Thursday, February 11, 2010


It's taken almost two-and-a-half centuries, but it's clear that our form of democracy doesn't work. It did. But now it doesn't.

There are certain ironies: clearly, the writers of the Constitution didn't trust people all that much. They eschewed direct governance, and they established an elaborate system of checks and balances; they saw to it that rash decisions would be hard to make, that changes to the Constitution would be difficult, but possible. And yet, fundamentally, they made some optimistic judgements that have proved to be preposterously unrealistic. They counted, it seems, on a basic level of intelligence and education among the electorate and on the idea that those elected to govern would share at least a modicum of deference to the common weal. I can only assume that, back then, there was reason to believe it.

I don't hold Tom and Ben and George and John and Alex and James and the rest responsible for not being able to foresee the development of a major party devoid entirely of either of those basic qualities. Nor, in their zeal for a free press, seeing its necessity as a balance to government and as a provider of information, can I fault them for not imagining the scope and reach of a modern 24/7 news organization devoted entirely to a political agenda. Nor could they have predicted the gullibility of an ill-informed and lazy electorate subjected to constant propagandizing while having been deliberately deprived -- by a cunning mix of religious indoctrination and inadequate funding of meaningful education -- of the tools to recognize it; how could they have foreseen the efficacy of an effort so diabolically designed to deceive? But whether blameless or not, the founders managed to create a form of government that turns out to be entirely unworkable under the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

I've said it before: we don't deserve the democracy we've been given. It's as if we've been handed a precious work of art and are using it as an outhouse. Our democracy is the Buddha carvings after the Taliban got to them. Nor should it be difficult to understand who, in that analogy, are the destroyers. To function, democracy needs people of intelligence, of knowledge, of energy. And of good will. That, most especially: people of good will. In Congress. In the populace. On both sides.

Here's a perfect example of the problem: the "discussion" about trying terrorists in the US civil court system. It's one that is not just amenable to, but NEEDS, rational debate; in my view, the arguments strongly favor civilian courts, but there are reasonable positions to the contrary. Yet we've had nothing of the sort, and the blame is squarely on the right wing. There's the neo-cons and their daughter, desperately trying to defend their failures; there's the Congressional Republican spokesfolk and the usual RWS™, completely ignoring the fact that the current administration is doing exactly what the previous one did, 319 times, for people such as KSM and Richard Reid. And, worst of all, there are the thoughtless but angry, uninformed but certain, "patriotic" but hate-filled people in the streets, tea bags in hand, vitriol fully in throat, hurling epithets with no basis. Unformed rage, misplaced feelings of victimhood, complete incomprehension of how their government works.

For an informative discussion of the terror-trial issue, listen to this. But be warned: it's long and it's thoughtful; it contains facts. It shows why complicated issues are simply too much for our politics, as currently degenerated, where demagoguery replaces debate and hypocrisy replaces helpfulness.

If the Sarah Palin phenomenon isn't the perfect proof -- with her deliberate lies, her anti-intellectualism, her faux (and Faux) populism based on demeaning the other guy, her proud vacuity, her careful absence of actual ideas (her performance for the Teabaggers was a classic of appealing to the lowest common denominator, nastiness for its own sake, and avoidance of meaningful proposals), her rabid followers who find her "like one of us" (she is; oh yes, she is!) -- then nothing is. Well, maybe this, too.

Oh, I rant and rave. But I'm deadly serious. I've said we need two strong parties in this country, and intelligent debate over tough issues. But such a concept is predicated on honest intention, of which there simply is none in the current minority party. They won't take yes for an answer, and they never will.

And their followers will never admit it. Because outrage is easier than pitching in. Because believing stuff doesn't take the effort of knowing stuff. Because being led by people who deliberately feed your sense of aggrievement feels gooder than being made to think by people who know what they're talking about. Y'know. Like a charismatic law professor with a teleprompter. Damn sure don't need that, not us real 'Mericans. You betcha.

We no longer have the luxury of stupidity and crass party politics. Those are what got us here, yet those are what still drive the debate. If we can't rise above it, and soon, it'll be too late. But then, in my view, it already is.


  1. You blame the media, but there were partisan newspapers dating back to the 1800's and they included some pretty strong language against their opponents. Read the partisan newspapers section. There were always attack dogs out there:

    You blame the "stupidity" of the public. What has happened? American's lives have gotten so much easier over the years due to innovations in all areas of our lives. Why are people who have more free time becoming dumber? Perhaps you've read this quote before:

    "The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:

    "From bondage to spiritual faith;
    from spiritual faith to great courage;
    from courage to liberty;
    from liberty to abundance;
    from abundance to selfishness;
    from selfishness to apathy;
    from apathy to dependence;
    from dependency back again into bondage."

    How do you rectify giving a government which is inherently corrupt and, in your opinion, elected by stupid people any more control over the administration/regulation of how it's citizens insure themselves against the financial costs of illness or how they save for retirement (social secuirty)?
    You're pointing out what you feel are weakenesses in the Constitution that make our republic unsustainable. What about the 10th Amendment (The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.)? Does that even matter anymore?

    Perhaps our founding fathers understood that the average man could not stay on top of all the issues confronting a country at one time while working and raising a family, and thus chose to apply government at a more local level. Certainly the common man can understand the events going on around him that he can see daily. At the national level, most americans have a short period of time daily to take in the days events. That doesn't make them stupid. Unfortunately, FOX/MSNBC/CNN all fall way short of giving an independent picture of national/international politics and instead come off as snarky, annoying, bitter, angry, and partisan.


  2. Wrong, PT. Very wrong. The weaknesses aren't in the Constitution, they're in the people allowed by it to vote, and in the ones for whom they've voted.

    The fault is not all media (thank god for the internet), at least not equally. And, sure, there have been "attack dogs" out there. What there's never been until now is a single conglomerate with such reach and which has an overt and dishonest political agenda. For that, there's simply no precedent.

    And it's not that I want this government to have more power, I want the obstructionist, dishonest, self-interested only for the sake of power Republican Party as currently constituted in Congress, to have less. They're the minority party. They're entitled to present ideas, to be given credence, and to have their ideas, to the extent that they're sensible, incorporated into legislation. As they have. They're NOT entitled simply to end governance out of blind ideology at best, and rank politics at its worst.

    And I want those who voted them into office, most particularly the viewers of Fox "News" and the teabaggers, to develop a little self-awareness. Let's not call it stupidity. All right. Let's just recognize it for what it is: thoughtless swallowing of drivel from a single "news" organization, unable -- for whatever reasons -- to filter bullshit from fact. Knowing only that they're mad, not knowing exactly why or how to solve it, not willing to devote anything more to it than screaming and making mis-spelled signs. Willing to let Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh to do their thinking for them, and then simply to fall in line, shouting.

    All I want is for them to wake up. Not to agree with me. Just to wake up and think and pitch in with solutions, not just hatred.

    That's all. Not much, really. Impossible, but not much.

  3. To stay on point, there is not much to disagree with regarding the media. Would a truly unbiased news channel not be successful in today's market? I would certainly pay a monthly fee if it presented both sides consistently. Of course, if a channel like that existed most Americans would probably end up as Libertarians within a few months.

    One thing that I do not understand is your anger with the current state of affairs. Despite political ebbs and flows, there is little doubt that the country is slowly adopting more progressive policies. Look at the last 60 years; Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, 50% of medical spending administrated by the government, on the cusp of a public option/universal system without tort reform, strong minimum wage laws, borders open to immigration, Keynesian monetary policy, Republican presidents extending Medicare benefits, passing bailouts, and reading terrorists their Miranda rights, an extremely liberal president now, ending don't ask don't tell, planning to close Gitmo, increasing regulation of big businesses, Govt owning part of some of our largest banks/companies, Govt dictating that private banks lend to certain high risk people, etc. And all this despite conservatives being the largest idealogical group.

    Isn't all that stuff you should be happy about? It seems like conservatives are getting their clocks cleaned. Besides the Neo-con nation building, what is happening politically that you don't like? (I'm not talking about the "white noise" of the media, I'm asking about real policies that have been implemented)?


  4. Fair question, fair points. I guess my problem is mostly with the sudden and unprecedented de-facto creation of a Senate which now requires 60 votes for anything significant. It was never thus, not anywhere close to how it is now. So it seems progress such as you state is being ground to a halt.

    I'd hope, as a libertarian, you don't have a problem with gay rights. I'd also think you'd approve of using our Constitutionally based laws in dealing with most terrorists. I don't see why trying them in courts is "liberal." It's lawful. Why is it even political at all?

    Which gets back to the issue: when we have a Senate that now gives a minority veto over everything, and when it's run by such overt and unapologetically hypocritical people, it seems things can no longer get done. Your list is nice; but health care reform is all but doomed; same with rational energy policy, meaningful looks at budgetary discipline. And it's hard to argue, in my view, that regulating banks is a bad thing, given what deregulation has brought us. Canada, virtually alone among western nations, seems to have avoided much of the mortgage crisis. Because of regulations.

    When the Rs first call for a bipartisan budget commission, and then kibosh it when it might actually happen; when they demand openness in health care reform talks and then balk when it happens; when there is a group (of as yet unknown significance) of people born and bred by Fox "News," filled with crazy rage at imagined offenses, it speaks of a bleak future.

    And finally: Obama has been characterized as some sort of flaming liberal, and the right (and you, evidently) buy it. But he's anything but: he's getting nearly as much flack from the left as the right. He is, in fact, exactly what he said he was. Which is another reason to be pessimistic: he's the right guy for the times. He's one conservative and libertarians should be happier with than they are. And yet he's being trashed for everything he does.

  5. PS: the closest we have to an unbiased and deeply probing medium is NPR and PBS. No, they probably wouldn't make it in a commercial market. And they're constantly decried by the right for doing actual reporting. And, as we know, actual reporting is liberal.

  6. Funny you bring that up. I recently saw this PBS Special on healthcare which starts out with the line "In the late 1980's, Taiwanese healthcare was even worse than America's is today. 50% of their people had no coverage"

    Sorry, but starting a documentary by comparing the American healthcare system to a country in which 50% have no coverage shows a clear bias. I would have gladly sent them a case report from Canada of how a contact was sent away with a lump in her breast and then had to wait months for breast cancer treatment after the 1 lump became 6. The woman is extrmely lucky the bx showed only a moderately invasive DCIS.

    So, once again, I'd like to echo your staement: Thank God for the intrawebs. Here is a well done debate on healthcare. This is the type of thing that should be on the evening news:


  7. Thanks for that link, PT. I'll slog through it. I didn't see the PBS story you mention. I'd not, however, be necessarily inclined to reject an entire show based on an opening line. Particularly if, as it seems, the "worse" was referring to percentages of people covered, which is, I assume, factually verifiable.

  8. So Sid, you want the same Bi-Partisan Cooperation that resulted in the 1st Gulf War, Iraq War, Defense of Marriage Act, Welfare Reform, and the Bush Tax Cuts???And what am I forgetting?? Oh yeah, Medicare Part D that you'll be able to get your Alzheimer's meds with if you can remember to sign up...
    Just bustin balls:) Seriously, have u looked into that nonsense? My mom asked me to help her pick a plan...My daughter's Mandarin Calculus didn't give me as big of a headache...


  9. Hey, Frankie, I agree the Ds did their part to help George screw things up, and, in some areas, Clinton before him. But at least they didn't simply block everything for its own sake. What'll be interesting is to see what they do next time they're in the minority. Payback? Or be the adults the Rs never were? We'll see.

    I joined one of those Medicare Advantage plans, soon, possibly, to be killed by reform, if it ever happens. Good deal, more bennies with no more premiums, provides the drug coverage. Too good to last, no doubt.

    I'm not planning to need Alzheimer's meds. As soon as it's clear I have it (and I'm starting to palpate around inside my cranium), I'm buying a gun and one bullet.

    (By the way, my wife always laughs when she reads your comments -- well mostly, anyway, and she doesn't see the ones I trash -- and actually said "I hate to admit this, but I'd like to meet him someday." The end is near.)

  10. Ummm Sid...
    it used to take 67, thats SIXTY FRIGGIN SEVEN votes to break a filibuster and stuff still got done...Like the Civil Rights Act that passed because of Republicans, and don't tell me the Southern Democrats were realy Republicans, my Granddaddy was one of those Southern Democrats and if u called him a Republican he'd Secede and invade you...


  11. First of all, Frankie, the point is that the filibuster has NEVER been used to the extent that it is now. And back in those days, they actually had to get up and read the phone book.

    And you've made that Republican/Civil Rights Act argument before. It holds water like a sieve. It was LBJ twisting arms and breaking balls; and where did the pissed off Ds go after that? To the R party. Because that's where the anti-rights people were.

  12. Didn't publish that last one. And my wife has changed her mind.

  13. 1.) Obama strongly supports the filibuster that you believe is halting the legislative process. Interestingly, Obama (the constitutional law professor) knows nothing about the history of the filibuster as you can see by his e-mail below where he claims that "the founding fathers" included a filibuster in the constitution.

    2.) Obama is very "left leaning". He's done interviews on how to create wealth distribution (not IF it's legal, but HOW can they make it happen):

    and on how a single-payer govt controlled healthcare system is his ultimate goal:


  14. As I've said before, I think single payer is the only way to correct our problems. So on that, I agree with him.

    Wealth redistribution: what were the Bush tax cuts? Wealth redistribution, to the richest, from the poorest. Any tax is wealth redistribution. But such is the state of our discourse that it's made out to be some sort of communist plot. Pathetic.


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