Tuesday, August 31, 2010
You Can't Get There From Here
Reading liberal blogs, it's pretty clear that Social Security is as sacrosanct there as defense spending is to the right wingers. These are the two issues that will define the debate over fiscal responsibility, party faith, and willingness to do what democracy demands; namely, compromise. These are, in other words, the reefs on which we will finally and fatally run aground.
Of the many reasons I'm still glad Barack Obama is president, his pragmatism and lack (RWS™ lies and teabagger credulity notwithstanding) of doctrinaire partisanship are at the top of the list. Because if we're ever to get our financial affairs in order, we'll need leaders willing to take the hard stands and to advocate for what will work. It's what Obama does. Unfortunately, it's anathema to the extremes of both parties. To the left, he does it too much; to the right, all evidence to the contrary, he doesn't do it at all. (I think it's what's called projection.)
Robert Gates, to his credit (and credit to Obama for keeping him), is willing to buck his party mantras and the brass and advocate for defense cuts (albeit, so far, not huge ones). Obama, I'm sure, would be willing to piss off his base (he's done it many times) and accept some kind of cuts to Social Security. The question is whether there are enough people in Congress to take the hard stands to get it done. The answer, I'm all but certain, is "Yer outta yer friggin' mind."
Do we really still need bases in Germany? In Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Netherlands, UK, Italy? How about virtually all fifty states? If we do need them, is the necessary number twenty or more in Japan, Germany, and California? How many Navy ships, how many missiles, how much spent on unproven Reagan-era Star Wars? These are not fatuous questions.
Likewise, do Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and Frank Drackman need Social Security and Medicare? Given the increase in life expectancy since Social Security was enacted, is it completely off the table that retirement age be increased? Or, at least, that benefits be indexed to means? That the lid on withholding be lifted? Similar questions, of course, must be asked about Medicare.
At the fringes I see no more willingness to compromise in liberals (who, I generally believe, are more reality-based than conservatives, the representatives of whom, during the unlamented Bush years, famously claimed "we make our own reality"), and it's simply not tenable. On either side. It's why I'm also glad Alan Simpson, crazy ideologue that he is, is on the deficit reduction commission. If they come up with recommendations that both he and Erskine Bowles and the rest of them can sign off on, it will mean compromise has been accomplished and that both sides came toward the middle. The perfect contract, I've heard it said, is one in which both parties think they got screwed.
As impossible as that might be, the concept of Congress accepting the commission's recommendations is nearly unthinkable. The screamers of both sides will demagogue it to its death. (Which is not to ignore which party has been willing to do the compromising so far, and from what side are coming the vilest screams.) The deficit hawkishness of the current campaigns will disappear like teabags in a dumpster. Or cats.
On some level, it'll be interesting, especially to the adequately medicated. We are witnessing -- unless the tenor of the times reverses faster than physics allow -- the collapse of the myth of democracy, of the sort of politics that rose above the shallow mongering of stupid memes (vacation time, mosques, birth certificates, death panels, communist liberal America-haters) to do what was necessary. It's easier to believe lies and to fall back on the comfortable cushion of hate than to face problems squarely on the merits, pitch in, dispense with scapegoatism and pettiness. Fox "news" and the RWS™ figured that out a long time ago, and are getting very, very rich on it.
The voodoo deceptions of no tax, no regulations were easy to swallow when the inevitable was far enough off that the consequences could be ignored. But the attendant selfish ignorance has become enshrined and hawked effectively enough by the RWS™ and Fox "news" to have uprooted the ideas of shared sacrifice and common ground on which democracy depends.
Zero sum has become zero chance.
[Update, 9/2: yup.]