Monday, February 23, 2009

A spoonful of sugar

By Carl

Frank Rich had a column yesterday that spelled out the trouble with Americans and how that directly plays into the current economic crisis.

In a word,

“I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems,” the president said on Tuesday at the signing ceremony in Denver. He added, hopefully: “But today does mark the beginning of the end.”

Does it?

No one knows, of course, but a bigger question may be whether we really want to know. One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans’ reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly “changed everything,” slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked by the foreseeable. Obama’s toughest political problem may not be coping with the increasingly marginalized G.O.P. but with an America-in-denial that must hear warning signs repeatedly, for months and sometimes years, before believing the wolf is actually at the door.

"Shocked by the foreseeable" is a phrase I wish I had said.

I'd give Americans more credit that Rich does, in that I'd go so far as to say they DO foresee the foreseeable, but get reassurances from the powers that be that things will be OK. The real trick comes in that, when the PTB are wrong, which happens with alarming frequency, they are also usually in control of enough of the mainstream media (including, I'm afraid, your own paper, Mr. Rich) that they manage to elide the rough patches, and keep people firmly convinced of their authority with doublespeak.

The Bush administration was the master of elision. Even after your example, the WMDs in Iraq and the exposure of the fraud by Joe Wilson, enough people, particularly in the talking-head sector, bought the administration story that Wilson had an agenda, that his wife set up an anti-war sham of an investigation.

Which lasted until Katrina and the shameful embarrassment that was the Bush administration was finally uncovered. Suddenly, Joe Wilson looked like a saint in the eyes of America. Suddenly, Scooter Libby and by extension, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney looked like flim-flam men.

Usually, you'd assume a president will lie, a little. Like a lie about a blow job. That we can live with. Or a lie about selling arms to Iran to gain the release of hostages. Again, not an unlivable lie, although that one's taking us into dark territory.

Here's the problem with the wholesale betraying of American trust: Now we are in a position where we have no choice but to trust our president at a time when even he can't be sure what he's doing will work, at the most critical juncture in our nation's history since at least the Civil War.

Literally, this crisis could do what slavery could not: tear us asunder.

And you hear this unease with respect to Obama's hand on the wheel in the whines and gibes of both conservatives and bankers (a large overlap to be sure).

The Congressional Republicans who, to a man, boycotted any bipartisanship on the stimulus package and now speak of refusing funding from the bill are idiots, of course. The bill dropped specific provisions that the Republicans objected to, and if you look at the rest of what they were whining about, it amounted to a hill of beans in the overall cost of the bill. Meanwhile, many spoke with great pleasure at the money they were bringing home to their districts.

I mean, the Democrats were sending to their districts.

An artful compromise, to be sure, and yet the GOP conservatives are whining about it.

Similarly, as Rich points out, the bankers who are in denial about what they stand to lose (basically, everything they personally have at stake in their banks, which ain't much!) are worried about, well, nationalization. Never mind that what's best for the country might very well BE that nationalization, at least for the now. Never mind that 310 million Americans stand to benefit from the security of knowing the government really will step in and help. This handful of a thousand, checkbooks open, pens at the ready, will attempt to wrest the good of the nation out of the greedy clutches of the people.

And that's sad.

There are harsh realities in the world, and that Pollyannas are at the helm of the minority party and their fiscal overlords is disturbing. That there's this belief that somehow Americans can be lulled back to sleep at this point seems unlikely, and yet, tax and spending cuts seem to be the order of the day, like yesterday's spaghetti which didn't quite sell well enough then might somehow become the staple of the thousands who walked past the diner yesterday.

Face it, Republicans, bankers, we've moved on.

(Cross-posted at Simply Left Behind.)

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