By Robert Becker
Doom and gloom, double trouble,
Shakedowns Work, RuiNation Rubble.
It ain’t easy being the last eternal optimist caught in the recent thicket of appalling, if inevitable melodrama. Who doubted the finale, a last-second ceasefire that left no principled adults standing? But unmitigated disaster has only one payoff for non-combatants, namely, the invaluable lessons alert survivors learn. If there are any . . . lessons or survivors.
When only confusion stalks the land, then let us feast on the going fare. Perhaps “optimism” overstates, depending in part on those guilty of self-inflicted failure learning from their own myopia. Since “you can fix stupid,” history is no great solace. Yet, I’ve unearthed five positives to cap our weeks of national immolation.
1) Federalism, beholden to logic, planning, or evidence, is functionally dead. We no longer have to fret about becoming a banana republic as Tea Party monkeys tipped the scales, colluding with scared Dems who can’t say No. No low-growth system, nostalgically democratic or otherwise, survives the current amalgam of mendacity compounded by squandering wealth on wars and subsidies, amplified by revenue shortfalls, and topped off this month with smug weasels running after their tails. Less tethered to historic bases, whether liberal Dems or risk-averse, money crowd Repugs, Washington reminds me of the guy who botched his own suicide: dazed after shooting himself, he’s puzzled both about the bleeding and the splitting headache.
Tea-Vandals Go for Broke
2) Clearer than before, the Tea-vangelist GOP (the New Vandals) have cemented how they will fixate every social, cultural, scientific, intellectual and political decision into absolute, doctrinaire terms, infused with inerrant divine chatter. What the debt ceiling face-off reinforced is that give-no-ground, moralistic extremism extends far beyond abortion, gay rights, foreign crusades against infidels or the supremacy of the Ten Commandments. How about moral dictation from God — prayer warriors who own Truth on every, single public issue.
Whatever Vandals declare “God’s will,” whether on evolution, global warming, presidential birthplace or religion — and now “surplus government spending” — passes into a sacred realm beyond proof, compromise, even dialogue. Closed cases, closed minds. Thus the right now impugns compulsory taxation (vs. tithes) as supporting evil, violating the Biblical commandment against theft. As if medieval crusades, all politics becomes a staging ground, not about voting, issues or or democracy, but holy altars to fulfill God’s commandments. We’re back to good vs. evil, righteousness vs. sin — and especially Us vs. Them. Except that “Them” is now 80% of Us, or the U.S.
3) Politically, it turns out Boehner’s crew of extortionists are as tin-eared as the intimidated White House capitulators, but this grueling marathon comes with GOP downsides. With Gingrichian tunnel vision defying majority opinion, the Great Tea Party Exchange — destroy Obama means destroying government — will boomerang with the 80% non-zealots who just wants jobs and stability, not the fundamentalist brand of holiness. Even alienated independents and new voters will balk at the spectacle of America the Proud held hostage, further outraged when learning who will pay the extortion piper without getting goodies.
Desperately Seeking Good News
Two factions thus will be energized by the misery induced by this job-killing face-off: 1) progressives will more strongly challenge Obama’s presidency; and 2) what’s left of the centrist middle-class (including unions) will realize if they don’t fight harder for their interests, they won’t have any. I see glimmers emerge when a majority confronts the future — how doctrinaire, Tea Party vandals will use any means necessary, holding every possible gun to every national issue. Let us thank Tea-vangelists for broadcasting how devoted and destructive they are when assuming God is always, automatically, on their side. I take solace in better “knowing thy enemy.”
4) More good news for progressives — millions upon millions finally see “with their own eyes” how far right this shadow Republican-White House will cave, abandoning “bankrupt” government as human solution-provider. This tipping point dramatizes an Obama not just right of Richard Nixon but alongside Ronald Reagan (on taxes, deficits, and spending). Whether from cowardice or calculation, this White House, like the Tea Party, has shown who it is and will be — with potential positive fallout. Why Obama keeps getting mugged by extremists is ultimately less important than that it keeps happening, bargaining away rights with blackmailers. Lame duck or sitting duck, this weakling can’t get his own ducks in a row. As approval numbers slide to new lows (40% per Gallup), if Obama never learns to lead, I see a one-term dead duck, already behind in polls to a “generic” Republican.
Please, someone, explain why any (Democratic) incumbent, extremely vulnerable to 9+% joblessness (likely through 2012), rolls over to high-deficit correction mode when his re-election depends on job growth by any means necessary? Is he not allergic to the very Keynesian pump-priming that will save him? Will re-election magic happen solely because he faces a fool or a knave, so repulsive America must re-elect? I get why rightwingers want America to crash and burn, then leverage the disaster. But why does Obama agree — in advance — to halve the fuel, endangering the airship of state he was elected to pilot?
Obama, the Ultimate DINO?
5) And more upsides: at the rate Obama’s going, a primary challenges looms, gaining traction every time he or staffers concede Medicare and Social Security cuts, especially without tax hikes for the super-rich. Unlike Clinton, whose political savvy countermanded even impeachment, Obama offends his base without winning over the mythic center he seeks. You can’t win the center without programs that benefit Main Street, and this debt deal delivers a big zero.
Check out real-world voting trends — Obama looks vulnerable across a batch of key states he won, including FL, VA, OH, NV, IN, NC, even NJ and PA. He will likely lose at least half, those I respect predict. No primary challenger will displace Obama but can redefine the terms of the election, forcing us beyond extremist talking points and assumptions about values. Wouldn’t it be a double betrayal if the great liberal hope goes further rightward, competing with every conservative, recent GOP president except Bush-Cheney — whose core war, tax, and corporate welfare policies are extended by this DINO?
Obama 2012, anyone?
Robert Becker was educated at Rutgers College, NJ (home state) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D. English). He escaped university teaching (stints at Northwestern, University of Chicago) for the “free market,” founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from ’80 to ’92. During the next decade he wrote for a living, mainly PR for business clients and conservation-resource grant writing. For the last decade he’s scribbled on politics and culture, hunting up wit in the shadows.