Monday, August 1, 2011

Bad ideas win again

Before I even looked at the details of the proposed debt ceiling deal I had a strong feeling there was not much about it I was going to like. It is, after all, a deal designed to cater to the Republican majority in the House, which in the several months since this Congress was sworn in has shown nothing even resembling a desire to enact legislation that would help get this country out of the deep hole it is currently in. Instead, it has pursued a strategy that has as its central tenet the continued enrichment of the small slice of the population that funds its campaigns at the expense of everyone else. What we have just seen in the debate on the debt ceiling is old-school Mafia tactics being applied to fiscal policy. It is as if a bunch of thugs with brickbats walked up to a storefront that has "U.S. Economy" on the door and said "Nice (though "barely functional" might be the more apt description right now) place you have here. Shame if something were to happen to it." And the store owners (us) are paying up, in the form of obscene tax giveaways to corporations and the top 2% of earners, spending cuts to safety net programs that have widespread support, and the decay of our physical infrastructure. The worst part of it is that through all of this latest Washington sideshow there was little if any discussion on what the real problem is: jobs, or the lack thereof. Though budget deficits and the growth in the national debt that they cause are definitely issues that should be addressed, the proposed deal does so in a way that severely dims the prospects for any sustained economic recovery. By passing it Congress will, in effect, be cutting of the economy's nose in order to spite its face.

But of course nothing about how this particular round has turned out is at all surprising. For some time now the influence of conservative mass media has exerted a persistent pull on rightward end of the political spectrum, giving a platform for more and more extreme views. Thus we have a situation where what was considered conservative a few years ago is now no longer conservative enough. Case in point: Tom Coburn was recently called a RINO (Republican in Name Only) by Tea Partiers ( Combine this with the way our voting system is set up to grant victory to candidates who win only a plurality, the tendency of primaries to weed out all but the most puritan ideologues, and widespread voter apathy (in many ways a result of the previous two features), and we get the situation we have now where the Republican party is so consumed with falling over itself in the race to the bottom that it is in no way qualified to actually govern. Not that the Democrats have made a good name for themselves in this either, but at least there are folks in that party who at least try to run the country effectively when they are in office. Also, the tendency of liberals to be less deferential to authority and value evidence means the leftward end of the spectrum has been less subject to mass media hysterics and thus remained relatively stationary.

Thus, as the old saying goes, we are getting the government we deserve. While economic disaster may have been averted for the time being, the current media environment and existing voting system is setting us up for more of the same down the road. Since I happen to like the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects, no matter how unscrupulously some might use them, I grudgingly accept that conservative media is likely not going away anytime soon. However, the voting system is a construct of law and tradition, and we should be able to tinker with it in ways that will produce a more accurate reflection of public will. This is why I am a ranked-choice voting advocate, and hope that while the bad ideas may have won this round, they will open the way for this particular good idea to gain a stronger foothold in the national consciousness. 

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