they want security above all, which has been rapidly eroding under their feet. Hence the electoral oscillations of the last decade, and hence the danger of the present moment.
Very few people will be voting for Obama in 2012, even though he’ll get lots of votes. Many of those will be much more against his embarrassingly lame opponent than for his embarrassingly lame self. His two greatest assets in that election will be the Republicans of yesterday and the Republicans of today. Even in a society as politically immature as is America, there does still seem to be some residual memory of the former, in the form of the national horror show known as Bush/Cheney, though still not enough to prevent the remarkable amnesia/dementia of Election 2010.
As to the present, the only folks on the planet capable of making Obama look like a political giant just happen to be the same folks going for the Republican Party presidential nomination. Gingrich? Palin? Romney? These are like the rejected extras for the midget riot scene from “Banana Republic II: The Empire Strikes Out”. You know you’re talking about a real stinker of a party when everyone’s lamenting the fact that Mitch Daniels has decided not to run for president. Apart from the fact that he’s bald, has bad skin, is about five foot five, and his wife ditched him to run off with some other guy, who she then later dumped to return to Mitch, somebody was bound to mention during the campaign the slightly inconvenient fact that the guy who would have been leading ‘the party of fiscal responsibility’ happened to previously preside over a full doubling of the national debt as George W. Bush’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget. If a loser like this creates a massive vacuum at the top of the GOP by choosing not run, you know you’re looking at a sad sack of a party, indeed. And you are.
I don’t think Obama’s prospects are great for 2012, though they are probably good for precisely this reason of the nature of his opposition. But I’d say the thing to fear is not so much 2012 as what comes after. Obama is not about solutions, unless, of course, you happen to be a partner at Goldman Sachs. So the oscillations will continue. People will vote for the party not in power ? even if they just were a mere two years ago, and even if their solutions are laughable ? to try for yet another cheap fix. But it won’t work, of course, and each round will breed further desperation. Which will breed further willingness to accept radical and radically destructive ‘solutions’. If you think I’m exaggerating about this, just look at the progression within the Republican Party from Gerry Ford to Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin. Trust me, you don’t wanna know what comes after that.
But the choices are all merely relative when the empire’s in decline. An Obama victory over the forces of madness would represent a mere postponement of the reckoning definitively headed our way, and it’s a very angry fellow indeed. The bad news is that even if the GOP loses, it still wins. Only it’s called the Democratic Party instead.
It may be that Wisconsin and New York’s 26th represent a liberal spring in America, or a long-delayed realization that regressives are not the friends of the middle class. I doubt it. More likely, certain stupid and selfish voters simply revolted from the mantra of slashing government spending when it became their turn to face the meat axe themselves.
But at this point in the history of what has now become a rapidly sinking kleptocracy of a polity, I’d happily settle for even the pathetic politics of self-interest.
Anything that could slow the national pillaging by America’s oligarchs would represent a step in the right (that is to say, left) direction.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.