Begging For Grown-ups
God, I hope people aren't watching CNN on the week-ends because if they are, they're seeing a pile of nonsense the likes of which I haven't seen since the run-up to Iraq. They have been showing Pete Peterson's creature David Walker on a loop spouting insanity like this:
If you count what we owe Social Security and Medicare we're 92 percent of GDP already. We're only three years away from where Greece was when they had their crisis. We have a problem. The fact the far right and the far left have a problem with the proposal is good news because the answer is in the sensible center.
And then there's this:
VELSHI: Diane Swonk is the chief economist with Mesirow Financial. Diane we have a few issues here, we want to make sure that this commission doesn't end up like the 9/11 commission where nobody does anything. But that danger really does exist. They were told do what you have to do to figure out an answer to this debt and deficit question. Did they overreach to the point, as John suggests, it might be dead on arrival?
DIANE SWONK, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MESIROW FINANCIAL: You know I think no matter what they did was going to be dead on arrival. I think John points out something really important, what the American people think they want and the reality of what that actually means for their lives are two different things. The gap in bridging that is very difficult. And in fact I agree with David I mean I still think the commission fell short in terms of what they could have done. They didn't want to overkill and sort of go where they thought they really needed to go to deal with the real structural deficit out there. This really doesn't have much on entitlements over the longer haul. [Right. Until they are completely destroyed, the job will remain undone.-- ed]
But on the other side of it they were trying not to go so far that they wouldn't get any negotiation. At the end of the day, the background research on this Pull and Pearson Research (ph) says we need have new budget accords; we need to have new rules that Congress has to act. That's what is lacking in all this. We can have all the commissions in the world and point out the commissions to advise us but if we don't have rules in which we have to get Congress to actually be disciplined to have a discussion, they are going to continue to act like children. I really am kind of ready to give the whole Congress a time-out at this point.
VELSHI: All right. John, the issue here is that we know that this is what people are concerned about. Someone is going to have to have an answer. Is this going to become the biggest issue of the presidential election?
KING: I think it will be for the next two years and into the next presidential election. David Walker is dead right the American people are ahead of their government and their politicians on this. Because Ali you know this, over the past two or three years every family in America has had to make incredibly difficult choices and do things they didn't want to do. And so they look at Washington and they say why won't you do things that you don't want to do, why don't you break your rules and do something about this and be grownups?
VELSHI: John, the bottom line is we've had sacred cows, things that were never going to be touched. But people in their own homes have had to deal with those sacred cows. So I guess it's time that the government does, too.
KING: But the politicians don't trust each other. They often don't trust the very voters that just sent them here to Washington. The trust deficit between the Democrats and the Republicans is what gets in the way here. Because they think they will go into a room and cut a deal and then in the next campaign somebody will run an ad that says Ali Velshi just raised your taxes, he is going to make grandma work until she is 70, and he froze military pay for our heroes overseas. That is what they see; they see the short term politics of these attack ads. They won't get in the room and make grown-up decisions. The American people look out and say we have to do this, why can't you. It is the perfect environment for Perot like independent movement however the one thing the two parties agree on is making it hard for there to be a third party.
ROMANS: But it also makes it sound like we can all just sit here and watch Congress drive us into a ditch. It makes me feel very powerless sort of if so many people and the American people say they are so worried about this John but you can't change the DNA of Washington.
VELSHI: Even after a midterm election like the one we just had.
KING: It is why the president tried to set this up so that you force Congress to have an up or down vote. Everybody has to do it together. Essentially you all walk the plank together. But if they can't get the fourteen votes for this one report, there will be a couple of other proposals coming down the road just in a minute, that won't happen, and when that doesn't happen look, the new Republican House does not trust the president of the United States. And many Republicans think that their best effort is to carry this debate over into the next presidential election where they think they can win the White House and have a favorable political climate. Politically they might be right. But to the structural issues you are all talking about, everybody knows the sooner we deal with this, the easier it is, it is hard but the sooner the better, but this town does not seem capable of doing big things at the moment.
So the American people know what they want but they don't know what they want and the congress can't do anything because it doesn't trust the president and wants the president defeated, but the smart people know that the deficit is the most important thing to deal with RIGHT NOW because well ... I'm not sure. Do you feel better informed? I don't. I have a headache.
The reason this reminds me of the run-up to Iraq is that it's clear that all these issues have now become confused and the disaster capitalists have taken advantage of that to ram through their destructive agenda. There is acute crisis in unemployment and the continuing housing slump both of which are impacting the short term budget deficit. There are also some long term deficit problems, mostly to do with health care costs and endless wars. There's also an investment deficit in infrastructure, education and research and development. We could help the first crisis by dealing with the investment deficit, but that's off the table. So, we're going to obsess about something that may or may not happen 50 years from now while making the current crisis and the investment deficit even worse.
The disaster capitalists are using the acute crisis to scare people into destroying the safety net and giving the wealthy huge permanent tax cuts and deregulating their businesses so they can pollute, poison and steal with (even more) impunity. The dim-witted Democratic deficit hawks (to the extent they are not disaster capitalists themselves) are helping them by running toward the shiny object in pursuit of their desperate desire to be taken seriously as "responsible adults" by Ali Velshi.
And then you have the villagers, who clearly do not have the vaguest idea of the truth of the economic situation and instead cast themselves in the role of Miss Manners, chastising both sides for behaving "childishly" and insist that we need a national call for "sacrifice." They, of course, will not be sacrificing themselves because they are among the wealthy who will benefit from all this. But they believe they will be sacrificing because they see themselves as Jess-Folks-Real-Americans and assume that these "sacrifices" will affect people making 40k a year the same way it affects them. Which is to say they believe it won't affect them at all. Except, of course, it's hugely problematic for real middle and working class Americans to lose their personal and financial safety net if they are unlucky enough not to be on TV on Sunday mornings or have a few spare million in the bank.
The morning on This Week, Ruth Marcus gave a good example of the "above-it-all" well-off person who thinks that some combination of cuts to people who have nothing and cuts to people who have everything is somehow fair and equal, and worse --- anyone who argues about such things is "childish:"
MARCUS: Actually, both sides are screaming bloody murder. And like most people screaming bloody murder, I think they're behaving incredibly childishly...
AMANPOUR: Well, you've told the president to be professorial about this, didn't you?
MARCUS: Professorial and the grown-up...
AMANPOUR: Written about it, anyway.
MARCUS: ... and the grown-up in the room. I agree with what Senator Conrad said. The non-report, the recommendations from the co-chairs were a useful dose of shock therapy just to educate people about the incredible gulf that we have between the government that any reasonable person wants.
Marcus unbearably smug for someone who thinks solving these problems is just a matter of others being silly, when she's nearly the silliest person in Washington. Not only is there a very serious, "grown-up" disagreement about the scope of the problem, there is a very serious disagreement about how to go about fixing it, what should come first and who should bear the largest burden. The right really, truly doesn't believe that rich people should pay taxes and the left really truly worries about destroying a system that served us well for several generations, has no immediate financing problems and isn't included in the deficit figures to begin with. (That last is true despite the lies spouting from David Walker who has become a rabid zealot and is now determined to get his way by any means necessary --- not that Marcus would know that because he is one of the designated "grown-ups," which should tell you something right off.)
This isn't a childrens game despite the efforts of these idiotic Villagers who are determined to pretend that there is an easy answer to the huge ideological gulf between the left and right in this country. These aren't two "extremes" of some mythical middle. They are the two competing American political belief systems, period. People who vote for Republicans know very well that they are voting for low taxes for everyone, including the wealthy, and they believe sincerely that everyone would be better off if they fended for themselves and let capitalism sort it all out. (How that plays out in their own lives is different,of course, but they are persuaded that most of their tax dollars are wasted on people who don't deserve it and they aren't going to change their minds.) Democrats believe that taxes are a price you pay for a secure, upwardly mobile society and that the wealthy can easily afford to pay more for the privilege of of living in a stable country with a strong middle class. Republicans are hostile to social security, medicare and all government programs designed to help the less fortunate. They simply do not believe it's an appropriate or moral thing to do because it makes people dependent and lazy. Democrats believe in egalitarianism, social justice and social welfare. However hypocritical these people are as individuals (and they most certainly are) they vote on the basis of competing worldviews that are not reconcilable by a bunch of accountants hashing out a compromise. Those differences are real and they're not "childish."* These are very distinct ideas about what government should do and how it should do it. What's childish is pretending that isn't so and insisting on some kumbaaya magical thinking that we can work it all out if "the extremes" would just stop being so unreasonable.
It's also relevant to point out that some of us who have been paying attention remember that just 20 years ago these same Chicken Littles declared unequivocally that we were on the road to Somalia if we didn't deal with the "entitlements." So the Democrats passed a budget plan to fix that (got kicked hard in the teeth by their opposition for being "grown-ups") and left a huge surplus --- which was promptly spent by these same Chicken Littles on wars and tax cuts after they stole the election.(Remember how the very grown-up Villagers giggled and snorted at Al Gore's plan to put social security in a lockbox?)
Here we are again with more caterwauling about how the sky is falling if we don't cut social security right this minute. The Villagers pretend not to notice and the political establishment shoots back and forth like pin balls every time these "grown-ups" start yelling. That's especially true of the ridiculous Democrats who can't make a decent argument if they tried, not even our allegedly gifted Communicator in Chief who seems to have sincerely bought into this nonsense. It literally doesn't make sense and yet here it is, happening again. Only this time we have an acute economic crisis that's being ignored so that they can play their Chicken Little game --- and they've rigged it up nicely to make sure the wealthy don't have to kick in at all while an entire generation loses piece after piece of their dreams and aspirations the longer this goes on.
Indeed, they seem to be going for the whole enchilada and intend to fully destroy the bond between the people and the social safety net --- the worse things get, the more havoc they are going to wreak. But never let it be said that the Village grown-ups didn't spring into action about the economy when it counted -- they just decided that it made sense to worry about the health of it 50 years from now, while the whole damned thing collapsed around us in real time. That's what they call "maturity" in the beltway.
It's vital to call out the Village media for this ignorance. They are the enablers here by promoting nonsensical Conventional Wisdom without any current or historical context, based purely on the "common sense" notion that just because a bunch of Very Serious People (with axes to grind) are saying something. It's brainwashing the people into believing that the economy is in trouble because greedy geezers are getting too much money and it just ain't true. We're down the rabbit hole. Again.
* I should point out that I'm talking about voters, not politicians, most of whom are bought and paid for lackeys of big corporations and wealthy interests regardless of party. But that's a different problem, although not an unrelated one.