Friday, December 03, 2010

Upsetting the Established Disorder

I must confess to never having read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I tried, but I am cursed with a loathsome attention span, as evidenced by the sporadic nature of my postings on this blog. From what I understand of its premise, however, it is largely about a society in which the government has become oppressive toward its achievers, far too stifling of creativity, and in which the exceptional people of society go on "strike". This, of course, was largely a response to the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt administration, which sought to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the most powerful, and clearly Rand's Social Darwinist philosophies painted far too generous a picture of those who have achieved much in life. It is true that society is driven by the captains of industry, but their achievements are made on the backs of those for whom Rand had so much contempt: the simple, ordinary people.

Still, I have, upon moving to New Orleans, come upon a curious situation in which exceptional people of all sorts seem to have gone on strike in their own way, and the country at large barely notices. It is one in which artists, writers, poets, and even an odd architect or two have come to congregate, take their degrees and talents and apply them toward becoming waiters and bartenders. They subsequently destroy their minds with drugs and alcohol, and willfully wash all of their natural capacities down the drain -- largely because society at large rejected them, or else simply failed to recognize or appreciate how beautiful they were and how much they had to offer.

I myself stared into that abyss and rejected the entire experience. I took on a job as a waiter for a time, and drowned my mind in alcohol for an even longer time... all in the interest of gleaning the authentic New Orleans experience. To my mind, the New Orleans experience is one of death. No longer mourning life, people come here to kill themselves, if not directly, then indirectly. They destroy their minds and thus no longer can truly be said to be themselves. They fall into the abyss of despair and rejoice in it. They are all happy because nobody any longer expects anything from them... they are simply waiters and bartenders, and from that platform of low expectations, they can snicker at all the moneyed tourists who come through and make snide comments at them, insulting their intelligence without them knowing, and letting them wonder why society is so screwed up, and isn't there anybody out there who can fix it?

Atlas shrugged, and so did everybody else. Now we have a city with a service industry staffed with people capable of becoming doctors, engineers, and philosophers, and all anybody can think about when they talk about this city is helping out the people who don't work... the junkies, the panhandlers, the thugs. In this town, having a job is a bragging point. Poverty is so endemic that panhandling is a profession. Say bra, you got a qwata? Hey, I betcha I can tell you where you got them shoes.

Nothing in the media of the bartender at Cajun Mike's with a master's in counseling. Nothing of the RN waiting tables. Nothing of the brilliant artist who tends bar and is so down on herself that she barely considers herself one. No, it is always the Lower Ninth Ward, presented in the national media as a "working class" neighborhood which fell prey to Katrina, but the truth is that it was always a troubled neighborhood.

But suppose somebody comes along who doesn't fall into their trap. It has been said that if you upset the established order, everything turns to chaos. What if somebody came along and upset the established disorder of this city? What happens then?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Nice victory, GOP. Now what?

Obviously this blog has been off the grid for nearly a year. This is due largely to major transitions in my personal life, as well as a growing disaffection with politics. However, given the Republicans' recent victories in Congress, regaining the House and making major gains in the Senate, I feel a need to re-engage, if only with myself. I've no illusions that I will have a great many number of readers given that I've posted nothing in the past year. However, in time, I can make this a sounding board off of which to formulate ideas, and once again formulate my own mind.

My disaffection with politics remains. This is because, while the Democrats deserved to lose, the Republicans most certainly had done nothing to deserve to win. They presented no viable policy ideas, gummed up the works to prevent important legislation from passing rather than working to improve what the legislation contained, and engaged in demagoguery rather than serious discussion on the shortcomings of the President's policy initiatives... and there were many.

First, let us address what the Republicans did "right", which is to say what they did which allowed them to win in November, which is apparently all they are interested in doing. On the legislative front, their unprecedented and devastatingly effective use of the filibuster allowed them to require 60 votes for any legislation to pass. Any progressive legislation which may have been presented was not going to be progressive for long, given the number of conservative Democrats in the Senate with a propensity for inserting poison pills into the legislation. The health care debacle was a key example of this. The 60 vote water mark gave a handful of senators extraordinary influence in the process which they were happy to take advantage of. Ben Nelson (D-NE) scored such an egregious bit of pork for his home state that he was ultimately shamed into having it removed. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) flaunted his importance, bargained in bad faith, and overall stoked his ego while reveling in his own ego. All of this was made possible by the Republicans, who simply committed to voting against bringing the bill to a vote. 51 votes are required to pass legislation in the Senate, but because of arcane Senate rules, 60 votes are required to bring the bill to the floor if one senator has a problem with it. Generally speaking, 40 of them did. The Democrats had 60 votes, but a few would threaten to join a Republican filibuster unless the bill had this provision or that inserted, and of course, this was never coming from the progressive side of the Democratic party, who simply wanted to see an effective bill passed. That isn't what happened. The bill was terrible, and everybody knows it. This is due to ineffective leadership by the President, who farmed the task out to Congress rather than presenting his own proposal and who refused to use the power of his office to keep these Senators in line.

Of course, I'd like to revisit the issue of the stimulus bill, which was supposed to lead the country out of the dark, but really didn't. Nobel laureate for economics Paul Krugman stated back in January 2009 that the stimulus bill needed to be twice as large. The Republicans, of course, opposed it on general principle, stating that tax cuts were the way to go. The President apparently believed that ceding to the Republicans by including tax cuts and making the bill much smaller than the economist who's been right on most economic issues over the last ten years said it should be made the most political sense. Thus, he sacrificed policy for politics, and ended up with a loser on both fronts. The economy is not nearly as bad off as it might have been, but neither is it as well of as we had hoped.

The other thing the Republicans did, which was both effective and loathsome, was the level of demagoguery they leveled against the President, usually through their proxies at FOX News and on talk radio. He was born in Kenya. He was a socialist. He was instituting a government take-over of the health care system. Death panels. The list goes on. They doubled down on the Bush-era fear and directed it towards the President rather than the terrorists. It worked, at least for now.

But now they have to come up with something, because Obama actually has a viable opposition party, and when he's sparring with an opponent, he tends to be at his best. The American people gave the GOP the House of Representatives. Now they're actually going to have to pass some policy initiatives. Unless they simply want them to die in the Senate the way the Democrats' have, they're going to have to bargain in good faith. Nothing they pass will reach the President's desk without having to negotiate with the Democratic Senate. If they come up with nothing in the next two years, they won't be able to simply say that the Democrats can't govern; they will have shown themselves unable to, as well.

As for the President, he does need to put on his big boy pants and start leading. He's not a community organizer, anymore. He's not a state legislator, anymore. He's not a U.S. Senator, anymore. He's the President of the United States. He needs to start acting like it.

Republicans... two years ago I posted some policy initiatives which I thought might help you re-establish yourselves as a serious political party. Now's your chance to do it. Because, and let's be honest here, nobody thinks you're actually going to do anything. This was just about punishing the Democrats for failing to deliver on their campaign promises in 2008. The American people still hate you.

But it speaks to President Obama that people have apparently already forgotten how terrible his predecessor was. Would that I could forget the sound of rocket fire in Iraq, or the sight of blood-soaked sand. Bush may be fading from my mind, but the consequences of his presidency never will.