Wednesday, August 3, 2011

You Get What You Vote For

The hyperventilating, pontificating, and obfuscating is now over. As with any good compromise, the bill that finally allowed the debt ceiling to be raised in conjunction with budgetary cuts, was met with unhappiness in all directions. The Tea Party was certain it did not go far enough. Republicans grumbled over defense cuts and the loss of a balanced budget amendment. Democrats were unhappy generally, over the whole "crisis" even having arisen, the lack of solid revenue increases, and the President's willingness to sit on the sidelines while they tried to do the heavy lifting, only to "stab them in the back" by giving the GOP much of what it wanted, in terms if not in substance.

As the sound of gnashing teeth and exhaled breath finishes washing over the nation, it's best to take a moment and look closely at what the debt ceiling "crisis" outcome really was, and more importantly, what it all actually meant.

First, let's get one thing straight, which may seem obvious: this never had to happen. You will no doubt have heard the statistics about how many times the debt ceiling was successfully raised unilaterally for every President before now, including President Obama. Suffice to say, that alone is reason enough to believe that this whole kerfuffle was an artificial construct. We can go a step further and note that back before the 2010 Mid-term Elections, the Democrats could have raised the debt ceiling unilaterally, for as long as they saw fit. Or, this could have been one of the first pieces of business that the 112th Congress took on once the gavel was transferred from Nancy Pelosi to John Boehner.

If you really want to get technical about it, there should never have even been the merest whiff of this, back when President Bill Clinton handed over the nation to George W. Bush with a balanced budget and a surplus and a burgeoning economy. All Congress and the President Bush had to do was stay the course on spending and revenues, and ensure that every new entitlement or deviation from the budget was somehow backed by appropriate revenue enhancements or spending cuts. That didn't happen. You can blame a long list of things for the sudden amnesia the government came down with from 2001 to 2008, but the bottom line is this: they muffed. Some of the self-same individuals who had participated in the balancing of the budget, tore it apart all too gladly when they had the chance.

When you boil it right down, however, the finger can be pointed in only one direction: the American electorate. Oh, not at every single member, for some of us were doing what we could to alter the political lay of the landscape, but at those of you who could not be bothered to even put in your opinion. The cynicism of the average American has reached an intolerable point, to where the bulk of the nation is forced to deal with the idiocy purveyed by Federal, State, and Local legislators who could not pour piss out of a boot with instructions written on the heel. So many Americans have tossed aside the mandate handed down to them by the Founding Fathers, refusing to accept their responsibility for their own governance, that those of us who fight tooth-and-nail for change are simply swallowed up in a miasma of indifference, bereft of the power to push ahead needed reform and to adjust the political landscape to restore the proper functioning of government.

The air in this nation reeks of lackadaisicalness and its stench was nowhere more prevalent than in Washington, D.C. in the past several weeks, as Congress hemmed, hawed, seesawed, twisted, spun, and seemed locked in a perpetual dog-chasing-its-tail mode, never quite being able to do something as straightforward as raising the debt ceiling without precondition in order to avoid a catastrophic default on our financial obligations. As it stands, even with the deal done, we are not out of the woods; the economy is suffering even further privation, our credit rating may fall nonetheless, and in the spree of partisanship, a major portion of the government, the FAA, was allowed to collapse into oblivion, depriving 4,000 FAA employees and 70,000 ancillary workers employment and denying the Federal government 200 million dollars in revenues so far.

It becomes clearer, as Congress remains mired in self-serving party politics, that we got what we voted for. Or didn't vote for -- those who do not vote have just as profound an effect on our nation as those who do, but do so badly. The combination of apathy and inertia has combined to lock both houses of Congress into a kind of political trench warfare, as each party scrambles up from its trenches, spitting out withering rhetoric and charging heedlessly into the teeth of the other party's defenses. When the cannonade is over, the clash of ideologies dies down, and the clouds of smoke part, neither side has budged the other an inch.

We voted these people into power. We created this condition, through generations of heedless electioneering, chest thumping, gerrymandering, and subservience to ideology. We took the independent spirit imbued in the nation by its founders, and let it decay, evaporating into thin air, leaving us this fetid and infertile ground in which governance, compromise, and compassion can no longer grow. We left the control of the nation to parties and their sycophantic adherents, the ranters and ravers whose spray of party invective saturated it, driving decent Americans mad with frustration, or causing them to retreat into the darkness. We surrendered the hard-won birthright of our nation, creating an artificial feudal aristocracy, with Presidents becoming weak de facto kings, governors becoming barons, and Congressmen, lords. We gave up.

we allowed it to become this way. Even those of us who have been politically involved have our hand in it, for perhaps we did not speak up enough, did not encourage enough, did not campaign enough, did not find the right people to represent us, or allowed ourselves to be blinded by promise. The premise behind the Constitution of the United States and the Federal government it outlines, is that the people will always know best who should represent their best interests, and the interests of the States, and nation as a whole. We now see that, despite their enduring faith in their fellow citizens, the Founding Fathers did not anticipate just how time would winnow away the desire for a hand in representation and the honor gained through the acceptance of such responsibility.

This moment, this event, this display of government inadequacy, should be the shriek of the siren calling out an urgent warning, the bells tolling to sound the bass note of derision, the staccato bleating of the alarm announcing failure. It should shake us, those who take in the daily machinations in our governments, and those who do not, alike. It must be the notice that says to us, "Wake up! Pay attention! You are losing control!" Maybe, though the deal itself might be worth ridicule, in the end it is not the particulars that will do us favor, but the happenstance that brought it about. This may be, finally, the call to action for many Americans, awakening them from their torpor, so that they might take up again the responsibility they lay down so long ago. In this darkest hour, this may be the light that opens our eyes to  the beauty of what we were given those many centuries ago.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really fantastic analysis of the debacle in Washington. I'm the political editor for, please email me if you'd be interested in having this (or any of your other political writings) published on the site!