As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We Need An Unmaking Of The American Consensus

I'm thinking about printing out this paragraph from Digby and putting it above my bathroom mirror like Stallone did when he trained in Siberia in Rocky IV.

The bipartisan elite consensus that governs this country is quite simple. First, deficits and high taxes are always the basic cause of economic stress or the biggest threat facing a recovery, no matter the circumstances. (The corollary is that cutting taxes and spending are the ultimate answer to every economic challenge.) Taxes on the wealthy (excuse me "the most productive") must be kept as low as possible, the military cannot be subject to any budgetary constraint and the national security state cannot be held accountable, business and industry must always be given top priority and all other government expenditures are legislative bargaining chips regardless of their impact on the lives of average Americans. Nobody questions that consensus or even suggests that some other set of priorities might be useful from time to time.

This pretty well describes every single bit of dysfunction that we deal with in making progress, and it's always been there to a certain extent. It's a consensus that serves elites and those in positions of power in Washington, and any defeat of that is always an uphill climb, even in a time of crisis. Paul Krugman posts a very revealing set of polls from back in the mid-1930s, during the Depression, that parallel today's polls showing Americans, after years if not decades of constant conservative dogma, fearing higher deficits just in time for a Democratic President (though not to the level of media hype):

Gallup Poll [December, 1935]

Do you think it necessary at this time to balance the budget and start reducing the national debt?

70% Yes
30 No

Gallup Poll [May, 1936]

Are the acts of the present Administration helping or hindering recovery?

55% Helping
45 Hindering

Gallup Poll (AIPO) [November, 1936]


65% YES
28 NO

This was right around the time that Roosevelt tried to balance the budget, leading to a mini-recession inside the Depression, and prolonging the overall slowdown. He learned from that mistake, but the question is whether or not we will today. As Krugman says:

The point here, I think, is that most people don’t know much about macroeconomics. Hey, most members of Congress don’t know much about macroeconomics — and recent discussions suggest the possibility that many macroeconomists don’t know much about macroeconomics. Voters do, however, notice results.

So the moral for Obama is, of course, to ignore this poll, for the sake both of the economy and of Congressional Democrats — Blue Dogs included.

Sadly, I don't think that's how it'll turn out. Look no further than the totally shameful overturning, against the wishes of the Pentagon, of the phasing out of the F-22 program, which nobody in the military wants, which EVEN LOCKHEED MARTIN has agreed not to build anymore, but which is so important to elements of the military industrial complex that Democrats and Republicans in the House couldn't say no:

Yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee “threw a wrench in the Obama administration’s plans to end” the F-22 program, voting 31-30 on a measure marking up the Defense Department spending bill that would “add $369 million in extra funding to keep production of the Air Force’s most advanced jet alive.” Six Democrats — Reps. Jim Marshall (GA), Joe Courtney (CT), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), Eric Massa (NY), Bobby Bright (AL), and Mike McIntyre (NC) — joined 25 Republicans in voting for the amendment. The Wall Street Journal reports that “the extra money would be a boost for Lockheed [Martin's] Marietta, Ga., production facility” which is in Marshall’s home state.

WTF Eric Massa?

Add to that the money in the war funding supplemental for C-17 planes that the military doesn't want. Clearly what happens is that parochial interests about plants scattered across all 50 states trump the national interest. And in the end, perversely, the people in those districts get screwed.

I recognize that there's a structural problem here as well, with the undemocratic nature of the US Senate and the even more undemocratic filibuster. But the establishment consensus knows no party, and you cannot lay the blame entirely at the feet of process.

If a near-Depression and a triumvirate of Democrats in Washington can shock this loose, I don't really think we ever will.

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