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Comment on ‘Party Gridlock in Washington Feeds Fear of a Debt Crisis’ (Jackie Calmes, 02/16/2010)

February 16, 2010

In response to

Party Gridlock in Washington Feeds Fear of a Debt Crisis

New York Times | February 17, 2010

The New York Times continues to report on partisan gridlock as though the Democrats and Republicans have some sort of good-faith disagreement about how to govern. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan campaigned on the simplistic meme that government is inherently evil, and the companion notion that heroism demands “killing the beast.” That message was a masterstroke marketing to a country that was in the throes of the inevitable pain of the transition from having been the only industrial economy left standing after WWII to having to deal with a truly competitive global marketplace, the backlash from the crisis of confidence caused by the twin sins of Viet Nam and Watergate, and the coming-of-age of the most spoiled & self-revering generation in any society since the decline of Ancient Rome. It was also a profligate and destructive in the degree to which it perverted the principles underlying the single most effective form of self-governance in the history of the world.  Reagan’s 1980 campaign message was a watershed event in modern political tactics: for the first time since the run-up to the civil war, a major party-nominee based his campaign not on a set of policies about how best to solve the nation’s problems, but rather on the nihilistic and divisive notion that government itself was essentially and necessarily a corrupt and oppressive institution from which the very life must be choked (it’s ironic to note that the primary drivers of public dissatisfaction were the consequences of the excesses of the most-recent Republican administration, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Since the 80’s, the Republican Party’s core message has been a riff on Reagan’s theme, and their tactics have been an exercise in self-fulfillment. Those tactics – from using wedge issues such as race and class to excite the electorate to the systematic dismantling the protective institutions that had been created based on the lessons learned from the Great Depression – have destroyed centuries of progress in the core Constitutional imperative “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for us and our posterity.” On EACH AND EVERY one of those constitutional mandates, and without fail, the Republican Party has violently attacked the mechanisms put into place by so many generations of American statesmen. Meanwhile, a substantial plurality of Americans, ill-educated and narcotized by the twin evils of Yellow Journalism (typified by the many properties of Rupert Murdoch, the most predatory media baron in the history of the world) & a deeply perverted version of Christian fundamentalism, have been suckered into series of distorted myths regarding our history, our national identity, and the rights and duties of citizenship. The results have been devastating – a ‘lash out now, pay later’ foreign policy, a stunningly juvenile set of attitudes about the inevitable trade-offs between current consumption and investment for the future, a load of crap about American exceptionalism, and –most corrosively – the gutting of the greatest American invention, self-governance.

The reasons for this war of attrition on our ability to self-govern are quite simple: the message plays in Peoria, and it fits with Republican’s core values of protecting the status quo and devil take the hindmost. It is in no way a stretch to describe their strategy as a fifth-column assault on the core values that made the US the shining example of self-determination, innovation and progress, and indeed on the Constitution itself.  What’s tragic is that it could happen in a country that was founded by people came her for the primary purpose of escaping their status as ‘hindmost’ in their countries of origin.

By describing the current state of affairs in Washington in the context of political wrangling – a certain amount of which is inarguably essential for any well-functioning democracy – the New York Times collaborates in the Republican’s core mission of destroying the fabulous gift given us by our Founders. It may well be that the process of decay has advanced beyond the point of redemption, but it would be nice if our nation’s newspaper of record would restrain itself from reinforcing the status quo, and remember that its own founding principle was to serve a slightly higher truth.

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