Sunday, October 16, 2011


From AlterNet:

Robert Gates on the GOP's Breakdown and
Failure at "The Basic Functions of Government"

Brian Beutler had a good item on this the other day, noting the increasing frequency with which prominent voices, not prone to hyperbole or alarmism, are raising awkward questions.

The GOP’s hyper-partisan turn after Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 meant 112th Congress was destined to test the limits of dysfunctional governance. But it also happened to coincide with a moment in history when the country needed the government to do better than the bare minimum. Instead, it’s done less. And that’s shaken people who’ve spent their careers steering the ship of state.

“I do believe that we are now in uncharted waters when it comes to the dysfunction in our political system — and it is no longer a joking matter,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told an audience two weeks ago at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where he received the Liberty Medal for national service. “It appears that as a result of several long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country. Thus, I am more concerned than I have ever been about the state of American governance.”
James Fallows noted the same remarks, emphasizing Gates’ demeanor. “I specifically recognize how carefully he has always chosen his public words,” Fallows wrote. “For such a person to say plainly that the American government has lost its basic ability to function, and that he is more concerned than he has ever been about this issue is … well, it’s worth more notice than it’s received so far.”

More here.

From Star Trek: "Bones, did you ever hear of a doomsday machine?...It's a weapon built primarily as a bluff. It's never meant to be used. So strong, it could destroy both sides in a war."

Of course, I essentially agree with Gates' analysis of the situation. Except for the part about "long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture." Long-building, yes. But not trends, and not polarizing. The political situation America now suffers comes from deliberate choices on the part of the Republican Party and conservatives in general made decades ago; trends are things that just kind of happen, spontaneously, especially when it comes to culture. I mean, trends have causes, but they're not generally conscious choices. Furthermore, the nature of our problems is not that we have become polarized, which connotes two opposing sides at the extremes. Surely, the GOP presidential candidate field represents one polar extreme. So what's the other polar extreme? I'm not sure, but I'm certain that you won't find it in Washington. Unless you want to call President Obama an extreme leftist, which would be personally insulting to me, an actual leftist.

But I think Gates concedes this to some extent when he references the Republican "hyper-partisan turn" after Obama's election--I imagine he's just not fully aware of how long this has been in the making; to him, this is a recent turn of events, not something that's been brewing for three decades.

Really, it goes back even further, to anti-communist hysteria predating the McCarthy era. Back in the 1930s, anti-communist businessmen started connecting with anti-communist fundamentalist clergy around the country: how could they turn back the New Deal, which would surely lead to Soviet style socialism, complete with state ownership of industry and godless atheism? This was the dark and distant origin of today's conservative monstrosity. This was the beginning of the pro-business, fundamentalist Christian alliance that didn't find its full flower until Reagan, an early convert to the movement, took office in early 1981. This was the beginning of the notion of conservative think tanks. This was when a few conservative outsiders made the key decision to literally change American culture to something that was far more favorable to their then unpopular ideas.

We just really didn't start to take notice until the Reagan era. But it really does go that far back. It happened very quickly after the end of the Gilded Age. That's when the culture war really started. That's when the first recruits hit the battlefield.

It's been a war for them for seventy years. Lots of battles. Beating Carter was just one. Impeaching Clinton was another. They've suffered some losses, too. Nixon's resignation was one such loss. Roe versus Wade was another, but all it did was make the faithful more determined to win. So they just kept fighting. And finally, at some point in the 90s, they started winning a whole lot more than they were losing. Their multi-decade propaganda effort had pulled the entire nation's political apparatus to the right. The Democrats, the press, seemingly everybody with any institutional power at all was by then much more conservative than they would have been back in the 60s.

With this new found institutional power, the conservatives started dismantling the nation, selling it off to the highest bidder, essentially allowing vast concentrations of wealth to literally take control. And that brings us right up to the current era.

Today's Democrats are, in fact, yesterday's Republicans. They run the nation for the wealthy, like the good conservatives they are, but they still have some residual sanity from the old days: they want, at least, for the country to run. Today's Republicans, on the other hand, having been abandoned by everyone who is not a zealot, now solely consist of the seasoned shock troops from the culture and class wars of days gone by. Only the most crazed berserker warriors are allowed in the party. Only those who are willing to slit the throats and bathe in the blood of any and all who oppose their political and cultural views can be a party leader today. They will fight to the death in a savage frenzy. Forever.

And that's what the problem is in terms of the government dysfunction Gates speaks about. It's not conservatives versus liberals--indeed, the liberals have been removed utterly from Washington politics. Rather, it's conservatives versus their own doomsday machine, constructed so long ago that nobody remembers it. Today's right-wing zealots have been programmed to see the enemy everywhere. To fight fiercely. No quarter, no mercy. Death, death, death. Bring the whole shit house down because it will destroy the liberals.

It is indeed notable that so many rational conservatives are starting to see just how bad things have become. But the writing's been on the wall since before I was born.