In any sort of catastrophe it’s important to decide who to blame. A good scapegoat almost never helps to avoid future catastrophes, but who cares? Blame is fun!
So who do we blame for the Sugar-coated Satan Sandwich? Which on its own merits isn’t as bad as it could have been, really… at least civilization didn’t collapse, as was a real possibility; and the creation of the terrifyingly-named Super Congress has the great virtue of postponing the really awful decisions for a few months. No, the real problems with it are the precedents it set, and the fact that our governing class’s (including the punditocracy) has decided to respond to a genuine economic crisis by focusing on the single least relevant factor and as a result implementing the stupidest possible policies. Who can we blame for that?
The obvious answer for liberalish coastal elites like me is the Tea Party. But that’s too easy. Sure, the Tea Partiers are stupid and crazy, and it’s absolutely terrifying how much power they wield. But that is their nature, and you can’t expect them to go against their nature. They’ve said all along that they don’t like government, so by golly they’re going to try to get rid of it any way they can. They’re the mad bomber from Source Code (name whited out in case you don’t want to know what I’m very mildly spoiling) (paraphrasing, because I forget the real quote): “We can build a new and better society out of the rubble. We just need to make the rubble first.” No wonder they’re cross that they got everything they asked for: they didn’t hold the government and economy hostage to have their demands met; they made their demands so they could shoot the hostage. This is crazy, but, well, they’re crazy, and have a pretty credible insanity defense. “Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do.”
The sane Republicans, insofar as that’s not an oxymoron now, are considerably more culpable. They at least knew what they were doing, and I can only hope they’re full of self-loathing now. This goes double, of course, for Boehner and Cantor, who remind me of Count Baltar from the old Battlestar Galactica (Baltar from the NEW Battlestar Galactica is much more interesting), allying with the sworn enemies of their very existence. But I can almost understand them; like so many politicians through history, they’re acting out of fear, terrified for their jobs. Well, Cantor is trying to get a better job, but close. Again, you can’t expect someone to against their nature.
How about the Republicans’ corporate masters? We’re getting closer here. At the risk of having Godwin’s Law justifiably invoked, they are treading perilously close to the Weimar-era German business interests who backed the Nazis, thinking they would be easily-controlled tools. I do hope the Chamber of Commerce is reconsidering its priorities. But business leaders in our society, even the allegedly brilliant ones, are always short-sighted, greedy, and stupid, so again you sort of have to expect this.
Pundits? Journalists? Bloggers? Well, yes, they’re mostly pretty bad. But there’s only so much pundits can do to influence the national debate, as much as they would like to think otherwise.
It’s fashionable among my progressive brethren and sisteren to blame Obama for all this. Now I won’t pretend that I’m not disappointed in Obama, but honestly, what could he have done? Obama really wants to make deals and compromise and bring people together, not productive strategies in dealing with modern Republicans, but I honestly don’t know what anyone could have done, no matter how tough. You can’t play chicken with someone who WANTS a head-on collision. Yeah, I know, he should have seen this coming, but IIRC that was just after the LAST hostage crisis; even if Obama could have imagined the teabaggers were that crazy it would have been difficult to continue. It’s kind of like the way we didn’t attack the Russkies in August 1945.
So who do I blame? How did we get to this point anyway? The proximate cause is of course the great Shellacking of 2010, an inevitable result of a lousy economy and a high unemployment rate (and a fickle Democratic base). But one lousy election—one where only one house of Congress changed parties—really shouldn’t have sent the nation’s political discourse so quickly off the sanity cliff. I can easily imagine a parallel universe in which the Democrats lost the House not to the Tea Partiers but to more or less sane Republicans. My theory is that the underlying problem is in what should have been Obama’s greatest triumph, health care reform. You’d think that people would be pleased with some guarantee of health insurance, but no, they HATE it. And it was that hatred (say I) more than anything else that allowed the teahadists to sweep into office, so cowing Democrats that in their confusion and terror they willingly stipulated to the Republican view of the world.
Obviously much of the anti-Obamacare bile is due to Republican lies, not just the flashy ones like Death Panels, but the underlying lie that our health care system is The Best In The World (something I think you can only believe if you’ve never actually meant someone from another country). But lies can only get you so far. As I see it the real problem was with the Democrats themselves, specifically with the Senate Democrats, for doing such a miserable job of getting the the thing passed, and inviting the world in for an open house at the Sausage Factory. The most egregious example (that I know of; perhaps were even worse things that weren’t so obvious) was the legendarily odious Cornhusker Kickback—even though it didn’t make it into the final bill, it was so appalling that it rather justifiably convinced the world that the whole process was corrupt and its result inevitably evil. So, on behalf of the Tea Party, thank you Ben Nelson!