by Don Washington on 2012/10/15
There have now been two “debates” between Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan and the shared perspective of our political class breaks the heart. The agreed upon reality between the camps is bereft of faith in the principles of democracy and an abrogation of the Enlightenment’s social contract between the governed and their governing class. The contract that obligates the government to meet the material needs of the mass of its citizens not merely facilitate the economic wants of a powerful oligarchy. The social contract that binds us together is an anathema to concentrated wealth and power but both Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan are intent on walking away from that contract and writing a new one that enshrines the cynical politics of the corporate elite over the concrete needs of a society in peril.
In two weeks the four men who in theory wield the power of we the people have verified something many of us have vaguely felt and some of us have truly feared… that no one in either camp is interested in promulgating rational responses to real crises. Instead, we are being given irrational responses to manufactured crises and a half-hearted and disingenuous “conversation” that focuses on rhetorical style and the veracity of meaningless detail. It is the kind of “discussion” that distracts us from the very real social and economic dangers that are strangling our nation’s soul and leading us down the dark path toward the worst kind of despotism.
The hallmark of a dying society is when it lacks the capacity to identify, confront and overcome its problems. A society’s political system is its immune system, its capacity to deal with corruption, inequality, crime, abuse of power and material threats; be they military, economic or social. In theory the “debates” between Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan and the entire Presidential Election is supposed to be about how we identify, confront and overcome the problems we face and come up with rational responses to real crises. But we’ve just seen two debates where neither candidate nor their seconds grappled with any of the most pressing issues we face as a society. Instead we saw the cynical politics of the corporate elite on full display.
Just one example of an irrational solution to a manufactured crisis instead of a real solution to an actual crisis is our 7.8% unemployment rate. Both Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan define the “crisis” as government needing to “create the conditions” for the “engine of private commerce” to employ people. So we get the irrational solution of closing tax loopholes to collect money and lowering corporate tax rates because that’s an unalloyed good instead of dealing with the real crisis. Since the end of World War II we’ve been deploying this very strategy to disastrous affect and it has never worked… that’s what makes it irrational. If it did work then the very fact that we’ve dropped upper income tax rates from 90% to 35% and even lower on dividend income would have created a utopia instead of the mess we face now.
A proven and rational response to the real crisis of 7.8% unemployment would be to deploy a program that directly employs people like the CCC and WPA did during the Great Depression because economies run on demand. Supply-side insanity has created a situation where private industry is sitting on over two trillion dollars. The stock market has not only rebounded but is providing record dividends again. Private corporations, in some cases are more profitable than they have ever been and they are not hiring. In fact wealth is continuing to concentrate in their hands and they are neither employing people nor raising the wages of people that are in their employ. They are instead hording, hiding and “investing” money in places and assets that allow them to further evade contributing to society. The evidence makes it obvious that closing loopholes and lowering tax rates is not going to employ anybody and both Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan must know this… it is what makes the entire exercise so damn cynical.
This is just one example of how our political class is unable or unwilling to identify, confront and overcome its problems. It’s why last week President Obama was a half-hearted corporate lawyer unable to defend his record and unable to attack the often new and contradictory positions of his opponent because to call the disingenuous corporate CEO Mitt Romney to account would be to discuss terrain that he himself rejects. You see it is where they agree that grinds our society down into the fine powder of powerless consumers at the mercy of predatory over class of corporate oligarchs. To be certain there are differences between them on cultural issues from a woman’s right to choose to marriage equality, as the Vice-Presidential “debate” showed us but it is not that terrain that concerns us. No, it is where the difference is degree not dissonance… where they are of an accord on the tune but not the key in which democracy dies.
They agree on the NDAA, warrantless wire-tapping and other expansions of the security state. They agree to the point where the administration’s irrational response of overwhelming force on Occupy Wall Street and the prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act reveal not an inch of daylight between them. They agree that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are programs that have to be knocked down to size in one way or another. They agree to the point where the one thing we can be certain of is no matter which one of them wins people are either going to be working longer to receive benefits or benefits are going to be reduced or limited in some way at the least or “voucherized” or privatized. They agree to the point where the knives are out for Social Security, which does not impact the Debt of Deficit in any way shape or form. This is the height of an irrational solution to a manufactured problem. Even if the idea was to “save” the program a rational solution would be raising the income cap or eliminating it all together. The irrational solution to addressing Medicare and Medicaid is to cut them instead of discussing the primary driver of their costs; private insurance profiteering.
They agree that corporations are too highly taxed, as we’ve already said and that the power of government should be used to defend corporate interests first and foremost in order to grow the economy. They agree that the National Debt as a percentage of the GDP and the Deficit are the most pressing problems facing our entire society. Even though when the Debt GDP was 120% the government spent money on everything from the GI Bill to building of subsidized housing that powered the expansion of our post-war economy. Their irrational response to the manufactured deficit and debt crisis is to impose austerity at a time of economic crisis. To put it another way, they agree that now is the time to cut social programs at a time when people most need them. It is social policy in reverse, the kind of thinking that leads to Greece, Spain, Italy and worst of all it is highly irrational.
They agree that we must have an aggressive and outsized military that wages an endless war on terror. Our military budget dwarfs the world’s by an order of magnitude that mitigates against an economy that spends money on schools, roads and the economic and social uplift of its people and militates toward the irrational search for enemies both abroad and at home to justify its existence. The world they have agreed upon is built on the moral foundation of economic militarism. That it produces violent occupations and the continued diminution of a democratic society’s civil liberties only demonstrates how irrational a response it is to the manufactured crisis of an endless terrorist threat.
Between them, on the issues that matter most to society, it is all a matter of degree not difference. And neither camp is capable of willing to identify, confront or solve them. Instead Obama/Biden are the champions of an inadequate and unfair status quo that they see as needing minor adjustments in the interests of the powerful to address any problem society faces. While on the other hand the Romney/Ryan ticket is the champion of radical change to the status quo to place it further under the control of the interests of the powerful to address any problem society faces. Both sides of this ugly coin have abandoned the poor and the working poor even as their numbers grow because the status quo is both inadequate and unfair.
What neither side of this ugly can ignore is that the middle class, that grand creation of the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society, is being devoured by the pernicious economics of a short-sighted oligarchy. At present both sides are giving them the same lip service that they used to give the poor before poverty became a moral problem of the cheating and lazy few supported by the hard-working and deserving many. The fight used to be what was the best way to address the poverty created by the inevitability of some level of unemployment or the accident of birth that had one born into threadbare conditions and now the poor are not even worth discussing. Now the powers that be are worried about the middle class while systematically either eliminating or not fighting to defend the very structures that make that middle class possible. It is either a cynical exercise in defending the powerful or an irrational response to a real crisis but either way it is both the death of hope and an epic failure of our democracy’s immune system and it is up to us to demand better and save it.