Monday, November 8, 2010

One Man's View of the US Mid-Term Elections

I found this confessional-style post by Tom Engelhardt at his site quite interesting. It has a nice review of the "politics" he experienced during his lifetime (from the 1950s until now) as well as some incisive comments about the current state of America and its dysfunctional politics:
I’m no expert on elections, but sometimes all you need is a little common sense. So let’s start with a simple principle: what goes up must come down.

For at least 30 years now, what’s gone up is income disparity in this country. Paul Krugman called this period “the Great Divergence.” After all, between 1980 and 2005, “more than 80% of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1%” of Americans in terms of wealth, and today that 1% controls 24% of the nation’s income. Or put another way, after three decades of ”trickle-down” economics, what’s gone up are the bank accounts of the rich.

In 2009, for instance, as Americans generally scrambled and suffered, lost jobs, watched pensions, IRAs, or savings shrink and houses go into foreclosure, millionaires actually increased. According to the latest figures, the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans (all billionaires) has risen by 8% this year, even as, in the second quarter of 2010, the net worth of American households plunged 2.8%.

And in this election year, dispiritingly enough, it’s clear what went up is indeed coming down. It’s been true for years in our electoral campaigns, of course, but this year we’re talking genuine financial downpour. Up at the top, individually and corporately, ever more money is on hand to “invest” in protecting what one already possesses or might still acquire. Hence, this election has a price tag that “obliterates” all previous midterm records. It’s estimated at $4 billion to $4.2 billion, mostly from what is politely called “fundraising” or from “outside interest groups” -- in other words, from that 1% and some of the wealthiest corporations, mainly for ad and influence campaigns. In other words, the already superrich and the giant corporations that sucked up so much dough over the last 30 years now have tons of it to “invest” in our system in order to reap yet more favors -- to invest, that is, in Sharron Angle and Harry Reid. If that isn’t dispiriting, what is?

The right-wing version of this story is that a thunderstorm of money is being invested in a newly aroused, mad-as-hell crew of Americans ready to storm to power in the name of small government, radically reduced federal deficits, and of course lower taxes. This is a fantasy concoction, though, even if you hear it on the news 24/7. First of all, those right-wing billionaire and corporate types are not for small government. They regularly and happily back, and sometimes profit from, the ever-increasing power of the (national security) state to pry, peep, suppress, and oppress, abridge liberties and make war (endlessly) abroad. They are Pentagon lovers. They adore the locked-down “homeland.”

In addition, they are for the government giving them every sort of break, any sort of hand -- just not for that government laying its hands on them. They are, in this sense, America’s real welfare queens. They want a powerful, protective state, but one that benefits them, not us. All of those dollars that scaled the heights in these last decades are now helping to fund their program. For what they need, they only have to throw repeated monkey wrenches into the works and the Tea Party, which really isn’t a party at all, is just the latest of those wrenches.


Oh, and as for the election itself, none of us really had to wait for the results of midterm 2010, the Anger Extravaganza, to know that it won’t be transformative, not even if the Republicans take both houses of Congress. This isn’t rocket science. You already know what the Democrats were capable of (or, more exactly, not capable of) with 60 theoretical votes in the Senate and a humongous advantage in the House of Representatives. So you should have a perfectly realistic assessment of how much less of “the people’s business” is likely to be done in a more closely divided Congress, or even in one in which the Republicans hold a seat or two advantage in the Senate -- and with Democrat Barack Obama as president.

After the election, whatever the results, you already know that Obama will move more toward “the center,” even if for decades it has been drifting ever rightward without ever settling on a home; that he will try to “work with” the Republicans; that this will prove the usual joke, and that the election, however breathlessly reported as a Republican triumph or Democratic save or Tea Party miracle (or anything else), will essentially be a gum-it-up-more event.
I would say that Engelhardt has pretty well nailed it. This is lined up with my view of recent American history, the current state of that country, and the most recent election. It is a state sliding toward a dysfunctional mess. The great apogee of the 1960s glory is long gone, the country is bankrupt, it is quickly losing "market share" in the world. It is very much like General Motors: it is a zombie country that doesn't yet realize that it is the walking dead. It has been gutted by an elite that sold off the jobs to enrich itself. It merely staggers about because it hasn't yet realized that it is mortally wounded. Just like the GM CEOs who ran that company into the ground never admitted to any fault or even an awareness that they were gutting the country. The US will stagger on for a decade or two, but at some point creditor nations will pull the plug and the US will have rioting in the street much as Greece did this year when people realize that their government has played fast and loose with their destiny and sold them out to give tax cut after tax cut to to top 0.1% of the population.

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