By Steve Hynd
The big news today is that the economy showed no increase in net jobs in August. That's right, a net of ZERO new jobs, leaving the unemployment rate mired at 9.1%. Paul Krugman writes that policy makers have been "fighting phantoms while the real problems festered". He's talking about the debt farago - but his "fatal distraction" could equally be the playground politics both major parties and their political chattering class seem to so delight in.
Yesterday, the top political story was Obama's dumbass decision to schedule his jobs speech on the same day as the GOP debate - a decision compounded by further political dumbassery when he then caved to Republican demands to move the date of his speech. Right now, the top chattering story is NASCAR drivers boycotting an event at the White House. I. kid. you. not.
Look, the U.S. flushed at least $60 billion down the drain, lost in corruption and waste, in the last decade on foreign adventures that turned American kids into people capable of atrocities. Meanwhile left-leaning think tanks are praying Obama has the balls to announce a job-creation plan on Sept 8th that is funded at exactly that amount and expecting far less. What we need is, say, a $200 billion plan, funded by cutting the military's obscene $700 billion budget (Update: Kevin Drum suggests $1 trillion over five years). And maybe another $200 billion on a resurrected Peace Corps to do COIN and R2P when even the most avid advocates admit it really counts - before the shooting starts. America's military would still be outspending it's nearest rival by over three times. What's not to like? But we all know this would be politically impossible. Why should it be?
Do you guys ever feel like you're living in a bizzaro world? I mean, our country is commiting atrocities overseas and fighting senseless, never ending wars and our politicians are generally ignoring any medium to long term problem. And no one seems to be upset about this? What the hell is going on? I feel completely detached from the world that everyone else seems to be living in. So much so, I begin wondering what is wrong with me.
Bob Morris and I were quick to assure Keith that there's nothing wrong with him - the problem is that the political chattering class and the political elite are utterly insulated from the concerns of most Americans. Just ask the common man or woman in the street and, no matter their political affiliation, eventually they'll tell you the problem boils down to just this: they feel helpless in the face of a political elite which does not have the same concerns as they do, which doesn't respond to the issues that matter but instead pursues playground political pointmaking, and they feel unable to change the equation by political action. The elite holds all the cards and won't let the common man into the game.
That feeling of frustrated helplessness, of being an outsider to the political process, is what fuelled the anger of the Tea Party and is currently fuelling anger in the Democrat Party's left-wing base. More broadly, it's what leads around a third of all Americans to stay away from even the presidential polls. "What's the point of voting? My voice will go unheard anyway. The politicians will always act in their own self-interests, never in mine or the country's." As for becoming a politician yourself to change things: "What's the point? Only the rich or corrupt or selfish - those who play the game the elite's way - can get elected and even if someone else tried, the process that leads to success would change them into something just like the rest."
The level of apathy among people is just stunning - and it's not improved by an education system that has become so self-servingly obsessed with passing standard tests, thus assuring schools of funding and teachers of jobs, that the nation is graduating people from its high schools who don't know the difference between a continent and a country. The stenographic tendency of the media doesn't help either - allowing "officially unofficial sources" free access to the news cycle, or supressing stories, so that the reporters involved can keep their precious access. How is the common person expected to have and raise their political voice if they don't get the information a democracy needs and even if they did they don't have the education to analyze it on their own - instead relying on the stenographers to parse it for them, each to their own agenda?
I don't just hear this kind of talk from a few people - I hear it from almost everyone nowadays, including often grassroots activists of every party. Democracy in America is, if not broken, then at least badly bent out of shape. And I think everyone knows it - even those it serves just fine to have a bent system.
But solutions are elusive. Ask anyone and they'll have some ideas - then on further thought they'll say "but it wouldn't work because..." and the following will be some reasons that at base are a mixture of apathy and elite manipulation of the political process. The same base problems we so desperately need to deal with.
What's to be done? Is this just the way it is, something people shouldn't struggle against? Or is there a way out of the apathy trap?