Governing

Aren’t you just a little bit jealous? Revolution is sweeping the middle east as those whose interests take a back seat to the oligarchs who have longed ruled the country got fed up. They collected together and forced change. What kind of change they have brought on remains to be seen, of course, and their road forward, with the secret prisons and beatings of those who oppose the ruling class—seen by the New York Times only a week ago—-offer just a hint of how steep is the road ahead, but they are on it and have set a course for their country that recognizes the need to do something.

Not here, though. No Tunisian shopkeeper will wake us up from our stupor, it seems. We remain quite in the free fall described here over a year ago. As Bob Herbert eloquently explained this morning and argued here over and over, unless we find a better way to finance our elections, our government will grow increasingly unresponsive to its citizens and that, as we have seen this week, is a recipe for the unpredictable to happen. As we know from having studied the Beatles, revolution always sounds like a better idea than it necessarily is. Just think of how the Constitution would read if it were drafted today and you will understand that point immediately.

The Herbert column points to the obscene tax relief to those who should instead be helping their fellow citizens recover from the ditch to which we have been thrown, and the rants of your faithful blogger were directed at health care, but the disconnect between the public interest and what passes for political thought is not remotely issue specific. Gov Cuomo the First famously spoke about campaigning in poetry, but governing in prose, but this imagines that those who campaign can “govern” or participate in governing, or that they have any interest in doing so. It is hard to believe that they do.

The best current example comes from the daily drumbeat, as our official unemployment rate is said to be 9.0% but known to be much, much higher, that the main issue facing the economy—the thing that government most urgently has to address, is the federal budget deficit. The Speaker of the House tells us that only “liberal economists” disagree and that it is time to follow the oracle John Ashbrook—he of the 9% vote when he challenged President Nixon’s relection in the New Hampshire Republican primary in 1972. In fact, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times insist, and Mourning Joe whines every morning, the success of government should be measured by how well they reduce the federal budget deficit.

The Speaker knows the truth, though. It is not just liberal economists who tell us how absurd it is to reduce government spending during a recession. Even the financially illiterate, such as your blogger, know that if people will not spend money, the government has to or we all descend into a trough.

There is no division of thought among those who consider the issue and not the politics. From the Economist magazine to Jamie Galbraith and everywhere in between the obvious is plain, based as much as on common sense as the Great Depression and the New Deal’s embrace of John Maynard Keynes: that this is not the time for government to “tighten its belt”.

The disconnect between reality and our politics is huge. Watch the Sunday shows this week as they ruminate over the big, bad deficit with their knowing looks. You know what they are really saying as they run on as if they know something that nobody else does: here is our cover to cut “entitlements”: the safety net erected by President Roosevelt to protect us all against the depredations of a cruel marketplace.

With few of the advantages we have, the children of Egypt found a way to fight back. We can, too, but there is no sign that we will.

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