Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Latest Republican "Debate" & America's Ostrich Complex

Unfortunately, Viagra Works Magic On Only One of the Above

"The Economist Intelligence Unit sees at least a 40% chance of a recession in 2008, with overall GDP growth of not much more than 1%."
-- The Economist Intelligence Unit, 11/30/07

"As much as $362 billion in U.S. subprime home mortgages with adjustable interest rates are due to reset at potentially higher rates in the coming year . . . Losses related to bad mortgages already have reached the tens of billions of dollars and have led to turmoil in the world's financial markets."

-- The Wall Street Journal, 12/1/07

"Any of you want to tell us about your gun collection -- roughly how many you own; what your favorite make, model and caliber is . . . ?"
-- A question posed to Republican presidential
candidates during their November 28 "debate"
The incongruity of the quotations above points up the extremely poor health of American democracy. Our nation seems unable to apprehend much less confront and deal with the social, economic and political complexities of the 21st century. Our citizens are losing their homes; our college students are drowning in debt; our children have insufficient health insurance; the value of the dollar is plummeting; totalitarians like Chávez, Putin and the Chinese politburo are in the ascendancy; and our government remains mired in the massively expensive and deadly Iraq debacle. Yet it is deemed important to ask our presidential aspirants about a quirky, anachronistic hobby. Worse still, these "leaders" -- rather than condemn the very question itself as fatuous -- trip all over themselves to provide an answer. How humiliating, both for them and for us.
In 2000 I had a chance to watch a re-run of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. Not only did I not notice any of the infamous beard stubble on Nixon, but I found him to be every bit JFK's equal as an orator, policy analyst, and intellect. Each man spoke in complete paragraphs, citing concrete data, and putting forth a coherent vision for the nation's future. In retrospect, of course, I knew that both men eventually would get a turn in the presidency and that Nixon would turn out to be a morally defective "crook." But I did not get the sense that either one was condescending to the viewer, or immersed in irrelevancies, or that I would be ashamed to have him represent me -- as an American -- abroad. Today, though, one questions whether either JFK or Nixon would put up with the trivialities and constant insults to his intelligence required to run for the White House.
And so, while 2008 promises to be economically problematic and possibly catastrophic, we learn that a particular Republican presidential candidate believes that allowing gays in the military is inconsistent with Judeo-Christian tradition. (Although neither Britain nor Israel has a problem fielding openly homosexual soldiers!) And, while the US struggles with the most unequal distribution of income since the roaring '20's, we learn that the Republican candidates somehow balance an unwavering devotion to Jesus with a fervent belief in capital punishment.
The fact is, we citizens no longer get real answers to serious questions from our politicians. Instead, truth from Washington probably will continue to trickle in like this: a friend of mine was recently informed via a mundane letter from the Social Security Administration that her promised federal retirement benefits would likely be reduced 25% by the time she was old enough to qualify for them. In other words, hard reality will be impressed upon Americans anonymously and without any room for political accountability.