I have been working hard to understand the debt ceiling crisis (I actually think I understood the 2008 housing crisis and related issues better but that was thanks to lots of books and documentaries). The basic idea I think was that if we did not raise the debt ceiling we would run out of money to pay our debts and that would have catastrophic effects throughout our economy. I think the general descriptions from everyone not associated with Fox News was the following:
Of course, economists and Wall Street were not enough to convince the de facto leaders of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, that this was necessary. The Tea Party basically held their own party hostage (probably making John Boehner cry some more) in order to secure deficit reduction at all costs, as if it is the 11th Commandment. They secured massive entitlement cuts as a prerequisite for doing something that has been done many many times as a non-political issue. John Boehner cried that he had “stuck his neck out a mile” but when the crazies leading your party are ten miles from sanity, sticking your neck out a mile to meet them is still 9 miles from sane.
But what is most significant about many of the political conflicts over the last three years is that our politics have finally outgrown what the Founding Fathers could have conceived.
American Capitalism Has Finally Worked. And That Is A Bad Thing
I think our financial crisis of 2008-present has proven that capitalism as it is constituted in America now is a failed system. The problem is that the only people it is not failing are the ones with the most money and the most political access. Let me count the ways:
- Money controls our politics
- There are no term limits so the most important relationship to a member of either house of Congress is with those that donate money to them, not their constituency
- Lobbying money, which is the key to political power, NOT elections, dictates policy, legislation and regulation.
- The increasing disparity of wealth will only get bigger because those individuals and companies with wealth can dictate the political narrative through advertising (thank you Supreme Court for Citizens United) and have greater access to the lawmakers. This will lead to an exponential growth in the wealthy controlling policy, which directly benefits them, as well as the narrative, through advertising and local elections, which will manipulate many people into targeting their anger at the wrong people. Why do you think Americans seem to hate Mexican immigrants working bad jobs and gays who want to get married more than the money manipulators (I mean “job creators”) on Wall Street. Why do they hate unions more than the company executives who refuse solid profits to conduct business in America, in favor of making wild profits producing things abroad?
- We have made news coverage a money making endeavor. That means for advertising dollars we have to put stories about things people are interested in (dumb people apparently still want the occasional update on Lindsey Lohan) and that has allowed stations (most notably Fox News and to an almost equal degree (but far more correct) MSNBC to turn news into a team sport where the message is guided by what crowd you want to hang with.
Furthermore, who elected Grover Norquist to anything? If Obama were adhering to pledges from a private citizen or an unelected group do you think that would be palatable to Americans?
My solutions would be simple and would never happen. Term limits for members of Congress. 2 terms for Senators, 3 terms for House of Representatives. It is supposed to be public service, not a path to long term enrichment. If a member of Congress were not nearly as worried about re-election then they would not worry about constant fundraising and would worry less about annoying their lobbying interests and focus more on the people who sent them to office. Some people may say, that elections are enough, but with money controlling everything (even the gay marriage legislation in New York was a victory for money in politics, not civil rights. The left applauded, but it was only because financial carrots were placed in front of swing votes by well-financed proponents of gay marriage that it passed), elections are no longer enough when incumbents are so flush with decades worth of cash stockpiles, which only increase as their time (and influence) grows in Congress.
The Founding Father’s Lack of Vision
But thanks to the Tea Party’s hostage of the already extra-conservative Republican party, they have now demonstrated that our very form of Republican government may be failing.
We know that the leaders of the Tea Party, like Michelle Bachman, are lovers of the Founding Fathers, at least in theory, since she seems to be less than schooled in what the Founding Fathers actually believed and did (see Founding Fathers fighting slavery). And perhaps if Bachman and her crew knew that the Founding Fathers they would not speak of original intent so much, mainly because from the Founding Fathers’ own words, they could not conceive of a political minority being able to manipulate government the way they have.
In Federalist 10, from the Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote that the danger to a Democracy was the faction, whether it be tyranny of the majority or the minority. Here are some of the highlights from Madison:
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority
or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse
of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the
permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the
republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by
regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but
it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the
In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may
be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard
against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be
limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a
Reading those passages it would be hard to believe that the Tea Party would be lovers of the Founding Fathers. From these quotes from Federalist 10 it goes beyond Madison disapproving of what the Tea Party has been doing to our government. It is as if he could not conceive of what they are doing! Now of course, ask a member of the Tea Party what the originals intended and they can tell you how all their words can apply to today, but could they really have envisioned our current society if they could not have even envisioned the tyranny of the Tea Party? Madison clearly believed that our Republican form of government could stop a cabal from controlling or at least clogging the workings of the government. Madison did not think a minority faction could hide their actions and interests, but thanks to fake grass roots organizations they can. In short, Madison was wrong. He just had no idea that he could be wrong because he figured that a majority decision for the nation’s interest could not be subverted by a ideological minority. It is almost Oedipal. For the Tea Party to thrive they had to kill an idea of their cherished Founding Father. And we already know some Tea Partiers have probably slept with their mothers. Or at least their sisters.
Another person who loves to talk about the Founding Fathers is Sarah Palin, who I believe is the political equivalent of a store front preacher who also sells snake oil elixirs. I don’t think she will run for president, unless her agent tells her it could raise literary sales. She is touring the country earning speaking fees and selling books. She is selling Patriotism the way a preacher sells healings – the only one who actually benefits at the end is Sarah Palin. But this is who many Americans believe has America’s interests at heart.
The Republicans in general have demonstrated over the last three years that they will allow a minority to control and freeze government action. In the House, the Republicans allow themselves to be controlled by the Tea Party. Why? Because they are all afraid that they could be the target of the well-funded interest groups in the next election (the midterms of 2010 saw many Republicans who did not meet the ultra-conservative litmus test lose in primaries). Of course, once again, if there were term limits they might not be as worried about clinging to the power of elected office. In the Senate, the entire Republican party has turned 60 votes into the new 50. If they have any disagreement the filibuster is called in. Once again Madison 0 for 2 on the current Congress.
So to sum up the Tea Party – they believe in the Founding Fathers’ vision, which they don’t seem to understand since the Founding Fathers would be at a loss to explain the Tea Party’s death grip on the House of Representatives. But they probably would have equally perplexed reaction to a black president, which in all honesty is what really spurred this on. The Founding Fathers would have called Obama a slave, today the S word is socialist.
So as I look at America today, I see an experiment that has failed. This does not mean America sucks or anything like that, but we have proven that capitalism is not a rising sea that lifts all boats. Combined with a new Democracy that the Founding Fathers could have never envisioned, we have turned America into a country where the financial minority can deliver power to a political minority and own the entire process. The progressives who are attacking Obama need to realize that this is now how the country works and that it is way bigger than anything he can do.