STRAW GRASPING

Posted in Rants on March 3rd, 2010 by Ed

Mike and many others have commented on the watered-down Senate version of the Consumer Financial Protection Act – does anything come out of the Senate unworthy of the adjective "watered-down"? – courtesy of Chris Dodd. Krugman commented that no regulation at all is preferable to something that creates the appearance of regulation but accomplishes nothing. This legislation is representative of, well, the entirety of the post-Election 2008 period. As I expected the Great Savior and his colleagues in Congress have been unable or unwilling to do anything except cut taxes (again), hold some hearings to no effect, and hand out money to banking conglomerates.

Policy preferences aside, the most disturbing aspect of this is how completely disillusioned the millions of people caught up in Obamania must be. Yet another generation is broadsided by the reality of our political system and the functional plutocracy in which we live. Another vast segment of the population will respond to politics with a shrug and, "It doesn't matter." And they will largely be right, of course. It is difficult to blame Obama, though. His election is just the latest in a long list of events we've tried to turn into the Great Collective Victory we've been seeking since the end of World War II.

Robert Putnam made himself famous arguing, with considerable empirical support, that the WWII generation was oriented toward society differently than generations that followed. The catalyst was the great national coming-together (or at least the believable myth thereof) that defined America during the War, the overwhelming focus on a single goal that we actually accomplished. Everybody felt like they pitched in and everyone basked in the collective glory of victory. Hey, remember when we all banded together and kicked Hitler's ass? Me too. That sure was awesome.

It is safe to say that the ensuing 70 years have been a continuous effort to re-create that experience. For conservatives this has manifested itself in a procession of increasingly silly and costly military conflicts. After a frustrating draw in Korea the national crisis of masculinity ("Aren't we a bunch of pussies if we don't have a big war like Dad did? What kind of men will we be without our own War Stories and VE Day?") drove Baby Boomers into the Vietnam War, which was as successful as it was glorious. By the 1980s they were so desperate that they were reduced to declaring the invasion of Grenada a huge military victory in an effort to salve their wounded sense of self. We followed that with a drubbing of Iraq in 1991 – replete with Hussein=Hitler imagery in spades – that ultimately accomplished nothing except to make lard-assed suburban white guys feel better about themselves. But it didn't even do that. Deep down, no matter how hard one squints it's not possible to make Grenada look like Normandy or Iraq like Nazi Germany.

Liberals, on the other hand, have attempted to find the Great Collective Victory in a series of "wars" on social ills – racial inequality, poverty, pollution, and so on. They also tried to rally behind a peace movement that failed to impact the waste of blood and money in Vietnam. They've thrown themselves into a series of increasingly futile political saviors – presidential candidates like McGovern, Mondale, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and countless people in lower offices – to no effect. That changed in 2008. Obama's election over the forces of Bush-era evil was the great collective We Did It! moment. Everyone pitched in an shared in the elation of victory. It didn't take long for reality to settle in.

It's unnecessary to state how patently ridiculous the idea of separate "collective" victories based on ideology.

Even in the face of an economic crisis that could very well qualify as the second Great Depression when all is said and done we are unable to do anything but divide ourselves and argue. Lacking political leadership there's no cause behind which we can unite except for nearly unanimous agreement that recessions are Bad and we sure wish someone could do something about it. So we'll continue grasping at straws, squinting, and trying to convince ourselves that we have collectively slain evil like our grandparents did back in dubya-dubya two. And once reality sets in and our delusions of having defeated the Enemy fade, one generation after another will wander away a little more disillusioned than the last. Absent victory we will do as losers always do, growing bitter, angry, and unwilling to risk experiencing defeat again.