For all the vigor projected by our appealing president, America sits strangely stuck. Healthcare reform seems all but dead. Even the whateverthehellitmeans "public option" is struggling. Tom Daschle, who proved such a formidable leader for the Democrats during the onset of the Bush calamity, is urging President Obama to drop it. There just aren't the votes in the Senate. Indeed, the Democrats seem in a dead run to lose the next election, which would be a certainty if a credible opposition party existed.
It's easy for the senators to be complacent. They are deep in the pockets of the healthcare and insurance industries. The wife of Sen. Chris Dodd earned hundreds of thousands of dollars and stock grants serving on the boards of Javelin Pharmaceuticals Inc., Cardiome Pharma Corp., Brookdale Senior Living, and Pear Tree Pharmaceuticals. And Dodd is one of the good guys? Daschle has his own conflicts. The for-profit medical and insurance industries, along with the U.S. Chamber and assorted business lobbyists can bring hundreds of millions of dollars to bear to maintain the status quo. The only people who think this is a good idea are the diminishing ranks of Americans who have good insurance. The suffering and fear of everyone else has no political power. Meanwhile, the media hype the costs of single-payer (ignoring that America pays twice as much for its system as any advanced nation) and the alleged horror stories of rationing abroad. Can you believe this trick is working?
The same Democrats who won a historic election are struggling to enact the mildest of measures to limit greenhouse gases, even as the government issues a historic assessment of the consequences we are already seeing and will see from climate change. The Southwest can kiss its ass goodbye. So can the Southeast, including the exurban office "park" where the rat bastards at NCR are moving, stabbing Dayton, Ohio, in the back.
If Obama believes he is playing chess, as his supporters claim, he is very close to facing "check," if not "mate." When the economy sours again -- and it will -- he is the one who will be wearing the stiff Herbert Hoover collar (and let us not forget that Hoover was one of the smartest men ever to ascend to the oval office, and embodied the cool of his age, as "the great engineer").
One part of the problem of what passes for American liberalism is on display here in Seattle. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is raising hell about the fishmongers at Pike Place Market, the showmen who toss fish around to the delight of tourists (it's also the easiest way to move the weighty cargo on the ice-slicked floors of the fish markets). The fish are already dead, of course. But this is PETA's cause celebre.
The "left" can never agree on a common agenda and push it forward ruthlessly -- and in a way that appeals to the duhs and ignos that make up the majority of the electorate. Say: climate change measures; the transition to a higher-cost energy future (which would also help extract us from the most dangerous parts of the world); reducing the power of the plutocrats, and healthcare for all. Instead, we must fight for frozen, dead fish along with scores of other issues small and smaller. Junk food in schools! People smoking in their homes! The (hardcore male, insane and addicted) homeless (who want to live on the streets)! Rights for breast-feeders! Some are worthy, but they ensure a hopelessly divided, atomized and ineffective progressive movement.
The right, by comparison, has one talking point: tax cuts. They repeat it with the relentless panache of the Aflac duck. Their answer to any perceived crisis in "the best healthcare system in the world"? Tax cuts. The economy? Tax cuts! Their way to protect ever-rising generational dynasties at a time of some of the worst income inequality in American history? Coin the term "death tax" and make the duhs and ignos think Uncle Sam will come take daddy's old F-150 when he passes. Climate change? "It's a hoax that will raise your taxes." Peak oil? "Hysteria designed to raise your taxes."
David Letterman is easily tarred as a proto-rapist by the vile Sarah Palin, while Dick Cheney gets a free pass to hope America is hit again by terrorists so the Republicans have a chance to regain power. The white supremicists come out from under their rocks bearing arms but the biggest danger to the republic is universal health care, or perhaps the Employee Free Choice Act.
The best minds seem to think North Korea is just a child wanting attention. Such minds came from the same elite institutions and supped in the same elite salons that gave us this recession.
Meanwhile, Phoenix continues its drift. A report from the Brookings Institution shows what everybody but the most growthgasm-besotted boosters already know: It has one of the weakest metro economies in the nation. (I await the Bob Robb column spinning all this into "positive" news, backed by "research" from the Local Krackpot "Think Tank"). And in the boom years, its "strength" was based on huge numbers of newcomers creating huge numbers of generally low-wage jobs in construction and retail. I fear the opportunity to leapfrog out of the mess using biosciences has been lost (a topic that deserves a separate post). Talk about screwed.
The Kookocracy is fighting one of their own, Jane Dee...ooops...Jan Brewer. Becoming governor forces most people to have moments of adult sanity. But the budget battle is mostly pathetic. Oh, for the Kook's agenda to be fully enacted. But would the sun-deadened rejects from the Midwest wake up even then?
Back to the nation, the new Gilded Age rolls on. The Supreme Court further limits the ability of older workers to sue over age discrimination. The hits just keep on coming. With their nest eggs and in many cases professional careers gone, older people have no recourse but to work, ever more in 19th century-style chattel. Millions of jobs will never return to a deindustrialized America as China flouts fair trade and American companies happily go along. Vast segments of the nation will be economic and social wastelands. Millions more will be added to the rolls of the uninsured (the hidden GOP message to them: "die"). Most of the next generation will not have it better. Most of my generation is probably only being kept afloat by inheritances from their parents. When are the Wal-Mart jobs and electronic playthings not enough to keep the population in a collective coma? Perhaps when the credit cards are declined while trying to purchase a new version of Grand Theft Auto for the XBox? Even then? We are "consumers," not citizens. A "market," not a civilization.
The institutions that are too big to exist seem firmly in the driver's seat. "We the People" means the Supreme Court definition of a corporation as a "person." If the likes of JPMorgan Chase have signed off on the pitiful Timmy Geithner's new regulations, those rules are by definition dangerously flawed. The emerging nations meet at the first BRIC conference, explicitly aimed at undermining what's left of American economic power while we continue to spend blood and treasure in two wars. The transnational businesses that control the American government could care less -- they've already moved much of their operations offshore, pay no taxes, suck up corporate welfare and are -- and somehow this doesn't trouble the conservatives -- "citizens of the world."
We are stuck and mistake it for a return to normality. That being defined as the recent past, when all the dangers of the Great Disruption could be pushed back by one last bubble and endless distractions. Instead, we are teetering on a sea mountain always at risk of continuing the downward plunge. And yet, the elites and the devotees of The Real Housewives of New Jersey seem in agreement: It can't be long before we restart the whole enterprise of financial swindles and suburbanization and flip this house.
Or so many apparently think. They think they think.