SYNDICATED COLUMN: Weird Times

In Politics, It’s a Wild Wild Weird World

Hunter S. Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” But what do you do when things go from weird to completely psychedelic?

The political landscape at the beginning of the second term of America’s first biracial president – in the usual historical sense, calling him black kind of requires an asterisk – is a messed up, topsy-turvy, bass-ackwards place.

There is the president’s newfound liberal rhetoric, even going so far as to namecheck gays and lesbians in his Inaugural Address. Did anyone tell him or members of the media that Stonewall was an actual riot, that endorsing this landmark of liberation is to endorse violent revolutionary change? He came off as something as a peacenik, implying that he would be willing to talk to, say, Iran. How does that square with his onslaught of drones, a campaign that increasingly looks like a grim Vietnam-style war of attrition?

But it’s his timing I can’t figure.

Back in 2009, when he came into the White House with an overwhelming mandate for radical change in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, when he enjoyed Democratic control of both houses of Congress, when the Republicans were so whipped that opinion writers for the Wall Street Journal wondered aloud whether there was a future for the GOP, he tacked right. Now that obstructionist Republicans control the House, ordinary citizens have settled into a grouchy state of permanent discontent amid downward mobility and shrinking expectations, when there’s absolutely no reason to expect to get anything big or bold accomplished, the dude is breaking out as some sort of crazy progressive?

Then there’s the bizarre realignment of the two major parties.

Leading Republicans, spooked by the election results, polls that show that the voters of the future are liberal on gays, abortion and other social issues, and possibly from finally having picked up dogeared copies of the prescient tome The Emerging Democratic Majority at Books-a-Million, are freaking out in the weirdest possible way. Something has to be done! But not if it requires compromising on our core values. Um, guys…white guys…old white guys…the problem is that the voters don’t like Republican core values. Or you personally. So what is to be done? Something!

You almost have to feel sorry for Republicans. Sure, they started a bunch of crazy wars that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and they opened a string of concentration camps around the world, and they rolled back 800 years of cherished civil liberties that go back to the Magna Carta. But it’s sad to watch the mighty crash like a dictator’s statue pulled down by invading Marines. Not only is a sorta black man in the White House, all the GOP’s classic election-stealing tricks – corrupting the Supreme Court, bullying recount officials with paid thugs, moving voting booths out of minority neighborhoods – aren’t enough to close the growing gap between their obsolete stances and an increasingly left-leaning electorate. Now they’re so desperate that they’re even flirting with rejiggering the Electoral College, an institution that historically benefits Republicans, in order to suck out two or three more terms with them in control of the House – forget the Senate – before fading away into Whig-like oblivion as the Democrats retaliate.

Not to say that the Democrats are walking the straight and narrow road of sanity.

Americans of all political stripes say there’s one issue that consumes them most. One thing that they think about all the time. Something personal, something that affects everything else. Happily, it’s something that the government not only can do something about, but has been able to address many times in the past. I am talking about, obviously, the economy. Unemployment. Underemployment. The fact that there are no jobs. And that the jobs that are being created are all crappy. Or are in another country. Americans have been remarkably consistent about this. It would be hard to think of another time when people told pollsters for four years in a row that the same issue was the number one issue in the country. Whatever his other challenges, President Obama certainly doesn’t have to wonder about what’s on our minds.

So what is his second-term agenda? Given that his laissez-faire approach to the economic collapse throughout his first term basically involved golfing a lot while hoping that magical market forces would revive on their own, you might think that he would focus in like a laser-guided drone on the economy – you know, the number one most important issue to most Americans – this time around. But no, everyone’s telling us that Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda is – wait for it – gun control, immigration and climate change.

Don’t get me wrong: one of the great tragedies of the last dozen years was that Al Gore, one of the few American politicians who understands the gravity and imminent threat of global warming, didn’t get to exercise the presidential powers he earned at the ballot box. Though I will be shocked! shocked! shocked! if Obama’s proposals rise above the level of the usual too little/too late/too vested in corporate profits to curb industrialization, it’s nice to see the issue get lip service. Restoring sanity to America’s immigration system – can’t get in legally, so sneak in and hide out for 15 or 20 years until the next amnesty – is long overdue. Though, again, I wouldn’t be surprised if we just end up with another Reagan-style amnesty that doesn’t open up the doors to a lot more legal immigrants. Gun control of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, of course, is just boilerplate post-Sandy Hook elementary school massacre reactionism.

Fortunately, at least one of these issues will probably resolve itself. Already there are fewer illegals trying to sneak into the United States across the border from Mexico because the economy here is so terrible. Who is going to want to come to an impoverished nation full of gun nuts shooting at each other underwater?

Still, it’s disconcerting to watch smug Democrats lord it over clueless Republicans when the only difference between the two parties is one of tone. Republicans let you know that they hate you. Democrats talk nice and then let you down. Neither party gives a damn about the fact that you haven’t gotten a raise in 30 years. How can they? Their contributors are the top executives of the corporations who’ve been lining their pockets at your expense.

One of these days, you’ve got to think that the people are going to notice.

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

8 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Weird Times

  1. Right on target as usual. 🙂 You would think people would begin to notice, wouldn’t you? But as I’ve said for years, if we want to get people truly interested in what government does, we don’t need $4 a gallon milk or $4 a gallon gas. We need $40 a gallon. Then maybe – just maybe – people would be mad enough to actually do something.

  2. Alex-

    A bit over-dramatic. They don’t hate us, and they certainly don’t fear us. The sociopaths that currently control the Republican party merely think we’re too unimportant to tell the truth to. They believe they should be in charge and lying to us allows them to move the plan to get a fascist theocracy in place along quicker – while still playing at Democracy.

    As for Democratic politicians, we’ve demonstrated for over 40 years that telling us lies is the best shot they’ve got at keeping their jobs; which is their primary goal after all.

    I remember watching the Mondale/Reagan debates with my dad. When Mondale said- “Look, I’m not going to lie to you, your taxes are going to have to go up.”, I turned to my dad and predicted (quite accurately) that that statement, while true, would cost him the election.

    Don’t blame politicians for lying to us, when we’ve clearly shown that that’s what we want them to do- to the point where most people on the left won’t even consider changing the failed strategy that got us here in the first place.

  3. “one of the great tragedies of the last dozen years was that Al Gore, one of the few American politicians who understands the gravity and imminent threat of global warming, didn’t get to exercise the presidential powers he earned at the ballot box.”

    Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, which is now a dubious honour. After all, they gave it to the man who greatly expanded drone killing, and gave it before he had fully assumed office, so of course, he hadn’t had any chance to influence policy (or kill with drones).

    I’ve read (in unreliable reports) that Mr Gore drives an SUV, uses a private jet, and generally just used global warming as a device to generate cash for himself. But, unreliable though the sources are, they seem to have a ring of truth.

    ***

    Paul Krugman says Obamacare makes certain that every American now has full access to the most advanced healthcare system in the world. This is not altogether clear to the right-wingnuts (it’s just a government boondoggle) nor to the left-wingnuts (it must means everyone must give lots of money to the insurance CEOs who won’t give any real benefits). But it is absolutely factual to all the Obamabots. Krugman says Obamacare is a very progressive policy, since it takes from the rich to provide essential healthcare to the poor. Only it’s not at all clear that it really does that.

  4. Obama didn’t seek to promote jobs because he literally doesn’t care. Not one fucking bit.

    Job creation requires sacrifice. It’s an investment. The sacrifice, however, has to be paid by powerful individuals and Obama simply isn’t willing to tax (using the verb generically) them. Here’s what’s hilarious, though: jobs would be great for rich people, too, since they’d improve the economy, but long-term investments are completely out of the question.

    The rightwing — of both parties — isn’t just avaracious, petty, proud, and selfish — it’s terminally and childishly impatient. Both sides absolutely loathe infrastructure spending because it doesn’t give them a kick right now, this very minute. Every second of every hour, the leaders of both parties are cashing in their chips. Both parties aren’t refusing to “lead” (and fuck that overused term), both parties are refusing to govern.

    Compare jobs to health care. Who got a payday on health care reform? Insurance companies. They were backing — nay, producing — Obama’s plan before he was president. Krugman pointed out that Obama’s plan was terrible, Edwards’ was better, and everyone ignored him. . . then they were shocked, shocked that single payer was out. The plan was carried out because corporations wanted it.

    What corp wants jobs? What corp is pushing for a decrease in available labor? Why would a corp do this? What’s the immediate benefit? If you run a corp and you can either a) push for subsidies and free money or b) push for long-term infrastructure investment that will buoy your company up for the next 20 years, long, long after you’ve bailed out on it, which would you choose?

    So the reason why there’s no Obama-jobs program? There’s no corporate sponsorship. Therefore, Obama doesn’t care. Not one fucking bit.

  5. Obama, like (almost) every politician out there, deceived the voters. This is a gimmick that goes back into the late 1960s at the very least because I’ve seen the episode of “Batman” where the Caped Crusader runs against the Penguin for Mayor of Gotham City. With the tiniest of alterations, the entire thing could have been shot yesterday.

    I was watching “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” yesterday. It’s one of those late 1970s (I think 1979) conspiracy movies. In it, Burt Lancaster’s character takes over a silo with nine atomic missiles and threatens to fire them unless the president releases the contents of NSC document such-and-such. The document’s big secret? It shows that the government knew that there was no way to win in Vietnam and STILL continued to pour weapons and men into the grinder so as to not look weak in front of the Russians. This, they called pursuing a policy of limited engagement.

    The film’s more significant point is that it states exactly what’s wrong with the government in post-Watergate America. It isn’t that people don’t trust the government. It’s that people don’t trust the government because the government doesn’t trust the people. The government keeps things hidden because it’s scared shitless to actually tell the people what’s being done in their names (like throwing away hundreds of thousands of lives in a war that couldn’t be won, or blowing children into bloody little bits with drones from half a world away).

    And we’re facing the same thing now with global warming. We’re already seeing the weather’s changes on the macroscale. The past 12 years were the 12 hottest years on record. Average monthly temperatures have been above average for something like 280 months. Crop failures are becoming more common as temperatures soar to the point where photosynthesis shuts down in the food crops. The government is scared to death to actually be truthful with us. They fear us, and they hate us, so they lie to us.

  6. A good piece, though I would argue that what Obama is doing (suddenly pretending to be a radical leftist) is part of his whole mission objective the whole time.

    Obama was always an undercover conservative Manchurian candidate (in the sense of the remake of the movie not the original movie), but this created problems when he had no opposition. When he had no opposition, he personally had to veer right to do the job of the crushed Republicans for them. Now that he has actual opposition (Read: allies who play his opposition on TV) he can pretend to fight them while utterly failing to do anything about them or there agenda thus allowing him to keep up the appearances that were much harder to maintain when his “opposition” was so desperate back in 2009.

    On the plus side Obama is at least paying lip service to Global warming. I am sure you are right, it is probably hollow wind gushing idly out of his ever-gaping hollow wind hole, but at least he is directing some attention to a problem that could catalyze the destruction of civilization as we know it and thus indirectly threaten the survival of the species, as opposed to flat out ignoring said problem like he, and practically everyone else in Washington, did for most of his previous term.

    I am guessing if he does take action on Global warming it will probably be via a sequester deal with the Republicans that will go something like this: drastic across-the-board CO2 emission cuts will be made if we don’t reduce CO2 emissions by X in two years, where X is some pathetic token amount that we sadly fail to make by the deadline anyway. Then among the cuts that will kick in will be killing 50% of the poor (seriously even an impoverished first world person’s carbon footprint is huge as he will tell you) and composting their bodies to grow new forests for carbon sequestration (forests that will, in a subsequent administration become unprotected and sold below cost to the logging industry.) Why only 50% of the poor? Well, because, as Fox News will tell you, Obama is a bleeding heart liberal who knows how to make tough compromise and hard bargains with his Republican “opposition”.

  7. A good article Ted, and exactly on point. I never understood why Obama didn’t go for jobs in a bigger way in his first term, when anything was doable. He pissed away an unprecedented opportunity to put America back to work.

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