Really, it's worth going to spend some time with Charlie Pierce in Iowa if you want a clear, cold, brutal picture of what politics in the United States is and will be for the remainder of our political lives.
Two days into 2012 the United States is in real social, economic, and political trouble, and the fact that the Oregon Ducks broke 75 years of shit-luck in this year's Rose Bowl isn't going to change that.
The U.S. economy has gone south. And I don't mean in "whoa, it's beginning to look like we're in some sort of Lesser Depression" sort of way. I mean in a very fundamental, "Holy...this changes everyfuckingthing" sort of way.
The GOP and their corporate stooges (or perhaps that should be "the large corporate "citizens" of the United States and their Republican stooges"? Enh, who cares. You know who they are and who's putting what in whom...) have spent the better part of the past thirty years torquing, twisting, screwing, tilting, and raping the commercial and regulatory systems in this country to favor the sort of crony-corporatism that helps bring them immense amounts of lucre. This has also entailed and has since the late Forties the destruction of the "Grand Bargain" whereby the U.S. bought labor and social peace at the cost of some minor corporate profits by making the corporations the middlemen between the consumer and the workers (often the same people) who made the corporate gidgets the corporations profited off of.
This has mushroomed into a whole nutroll of interlocked problems, including;
- a vast and increasing disparity between the tiny, wealthy few and the increasingly un-wealthy many, who are trapped in
- an economy that has been shedding jobs, living-wage jobs, since the Seventies and who were then conned into trying to use their houses as ATMs and their credit cards as income - admittedly, largely with their own complicity (just because you get swindled doesn't mean that you're not a willing mark) and now becoming
- a badly educated, credulous public dominated by fear; real fear of losing their jobs and consequently their homes and health care and insurance as well as the ridiculous ginned-up fears of things like Hordes of Brown Meskins and Dusky Muslim Terrists - ridiculous but real to them and thus grounds for making stupid, self-destructive decisions in their own and others' lives, because they are "informed" by
- a debased, corporate-owned, lowest-common-factor media composed of people who are either mendacious fools or cynics; they either genuinely believe that talking about Kim Kardashian's vulva is more important than detailing the behavior of the malfactors of great wealth or they don't care and do the former because "the readers/viewers want it" and
- a relatively-bipartisan, highly-toxic federal consensus about a number of fairly critical issues; that "deficits matter more than jobs" (as long as a Kenyan socialist is president), that "We Are At War", that it is and always will be the responsibility of the United States to intervene whenever dusky foreigners are busy with something that might, possibly, potentially, or hypothetically be a future "threat" to "American interests", and that spending tax dollars on aircraft carriers is good but spending it on educating people is not.
All of these represent a problem if you are a citizen of the U.S. who believes that the national charter represents a mandate to promote the general welfare - in ways that do the least harm to the most people (including those dusky foreigners whenever possible) - and secure the blessing of Liberty to themselves and their posterity.
None of this will appear on your evening news, or on the front page of your paper. Your political candidates will not speak of them except in scaremongering terms. And some of these problems - for example, the multigenerational, bipartisan effort to free labor from the bonds of higher wages through "globalization", offshoring, downsizing, "increased efficiency", and deunionization - will not be mentioned at all.
I'll give you just one example; fracking.
Using the overpressuring of injected fluids to increase permeability of a geologic formation to boost petroleum or natural gas yields has been used in the petrochemical industry since I worked there in the early Seventies.
It works, it has worked, it is not in itself dangerous or frightening although it's worth noting that "fracking" is never a first-choice. If a formation must be fracked it tells you that it's an unpromising reservior rock to begin with, and that every other easier, more accessible, cheaper source of petrochemicals has been tapped. In other words, fracking is telling you that drilling is getting more expensive and more difficult, not that it is an exciting new prospect for domestic supply.
It may also have some problems, including the potential for air and groundwater contamination - but these may be controllable, or avoidable, and may be limited by developments that allow for a reduced shut-in pressure.
Because there IS NO absolute good or evil in fracking; it is a technique, and one that has the potential for benefits and for damage.
In my opinion the best way to deal with hydrofracturing is carefully. It is not the same as conventional drill-and-pump techniques and the secondary and tertiary recovery methods used to scavenge the reservoir rock. In the same way that deepwater drilling involves considerably higher risks than shallow platform drilling, fracking should be approached carefully to ensure that both the potential hazards are reduced as well as that the benefits are proportionate to both the economic and environmental costs.
But you will not hear any of this in the public debate in this country. For God's sake, look at effing Iowa!
Because there it is, in its most awful, unvarnished, plain-vanilla form. Watch the antics of the idiots that Doghouse Riley once called the "Seven Specks of Granite" as they try to pander to the stupidest notions about "fracking" held by their already-debased electorate. Listen to electable-grade morons like Santorum, Romney and Gingrich parrot some version of the weapons-grade moron Palin's "drill, baby, drill" nursery rhyme.
You will hear nothing about the economics that has led to the Lesser Depression other than nonsensical rhetoric about "job creators" and taxes. You will hear nothing about a nation that has the largest military budget in human history and more citizens living in poverty than since the end of WW2. You will hear nothing but nonsense about issues that matter little and mean less; abortion, prayers, guns, and queers.
I'm picking on the Republicans because they've gone further into the Crazy. But their loss of sanity has allowed the Democrats to build their own little echo chamber of lies and prevarications, evasions and delusions.
The combined result has been that the United States of America is rapidly becoming a vast and fetid political sewer where it doesn't matter all that much which of the turds in the punchbowl are red and which are blue except the red ones will get flushed quicker and more thoroughly.
Needless to add, this benefits only those who can afford to have their own private septic plant; those of us who need a decent public sewage treatment system have or will find that that the shit can get deeper quicker than any sane individual could imagine.
But by then I believe it will be too late; I have little hope for my country's political system.
So IMO there's really no value in writing or talking any more about the would-a and the should-a. There's really no significant factor on the political horizon I can see changing our direction. The rot is just too deeply engrained, the sickening corruption of money, greed, power, and mental dysfunction so destructive throughout, that there really is no power base outside the "system" to reform it.
If, and when, I ever do it will be worth taking up this issue again. But until then...
The oligarchs, with that venal purblindness that has characterized oligarchs since the days of Versailles, will pursue their greedy vision of a new Gilded Age.
And - let me remind you - the U.S. has functioned as an open oligarchy and can again. So there's no reason to assume that the race to the bottom cannot end with the vast majority of Americans in the position they were in in 1885, working at dangerously chancy jobs for shit wages at the mercy of their employers - when they could find a job at all - and starving when they couldn't.
The only objection I've heard to this is the notion that somehow the system will "crash" and that something better will rise from its ruins. And, in the long run, perhaps something will. After all, the chaos of the Parisian Terror eventually resulted in the cosmopolitan pleasures of modern Paris.
But to get there the French had to live through generations of war, revolution, conquest, and occupation.
I don't want to have to live through those sorts of interesting times. And IMO the chances are that a "crash" will, instead of a return to sanity, bring to the surface the worst in the American public; fear, hatred, a desire to be "saved" by The Leader.
So, sadly, I think all the rest is just rearranging deck chairs. We have chosen our political fates; to be pulled down into late Imperial poverty by midgets who will repeat the lies we have told them we want to hear while we look in vain for something better. Our destination is determined, and the only variable is the length of the trip.
And all that remains now is the wait.
Update 1/3: Here's Ed at "Gin and Tacos" with his opinion on the Iowa Caucauses that pretty much mirrors mine, but which I think can be expanded to cover the U.S. political system circa 2011 as a whole (emphasis mine):
"When will this process get so absurd that it will change? It's not impossible. It happened in 1824, it happened during the Progressive Era with the introduction of primaries, and it happened in 1968. The question is, given the current health of our political system and electorate as a whole, would we end up replacing it with something worse? The evidence suggests that we would. And that has become the guiding principle in American politics – disgust followed by detachment, apathy based on the conviction that we can always make things worse by opening them up to change."