Monday, August 1, 2011

Democrazy in the Scapehouse

"Above all, sicken me not unless you show me the way to the ship's rail....
Even beasts know when it is good and proper to throw up."
Ray Bradbury

I had to hang out at the ship's rail in slum paradise many times this week, not least after an encounter with that grievous article by Washington Post columnist Peggy Noonan. Entitled "They've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," Noonan confides to the world her astonishing discovery about Obama, never before seen in politics with any other president. Although he has many supporters, bundlers, contributors, and voters aplenty, she asserts, the support is "all grim." The truth is, nobody really loves him, This she knows, because of personally having talked to many people. (What ho! she hasn't talked to me.) "The secret of Mr. Obama is that he isn't really very good at politics...because he doesn't really get people." Not only that, she adds, he never offers a plan.

He never offers a plan? What about that "grand bargain," the truly large budget deal he pieced together with John Boehner a few weeks ago--until Boehner had his Judas Iscariot moment and, at the midnight hour, chose to betray the president's trust in him? Was that not arguably a good-faith plan, better than the one they have now ended up with? ("I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president...I tried to lead....Put something on the table, Mr. President," a red-faced Boehner howled on television after his betrayal, perhaps in some twisted bid for the Nobel Prize in hypocrisy, or maybe a write-up in the annals of American shame.)

But back to Noonan. She clinches her piece with yet another outrageous assertion: "[Obama's] not a devil, not an alien, not a socialist. He's a loser. And this is America, where nobody loves a loser." It was a shot heard around the world.

Memo from the ship's rail to anyone who's listening: our problem is not America's lack of love for Barack Obama. Our problem is that Republicans are orchestrating calculated chaos as part of a long-term coup d'etat to change the balance of power in Washington. First they got the Supreme Court, and now they are after the Executive. In January 2010, the same folks shot down democracy in the Citizens' United case, when the Supreme Court judges, controlled by a conservative majority of one vote, awarded First Amendment rights to corporations, allowing them to have unlimited financial (and thus policy) influence on elections. I wrote at that time:

"Make no mistake, on January 21, 2010, we lost our country, A velvet coup took place in the Supreme Court....The Swiftboating of Obama by impugning his motives--implying that he is something destructive to America and opposing everything he does--is but one segment in a planned takeover of the whole political system." The next segment of this extensive co-optation--an artificially contrived debt-ceiling crisis enacted with unbelievable callousness and cunning--is happening right now. And once again, what I wrote in January 2010 could have been written today:

"We are now in a world-wide economic crisis because of excessive deregulation. Popular faith in government as playing any constructive and necessary role in constraining market excesses has collapsed. Extreme polarization renders our nation ungovernable. With ridicule and lies as the new form of social control, politics has been reduced to 'a war of nerves.' "

Mitch McConnell's slick appearance on Face the Nation yesterday was quite shocking. Suddenly the normally vicious, mean-spirited, take-no-prisoners wolf, known for his determined dedication to Obama's demise, appeared disguised in sheep's clothing and sporting a sneer of satisfaction. He was now the "go-to" guy, the primary broker of a deal, reassuring everyone that there WOULD BE A DEAL. "The country will not default on its obligations," he declared. "This is America where people like to compromise."

It was cynicism at its apogee, coming from the very man whose whose far-right radicalism is determined to never cut a deal with anyone. I felt I was witnessing a blatant case of identity theft; McConnell morphed into the president's doppleganger to emerge as the last man standing, the most reasonable one in the room. All the chaos he and his colleagues had orchestrated during the past month was over, the dirty work finished, at least for the time being. A knock-out blow had been delivered to the economy sufficient to keep it reeling backwards through the 2012 election. There will be impact to state and local governments from spending cuts. Many more people will lose their jobs. And then, we can wait for the next titanic struggle, when the extension of unemployment benefits runs out in December.

In a recently published novel, John Sales has one of his characters speak lines in a disturbing scene that are verbatim quotes from an actual speech by South Carolina Senator "Pitchfork" Ben Tiilman. He tells a crowd at a political rally, "We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men and we never will."

The Senate Majority Leader is from Kentucky. The day after tomorrow is Barack Obama's 50th birthday. Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times today that the president surrendered--showed himself unwilling or unable to stand up to blackmail on the part of right-wing extremists. Instead, he has chosen to demonstrate the opposite. What we are witnessing here, Krugman claims, is a catastrophe on multiple levels. "This is a shameful day to be a Democrat and a shameful day to be an American," one reader responds. Another, more sympathetic, states "Unless a president has a majority of Senate and House Representatives willing to vote in support of his programs, he has NO real power."

One has to wonder what kind of birthday the president is likely have this year. The mood can't be very celebratory, but he plans to be in Chicago.

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