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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Crisis in the US

I have not had much to say about the Republican contest for President so far, in part because I find myself unable to watch more than about 15 minutes of a Republican debate. I was rather fascinated in the first one by the echoes of a Maoist party meeting. If anyone had ever said, or, worse, done anything halfway reasonable, such as Mitt Romney's introduction of universal health care, Newt Gingrich's welcoming noises towards immigrants, or Rick Perry's advocacy of mandatory HPV vaccination, they were immediately called to account for it, invited to confess their deviationism--and all did their best to take advantage of the opportunity to purge their sins and promise to do better in the future. To secure the Republican party nomination, it seems, one must now embrace numerous false propositions about our economy and society, not to mention a caricature of our President as an irresponsible socialist. The drama in the race relates to Mitt Romney's continuing inability to convince "the base" that he is their man--and the inability of any alternative candidate to sustain a boomlet. (Nate Silver now reports that Gingrich's numbers are beginning to slip.) This is one symptom of our political crisis.

A second, related one has shown up in Washington, where the Republicans in Congress can no longer think beyond political advantage and are doing their best to paralyze the government. They have stalled many presidential nominations of a quite unexceptionable character, and have even broken the much-ballyhooed agreement, reached I believe in 2007, not to filibuster nominees for federal judgeships. Now the House Republicans are trying to force the President to take a stand on the Keystone pipeline in return for extending his payroll tax cut. (On that one I have to admit that I hope they kill the deal: the payroll tax cut was a mistake and it needs to be restored as soon as possible.) I have also just noticed that the $1 trillion dollar spending bill to which they have agreed will carry the government through only until next September, the height of the election season--a recipe for further disaster. By refusing to confirm the President's choice as head of the new Consumer Protection Bureau or to fund regulatory agencies adequately, the Republicans are subverting the intentions both of the executive and of the last Congress to an unprecedented extent. Not since the last two years of the Presidency of Andrew Johnson (1867-8) has the nation seen anything similar--and that is food for more thought.

Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans differed over one of the great issues of American history: the shape of the postwar South and the fate of the freed slaves. Thad Stevens, Charles Sumner and the rest of the Radicals believed just as deeply as John Boehner and Jim DeMint that the President opposed true American values; indeed, they viewed him as ally of the recently defeated traitors. Yet they knew what they wanted: the enfranchisement of the Freedmen and a Republican-dominated South that would keep their party in office for a generation. Today's Republicans know only a mindless hatred of all government and of the bi-coastal elite that initially dominated postwar American politics. Their great plan for a new America begins and ends with lower taxes and no regulation, and they will do literally anything to advance it. An opinion piece in today's New York Times explains how the Republicans have emasculated the National Labor Relations Board and now threaten to cease its functioning altogether because they will not confirm President Obama's new nominees, leaving the board without a quorum. Like the SDS forty years ago, today's Republican legislators have no respect for existing law.

We are headed towards uncharted territory: a modern state and economy without effective government. The Obama Administration has slowed, not interrupted, the trend. Today's Times also reports that a new regulation will allow states to interpret the new health care law very flexibly, rather than requiring any particular coverage around the nation. This may be aimed at Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the Supreme Court--which may emerge as a key Republican ally in years to come as well. The Republican use of 9/11, while hardly altogether insincere, was from their standpoint brilliant: they used the mobilization of the country and the exhaustion of the resources of the federal government up in a largely futile enterprise, leaving too little left to cope with the worst economic crisis in 80 years. A different Democratic President might conceivably have rallied the country around a different position after 2009, but that will never be known. The great adventure of the Enlightenment, the design of a government to assure justice and meet the needs of the people, is for the moment at an end in the United States. We shall need a new and more flexible view of history to integrate this epochal fact into our world view.


Anonymous said...

Belgium had 1.5 years without a government. Their waste is enormous but life went on as normal. It took a downgrade to force politicians' hands. Something like 9/11 could bring Washington together again, like Iran or China attacks. I recall an article from the last several weeks with some numbers saying that boomers dominate completely senate and house/banking/industry giving numbers like 60% for Senate boomers and bankers and similar so that till end of Decade they rule supreme riding us through the crisis. This does not bode well. The ages and lengths of leadership are longer and older than previously due to general medical advances so things will remain as is until lots of boomers get really old and go inot retirement. However wealthy people in leadership positions can afford health care and have cushy jobs so even if they are bad people it looks like current policies if presumably based primarily on theri attitudes are here for a long time. And if an external crisis or debt collapse comes they will hardly deal with it in a balnced and sensible way if what we have seen until now is normal for them as a group.

Ed said...

Belgium operated for over a year without a national government because the political parties couldn't agree on how to form the coalition. But no one noticed much because first, this was Belgium, and second both local government and the levels of unelected bureaucracy are quite robust in Europe, robust enough to keep things functioning even if the politicians drop the ball. My point is that this sort of political paralysis is not limited these days to the U.S., though obviously it will have more impact here.

PJ Cats said...

Dear Mr. Kaiser,

There is something very true in your remark about the Maoist appearance of Republican party gatherings. Actually this Stalinist/Maoist repressive tolerance occurence spreads like wildfire through our society. It is apparent in television shows in which singers have to have exactly the 'right' kind of voice to win a contest, in the way every actress/singer/showman looks exactly the same, or politicians walking a thin line of political correctness; a new kind of political correctness in the guise of incorrectness. There are so many dominant patterns forced upon us, and especially on the young these days, that it's simply hard to retain your basic humanity. 'Everybody has to do something, to be somebody', Charles Bukowski once wrote, and it presses harder on today's society than ever before. I guess it's the flip side of the coin of the Arab Spring, people getting more and more connected. They won't tolerate intransparent policy, but at the same time force their own (shared) opinion on anything that occurs.
The modern methods of communication seem to have forged the 'new man', that marxism and fascism strived for. It remains to be seen where that leads us.

David Patin said...

I guess I have a much dimmer view of Republicans than you do. I never thought the “much-ballyhooed agreement, reached I believe in 2007, not to filibuster nominees for federal judgeships” was worth any more than the paper it was printed on. Actually it wasn’t printed on paper, so it was completely worthless.

Unless, of course, a Republican had won in 2008. Then, I dare say, conservatives would consider the agreement set in stone.

Bozon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Publion said...

I think not so much of Belgium as I do of France in the 1930s: the polity so fractured by the agitations of extreme Left and extreme Right that nobody cared whether the resurgent German threat came or not.

And some actually were willing to have the Germans come in: the far Left to get rid of the Third Republic and the far Right to have the Nazis eliminate the Communists in France as they had in Germany.

And for so many of the Citizenry the only response was 'Pour qui et pour quoi?' And then in 1940 Petain – for whom I hold no brief – saying to Franco as the Marechal left the ambassadorship to Spain to return and head up Vichy: “My country has been beaten, this is the result of 30 years of Marxism”.

We’ve had 40 years of it here: as Catharine MacKinnon crowed as early as 1989 in “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State”, Marx is the core inspiration of radical feminisim (which she says is the only true feminism), although she and others would go even further than he did, substituting ‘women’ for ‘proletariat’ and galloping on from there, dividing The People up along the axis of gender, rather than economic-class.

Slyly, she neglected to mention the adoption of Gramsci’s Method for attacking “hegemonic culture” in the service of the success of the Leninist “vanguard elites”; nor did she mention Alinskyite praxis; and always referred only to Marx and never to Lenin, and even then always referred to Marx as a “socialist” to avoid the far too dangerously revelatory “Communist”.

Yes, the Beltway seems unable to govern. But I would say that it has ‘deconstructed’ itself along with so much of the American culture and economy. Like a Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the political class unleashed Leviathan (Leviatha?) thinking to control it for its own political gain.

And as it pandered to Big Money by de-regulating financial affairs, so it pandered to Big Identity by cutting it loose from any requirement to be boundaried by the sobering realities of carefully effecting change in a national culture and society.

The culture and the Framing Vision were gutted, the Constitution considered merely a piece of fiction which – in postmodern lit crit – could be considered play-dough by any subsequent reader, who’s own ‘feelings’ were to be considered as seriously as the author’s own intentions.

In the pursuit of their excited illuminations, watertight bulkheads were punctured or done away with in the name of greater ‘liberation’ and ease of ‘mobility’.

The country resembles 'Titanic' now, originally designed well, but then vitiated by a callow company owner more interested in comfort and appearances than in watertight integrity.

And clearly there aren’t enough lifeboats for all the souls aboard.

We have much more to fear now than fear itself; and our own generations’ ‘rendezvous with destiny’ promises to be far more dangerous than anything we faced in 1941.

Souls will be tried; this will be no time for the ‘summer Citizen’, to adapt a phrase.

Steve Winsor said...


Always enjoy your blog posts. Am a conservative Republican but love your even-handedness and historical perspective. I was a bit surprised to see your comment above re: Republican's 'mindless hatred of all government' and supposed desire for 'no regulation'. I think you may be using something you normally don't: hyperbole (in an emotional way).

Republicans have, I think, a mindful desire for 'less government' and for 'less regulation' of business and personal activities. I know of no Republican (nay..nor Libertarian) who 'hates' all government. Regulations, both on a macro scale as well as micro, are at the point of suffocating many of the activities we used to do well decades ago. Try building a new or replacement bridge (see Barrington-Warren bridges)...construction of two tiny bridges between the two towns took over 6 years in thwe 1990s. Comparatively, the 17.5 mile Chesapeake Bay Bridges each took only 3-1/2 years in the 1960s, and the Mt. Hope suspension bridge took less than 3 years.

Milton Friedman said in a debate lon ago at the U. of Chicago: he believed 'less government' is preferable to 'big' government because there is less opportunity for Big Business to corrupt and take over government; that when Big Business does corrupt Bog Government, it forms a coalition of the two that is detrimental to the worker and the consumer. Isn't this exactly where we are today? Maybe there is something to 'less government'.

David, could you do a blog post on
this topic some day from a historical perspective? Less gov't vs. more...and Big Business' part in the process.

David Kaiser said...

To Mr. Winsor (and everyone else) I strongly recommend the superb article on the current state of the Republican Party and different strains of conservatism by Mark Lilla, a former conservative activist, at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jan/12/republicans-revolution/ . He would not say I overstated the case. Perhaps I will try to do the post you suggest sometime. . .