Gloomy Post

I have always scoffed at people who say there is only the Republicrat party in this country, but after reading this depressing piece by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone I’m not so sure.

What’s taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.

That’s paragraph three. It gets worse from there. (See also the exchange between The American Prospect’s Tim Fernholtz and Taibbi here and here.)

Meanwhile, we have a dysfunctional Senate in which completely unscrupulous people can abuse the rules to make sure that sixty votes are required for anything to happen. Ruminate on the fact that until relatively recently 67 votes were required to break a filibuster. Such a system can only work when there is a sort of gentleman’s agreement only to invoke the filibuster in extreme circumstances. Which until recently there effectively was.

The idea of a standing filibuster is simply abhorrent, but that is what we have now. And with the Republicans feeling no shame at all, we now have a situation where loathsome specimens of humanity like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson can completely derail legislation no matter how popular it is among the rest of the Senate or in the country generally.

I have been watching the chat shows lately, and one of the big topics has been why, exactly, Lieberman is being such a dick. No one, even the usually excellent Joe Conason on last night’s Hardball, has gotten around to stating the obvious. Hadassah Lieberman is a big shill for the health insurance industry, and Joe is probably looking forward to a career change in that direction when he either loses, or doesn’t run, in 2012. The provisions he is opposing, first the public option and now the Medicare buy-in, are precisely those that would give some competition to the insurance industry.

Since it seems he will get his way on this, the result will be a bill whose centerpiece is to force people to buy crappy insurance from a private insurance industry that faces no outside competition, and therefore has no reason to try to rein in costs. And since the subsidies for people to do this are likely inadequate, a result of wanting the bill to be “deficit neutral”, the result will be an expensive new mandate that will hurt the already reeling middle class. This, mind you, from Democrats. On tonight’s Countdown I just listened to Lawrence O’Donnell and Howard Fineman have a sage discussion about whether the Democrats are politically better off passing a bad bill or no bill at all. Charming.

The counter-argument, voiced moments ago by Tom Harkin on Rachel Maddow’s show, is that we need a starting point for future reform. Social Security and Medicare were limited when they were first passed, after all, but you need to get the foot in the door before you can make big changes. Perhaps. But what precisely is going to change in the next few years to make progressive health care reform any easier than it is now? Without even a limited public option or limited Medicare buy-in, what is there to expand on later?

If you are thinking that the thing to do is to eliminate the filibuster, as Harkin has recently proposed, then consider that it takes 67 votes to change the rules of the Senate. So much for that. On the other hand, according to the ever-useful Wikipedia, the Senate Majority Leader has the option of at least requiring a traditional, speak-til-you-drop style filibuster. But since the current leader is the toothless and empty-headed Harry Reid, I don’t recommend holding your breath.

What, exactly, is going to happen after the next election, when it is pretty much a sure thing that the Republicans will pick up seats in the Senate (and the House too, of course)?

This is where people start talking about skillful marketing and strategic politicking. Here’s John Neffinger over at the Huffington Post:

FDR’s quip goes to the heart of how our system works. If you want to make a good idea law, it’s nice to convince your elected representatives that it’s a good idea. But it’s a lot more useful to go out and create the political conditions that make it easier for your representatives to enact your idea than to avoid enacting it. Talk to the public, make the idea look reasonable, make the need seem urgent, knock its opponents off balance. If instead you rely on your leaders to spend their precious political capital on your idea just because it makes sense… well, good luck with that.

Pure rot. Progressives did a fine job of creating the conditions for real change to occur. They elected a President committed to change and majorities in both houses of Congress committed to it. The public opinion polls have consistently shown that comfortable majorities want a public option or something like it. What more could progressives have done? But the insurance industry will win anyway, mostly because of sick Senate rules and a conscienceless minority. The administration has absolutely no cards to play against Lieberman or Nelson, and neither of them expects to get many progressive votes in the future.

Then there is the delightful Climategate fracas. I do not generally write about global warming, since I know very little about the science of it. I know that all of the people I trust on scientific questions are on one side, while the braying right-wing morons are on the other, so I feel pretty confident about what I would find were I to undertake a serious investigation.

What’s galling about this, along with the ongoing talks in Copenhagen, is that the sorts of things you would do to fight global warming — curtailing fossil fuels, pursuing economic policies that discourage destruction of the rain forests — are smart, sensible things regardless of the truth about global warming.

Good luck trying to make that point, though, when all the television talking heads want to discuss is whether the whole thing is a fraud, based on a handful of e-mails that sound pretty bad when taken out of context. The only scandal here is that there are clueless academics who never learned the lesson about not putting anything in an e-mail you would not be willing to see made public.

People have already forgotten what a complete disaster the last eight years were, and look primed to hand the Republicans a big victory in November. Obama has not waved a magic wand and made jobs appear, you see. Which means that precisely the sort of people who would benefit most from Democratic economic policies are precisely the ones who are going to vote for Republicans in the greatest numbers.

So what should we do about this litany of awfulness? I recommend abandoning hope. Happy Hanukkah.

Comments

  1. #1 Bob Carlson
    December 15, 2009

    I can only hope things take a turn for the better on the health care issue, as it would be important for my kids and, ultimately, for theirs. As for the global warming thing, it is apparent that the steps being proposed are futile so long as the world population continues to increase. The only answer is a zero-growth economy:

    http://www.permaculturevisions.com/TedTrainerssite.html

    I don’t see American politicians or citizens buying that idea. Hence, the long range outlook appears bleaker than the short range one. So eat, drink, and be merry. :)

  2. #2 Damien
    December 16, 2009

    This is exactly why I’m not having children. I don’t know how people can stand to inflict this kind of coming misery on their progeny.

    And I agree with you, Jason: it’s time to abandon all hope.

  3. #3 Ted
    December 16, 2009

    I’m with Bob: eat, drink, and be merry. We’ll see what 2010 brings.

  4. #4 Tyler DiPietro
    December 16, 2009

    I always predicted that what would emerge from this whole thing would be another piece of Democratic “reform” that either retains or reinforces existing patterns of power in the healthcare industry. I predicted we’d get a bunch of insurance industry friendly non-solutions with a few tweaks that, if they were really any bother to the insurance companies at all, could be weakened or outright reversed given a few years of lobbying effort. I was more on target than I expected I would be, the current bill is actually worse than the status quo.

    To say that this bill is just a first step is a dodge, and excuse for so-called “progressive” lawmakers to deliver a fat windfall to the insurance companies like they’re expected to. If progressives are basically powerless right now, what are they gonna look like when Nov., 2010 comes around and their majority either weakens or disappears? In short, nothing. We’ll be stuck with national Romneycare for several decades at least, with politicians being able to say they’ve increased the numbers of the insured even though people are “covered” by high deductible, low coverage plans that are “insurance” in name only. The future is bleak.

  5. #5 Thomas
    December 16, 2009

    “The only scandal here is that there are clueless academics who never learned the lesson about not putting anything in an e-mail you would not be willing to see made public.”

    That’s not the problem. None of those emails are any worse than what “sceptics” have said in public. The problem are the lying bastards who can take anything out of context and make it look bad. I’m afraid that if you neuter science to the point where no scientist dare say anything controversial even in private you will also destroy much of the dynamics that lead to progress.

  6. #6 Richard Eis
    December 16, 2009

    The only consolation is that the alternative was far worse than Obama.

    You are probably going to have to march, fight, stamp your feet and cause trouble if you want a decent healthcare system. Neffinger is right, but not right enough. If you want to overcome the underhanded money weasels in politics, you will practically have to threaten revolt.

  7. #7 Glen Davidson
    December 16, 2009

    How is someone backed to the hilt by Wall Street really supposed to reform Wall Street?

    But then, could anyone be elected without being backed by Wall Street? Well, I think so, it just wouldn’t be easy, and such a one would have to fight with Congress.

    So Obama likes certain elites more, while the Republicans liked other elites more. It’s the oldest story in politics.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  8. #8 magicshoemonkey
    December 16, 2009

    I had an epiphany the other day: I used to care about this stuff, but I just realized that there’s no point. For example, I read an article that the financial reforms being sent through congress now are not even going to affect the derivatives that helped cause all this crap. Then, I finally realized: it’s not supposed to be serious. It’s all a gag. There is a God, and he’s a giant Dickhead, praise Him. I think we’re not supposed to actually want better lives here in these God-run United States, but we’re just supposed to laugh at how impossible it is for the majority of Americans in this great democracy to get anything that they want. See: comedy. We’re living in a giant satire.

  9. #9 James Sweet
    December 16, 2009

    You’re right to scoff at the Republicrat thing, though. The problem is that the GOP is batshit insane right now, so all semi-reasonable positions — both liberal and conservative — have to be represented by the Democratic party. The parties are most definitely different, but instead of it being a choice between left-leaning and right-leaning, it’s a choice between crazy-leaning and sane-leaning. (Though I subscribe to the maxim that “reality has a well-known liberal bias”, the liberal position is not correct on every issue all of the time, so having a legitimate conservative counterweight is important — so right-leaning is most definitely not inherently synonymous with crazy-leaning, IMO, just the present embodiment in the US)

    In my dream scenario, the Republican party continues to marginalize itself until it is no longer viable, and then the Democratic party fractures into the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Democrats. Then we’d have something. But of course, that’s probably very unlikely to happen…

  10. #10 Jim Harrison
    December 16, 2009

    I’m unhappy with Obama, but I’m not disappointed with him. He is governing pretty much in line with what he said during the campaign. He’s not responsible for the hopes that were projected on him by naive people.

  11. #11 rimpal
    December 17, 2009

    We get the government we deserve, I guess. For all liberals who backed Obama, this is the end. He was the best we could come up with, but it turns out that his heart was never in it. We had two great Presidents in the last century – FDR and LBJ. We will never have anyone like them again, ever. We are right now like boiling frogs.

  12. #12 Physicalist
    December 17, 2009

    Yeah, I find it all gloomy too. And I tend to agree with those who point out that when you look at specific campaign promises (leaving aside the fluffy hopey-changey feel-good rhetoric) Obama’s pretty much doing what he said he would.

    What I find depressing is that while he really is a moderate — even in our country’s political landscape (which is clearly skewed strongly to the right) — there’s a *huge* noise out there about how socialist/liberal he is. I wish we could get a real socialist agenda going for a bit, just to point out to the wackaloons that single-payer healthcare really is not that big a deal.

  13. #13 Blair T
    December 17, 2009

    < >

    The obvious question is NOT: Why is Lieberman being a dick? BUT: Why does the system of government allow one dick senator so much power over the majority?

  14. #14 adana çiçekçi
    December 18, 2009

    thank you for information

  15. #15 JR
    December 19, 2009

    “What’s galling about this, along with the ongoing talks in Copenhagen, is that the sorts of things you would do to fight global warming — curtailing fossil fuels, pursuing economic policies that discourage destruction of the rain forests — are smart, sensible things regardless of the truth about global warming.”

    Lol. Frankly that is nonsense of the highest order. (Said with all due respect of course.) Pretending that there are no disadvantages whatsoever to their favored policy is a favorite among politicians everywhere. You shouldn’t fall for it Jason.

    Fighting climate change will cost massive amounts. We will have to decrease our use of fossil fuels which today are in many ways the cheapest and most convenient to use. And we will have to do it many years, centuries even, before we would need to make the switch because we are running out resources. Of course, some policies that fight global warming will have other advantages as well and should perhaps be pursued anyway. But that this more than a minor fraction of the total change required is wildly implausible.

    Blair T raises an interesting question though he phrases it a little incorrectly. The Democrats in the senate could abolish the filibuster if they wanted to. (As could the Republicans when they had the power.) For some reason they have not. It is interesting to speculate why. Perhaps it is convenient to be able to blame the opposition party when you do not pass legislation. I offer this only as tentative speculation and do not claim to have a fully thought out story that justifies this speculation.

  16. #16 Robert O'Brien
    December 19, 2009

    There is nothing loathsome about Ben Nelson, your petulant attitude notwithstanding. He was elected to represent his constituents in Nebraska, not you.

  17. #17 Eric
    December 19, 2009

    @Robert #16

    Other people electing him doesn’t make him any less loathsome.

    I didn’t elect Bush but I found him pretty loathsome. Seems like conservatives loath Pelosi, Frank & Reid (it’s almost a single, compound name on Faux News). How many of the same conservatives voted for them?

  18. #18 oldfuzz
    December 26, 2009

    Since every President in the past fifty years has held office at the state or federal level, getting a change at the Presidential level means getting the best officials at Governor and in Congress. Since most of them held state or county office previously, the solution seems clear enough.

    If you want stars in the pros you need a strong farm system.

    Too many who complain of those at the top don’t know (many don’t care) who their local representatives are.

  19. #19 ChicagoMolly
    December 28, 2009

    My favorite ‘republicrat’ joke goes way back to 1964, in the first ‘Beyond the Fringe’ record. Some people are having a going-away party for a friend who’s visiting the States. The talk turns to politics, and someone says:

    “They’re a lot like us in England, really. They have a two-party system. There’s the Republican Party, which is the equivalent of our Conservative Party, and the Democratic Party, which is the equivalent of our Conservative Party.”

    “What about the Liberals?”

    “Ah, yes, well there are a few of those, but fortunately not enough to be a problem.”