Politics Beyond Hopeless
The talk shows were particularly scary yesterday morning. Hana Aswari, the longtime Palestinian spokesperson, was on This Week with Christiane Amanpour, who she claims to have known for twenty years and could therefore trust to know she was not exaggerating. She was there to announce, I think, something Abbas could not say overtly, which is that the two state process is over. The Palestinians are no longer interested in a Jewish state but want the right of return and the 1948 borders, the last of which was a point Abbas had made at the UN, a point emphasized on Meet the Press by a downcast Netanyahu, who looks puffy and depressed, though not as bad as he looked during his speech at the UN, where he frequently paused, as if it took up too much energy to make his points yet one more time. Netanyahu even acknowledged to the General Assembly that the General Assembly was a hopeless audience in that it had so many times denounced Israel. The peace process is hopeless, but what do you call a situation which is beyond hopeless?
Meanwhile, the European economic situation also seems to be beyond hopeless. Everyone on an economic roundtable on This Week claimed that the Greeks were likely to default, and nobody knew how to deal with that because it would take five years for European countries to decouple from the Euro agreements, and nobody knows what to do in the meantime. Even if France and Germany could sustain Greece for a while, they could not do the same for Italy, which is also facing a major banking crisis. And the Greeks may be willing to tax the civil servants as well as fire them, but the Greeks do not seem willing to tax their rich, a problem with which the American political system is familiar even though the United States is not supposed to be a third world nation but one whose political system is flexible enough to address its problems. The European crisis would have an impact on Russia, which holds its reserves in Euros, and on the United States, which is stagnating economically, and even on China, which desperately needs American export markets as well a place to park its reserves. Remember that collectively the European nations rival the United States for being the world's greatest economic power. So, all told, everybody seems to be contemplating something worse than the world wide Great Depression of the Thirties, and we know what that did to politics.
Paul Krugman says the international financial situation is “boring” in the sense that the economic leadership in Europe keeps coming up with the same old austerity solutions when the problem is to pump demand. But if Krugman is right, and I find him very plausible when he argues for more spending rather than less on both sides of the Atlantic, I wonder why his advice isn’t followed. What is it about economic world leaders, both now and at the time of the Great Depression, that moves them to apply just the wrong sorts of measures? Maybe the race around to big meals and big meetings at fancy hotels means that they have no conception of how much the little guy is hurt by their measures. Maybe it is that they have all been trained this way ever since the Chicago School started to rule the world. Maybe it is even that the rich really are in class warfare with the poor and so prefer to squeeze the poor for more because the rich can ride out just about anything. Whatever the explanation, the fact is that the economic elite is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
And meanwhile, the United States dithers, the Republicans so concerned with short term politics that they are fighting tooth and nail about the trivial, such as how much funding to give to FEMA, and so have crippled for two years now any chance of making progress on significant issues such as repairing infrastructure, strategic investments in Canadian shale oil, or improving the American educational structure or refashioning the job structure to provide employment for the less than well educated. We have dithered for ten years as a result of Bush and the Republicans. Obama has been remarkably successful at solving some of the problems Bush left over, especially in foreign policy, and did some major things in domestic policy such as finally getting a near universal health care bill passed, but he can't do much on domestic policy now until he gets reelected fourteen months from now. That is a long time to wait, even though I think it is likely to occur because he will again be blessed with a weak opponent. That may why he is again talking tough but willing to settle for some short term measures such as his jobs bill, just as he was patient in deciding to give in to the Republicans over the debt ceiling because he was trying to avert immediate catastrophe while waiting for better political times.
The only pleasing news is that Perry is making such a fool of himself that he won't get the nomination. As Gail Collins said the other day, the good (and bad) news is that we will have to deal with Mitt Romney for the next fourteen months or possibly for the next nine years. He may be competent to govern but he has so compromised himself that he can exert no leadership except if the Democrats form a coalition with him as President to take on the hopeless Republican-Tea Party.
Philip Roth in his ever more relevant The Plot Against America posits that the Canadian Army would intervene to take out a Lindbergh Presidency and restore FDR to power. What is our deus ex machina now? A definition of “beyond hopeless” is that you can’t even imagine a way out. There was no way out of Little Phil’s neurotic sense of a Fascist takeover in the United States, and so only a flight of imagination could relieve him of it. Similarly, we are left only with fantasies about how the United States is going to get out of this one. It was bad enough when Obama had just been elected: the economy was in the tank and we were in two very bad wars and no one around the world had any use for us. Obama was the way out of hopelessness. He climbed us up the hill a pretty far way and people took so for granted that he would take us the rest of the way that they did not bother to vote in what now seems the pivotal 2010 midterm elections. Now, how do we walk back from that, now that we are beyond hopelessness?
Obama’s flight of fancy, which no one on the networks believes, is that he will talk the American people into rising out of their lethargy and that the people will make the Republicans feel the heat by demonstrating and otherwise petitioning their congresspeople. Don’t the people want bridges built; don’t they want some jobs? Just how clear does it have to be made to you that now is the time to demonstrate? Not Leftists, but Mayor Bloomberg wonders why there isn’t rioting. So why aren’t people marching? I have even heard the very despairing idea that demonstrations can be conducted against white politicians in Wisconsin, but not against a Black President, and so Obama is stymied and been put in the position of calming the waters for the benefit of the Right. This is what his ascendency to the Presidency amounts to historically.
My own view is it may take a world wide Depression to wake the American people up to Obama’s virtue as being a serious person while the Republicans are either evil or clowns or both. It is worth noting in that context, however, that Roth published The Plot Against America after Bush had defeated Kerry. The first Bush term you can blame on politicians such as Gore and on the Supreme Court. The second Bush term, after both Katrina and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, on the other hand, can only be blamed on the American people.
I don’t know where to go from here. Is this the end of Rico? The Tea Party in just a few short years may have brought about the Apocalypse they so much want. Once it starts, it can just cascade, as happens in all those movies—as well as in the Brueghel canvas. I have to fall back on my sense that a wise soul bewares of apocalyptic thinking. A way out will turn up; things will change. I just don’t know how. Now, for a pundit, having no words to offer is indeed being beyond hopeless.