Saturday, November 13, 2010


I think I see how the deficit-reduction battle is playing out. I thought the plan would be DOA, but I'm starting to believe I was naive about that. As I said yesterday, most of the right-wing zealots whom we usually can't get to shut up (Fox News, John Boehner) seem to be suspiciously quiet about the tax increases in the Bowles/Simpson recommendations, which you'd think would horrify them -- and what appears to be emerging is a mainstream press/Beltway "centrist" consensus that anyone who objects to the recommendations is an infantile, selfish, tantrum-throwing extremist. (Bad Nancy Pelosi and Paul Krugman! Bad Grover Norquist! But, primarily, bad Nancy Pelosi and Paul Krugman!) Even Gail Collins is drinking the Kool-Aid:

...So not the greatest blueprint in history. But the worst thing you could do would be to dismiss it out of hand, like Nancy Pelosi, who called it "simply unacceptable." The people of America made it clear in the election that they want something done about the deficit. The president's responsibility is to show them he's going to heed their orders, and then follow through without making the economy worse or cutting critical services....

Meanwhile, the message of this New York Times Opinionator round-up is that conservatives (Norquist excepted) give Bowles/Simpson mixed reviews, but liberals really hate it. You know what that means: if the poles were reversed -- if righties were horrified while libs were ambivalent -- we'd all know that the righties represented the thoughts of the "real America" and therefore Attention Must Be Paid. But this distribution of anger? A sign that we need to go full speed ahead.

What will happen next, I think, is that Republicans -- who effortlessly block anything they feel like blocking in Congress -- will somehow lose their power to stop Bowles/Simpson from becoming law more or less intact. They won't support Bowles/Simpson exactly, but they'll just never get around to mustering the usual pitchfork-wielding teabag army and media noise machine to stop it. Somehow, they'll allow the Worst Thing In The World, tax increases, to happen. They just won't know how to prevent it!

And at that point, of course, all the screwing of the middle class that results will be the fault of Obama and the Democrats. But you knew that, right?


David Brooks doesn't think Bowles/Simpson will be enacted, and that saddens him -- and yet he's not sad, because he thinks that sooner or later a force will rise up in the land to smite the deficit demon and restore America to greatness, as he wrote yesterday, and it will happen because we're just really good people in this country, people with really good character:

...Yet, I'm optimistic right now. I'm optimistic because while our political system is a mess, the economic and social values of the country remain sound. My optimism is also based on the conviction that serious, vibrant societies don’t sit by and do nothing as their governments drive off a cliff.

Over the past few years, we have seen millions of people mobilize -- some behind President Obama and others around the Tea Parties. The country is restive and looking for alternatives. And before the next round of voting begins, I suspect we will see another mass movement: a movement of people who don't feel represented by either of the partisan orthodoxies; a movement of people who want to fundamentally change the norms, institutions and rigidities that cause our gridlock and threaten our country.

You can't organize a movement like this around pain -- around tax increases and spending cuts. But you can organize one around a broad revitalization agenda, and, above all, love of country.

It will take a revived patriotism to motivate Americans to do what needs to be done. It will take a revived patriotism to lift people out of their partisan cliques....

It's interesting that he should compare his imagined movement to the Obama and tea party movements, because, a couple of weeks ago, Jennifer Senior published a cover story in New York magazine arguing that those two electoral waves demonstrated the infantilization of the U.S. electorate.

I think Senior's essay goes off the rails fairly quickly -- like most in the media elite, she thinks the average American is like the average person she knows, an upscale, urbane East Coast resident, so she thinks the American character is all about excesses of self-indulgence and self-gratification, rather than simple attempts to grab a little pleasure, a flat-screen TV or new garage, while living through a period of no increase in the standard of living for ordinary Americans. But I think she's partly right -- a lot of people expected way too much from Obama, and a lot of other people expect way too much from teabaggery.

And now Brooks (and his colleague Tom Friedman) apparently feel the same way about some as-yet-unidentified group of patriotic centrists -- they're just going to come along, snap their fingers, and make it all better, simply banishing factionalism and partisanship as well as self-interest.

Ordinary voters, at least, can be forgiven for not really understanding how our political system works, and for imagining that Obama or the tea party candidates could correct the system's in one fell swoop. Brooks and Friedman, on the other hand, should bloody well know better.

(As for me, I backed Obama early, though I never became a teary-eyed "Yes We Can" type. I did think he'd be a lot savvier and shrewder than he's been, though I wasn't expecting miracles.)

Ultimately, David Brooks and Gail Collins and Tom Friedman, you are the people you've been waiting for: media conventional wisdom-mongers manufacturing consent and thus forcing sacrifice down the throats of the middle class.

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