A Crisis of Momentum
February 15, 2010
by Jim Culleny
They may as well be named Mitch McConnellwich and John Boehnerski since the strategy of those Republican senators is frighteningly like the legislative procedure of the Polish government of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Paul Krugman informs us that that the Polish legislature “…operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting ‘I do not allow!” which is comparable to the way our senate operates these days –Republicans being the party of “No!” As can be easily imagined, a nation trying to operate on the principle of unanimity cannot govern. And a nation that can’t govern cannot stand.
We Americans don’t do unanimity, we’ve survived and prospered on compromise which by another name is known as democracy. Whatever the Republicans are up to it’s not democracy.
By the way, according to Krugman, the result for the Poles of that time was that in their ungovernable weakness, “… neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared for more than a century.”
Do we think we are so special we cannot disappear? Well, maybe not soon, but we can quickly decline –you betcha’. China and other foreign entities already own a big piece of us.
Maybe a two-hundred-thirty-plus year run is our limit. “Our government is old and broken and dysfunctional, and may even be beyond repair,” says James Fallows. Yet, there may be hope. Although Fallows says some fairly gloomy things he titles his piece How American Can Rise Again, which, if not exactly ecstatic is minimally positive.
The trouble with us as a nation, Fallows says, is not the American people or our society (although I’m not sure I entirely agree with him on that); the problem is our government. But it’s not government trouble in the Tea-Party-Reaganish-Palinesque sense. It’s not that our government is too big. After all, big is not necessarily bad; pro hoop players are big, swift, and effective. The problem is that our government is big, slow, fractured, and stupid. The trouble with us governmentally is that our system is caked with barnacles —so many of which have coagulated along our keel during the last half of the last century that (for an impartial observer) there’s not much difference between our progress and dead stop.
What we have is a crisis of momentum.
Republicans, not having a single idea other than: don’t tax the rich, government is bad, belligerence is best, torture is good, and Obama is a socialist, have slowed the operations of government to practically zip. Think of the GOP as a giant brain aneurism resulting in a national paralytic stroke. That section of congress on the far right of your TV screen which sat on their hands pouting, texting, and rolling their eyes during 95% of Obama’s State of the Union address are not so much bumps on a logs, but are more like lethal clogs in arteries —obstructions that have only one thing in mind: to cut off oxygen to the democratic left side of the brain before the next election. Unfortunately they’re flat-lining the USA in the process.
The way a representative democracy is supposed to work is summed up by David Michael Green. Green says democracy’s core principle is “… the quid pro quo that is supposed to govern the relationship between the representative and the represented. The (congress-person) gets to serve in high office, provided (he or she) reflects the political sentiments of his or her constituents. The problem with American politics today … is that the real constituents of members of Congress are … the special interests who fund their campaigns to fool the voters in their districts and states.” This idea has become more than political rhetoric, it’s a fatal truism.
Right now the majority party, rather than take a principled stance against its Wall Street constituents, dances around the fringes of reform using the excuse of failed bi-partisanship, while the GOP, in the name of democratic capitalism, is screwing the American people by giving sanctuary to the thieves of Wall Street who are their constituents by building penthouse-high roadblocks around them and salting the road to reform with political IUDs.
A pox on both their houses.
They remind me of Captain Ahab’s crew in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Early in the story each man of Ahab’s crew swears an oath with their captain to kill the great white whale. Then, at the end, just two chapters before they all (but one, Ishmael) religiously follow Ahab to the bottom of the big drink, they passionately pursue their obsession oblivious to the dangers of their stubbornness. Melville writes, “Ah! How they strove through that infinite blueness to seek out the thing that might destroy them.”
That, my friends, is our congress in A.D. 2010: a gaggle of Ahabs leading a crew of Queequegs, Tashtegos, Starbucks, and Stubbs into the jaws of Moby Dick; may there be a few democratic Ishmaels among us in the final chapter clinging to flotsam still alive to tell the tale.