STRAW GRASPING

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.

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26 Responses to “STRAW GRASPING”

  1. grumpygradstudent Says:

    Well…that was fucking depressing.

  2. Zeb Says:

    Some excellent points, Ed, but I disagree with your assertion that
    "[Liberals] also tried to rally behind a peace movement that failed to impact the waste of blood and money in Vietnam."

    I wasn't alive then, so I can't say for certain, but it does seem like the movements helped bring the war to a close– albeit not soon enough. Do we really think Nixon and the military-industrial complex would've ended Vietnam when they did if not for the immense pressure placed on them by huge chunks of society?

    I suspect that were similar pressure continually applied to our leaders now with regards to Iraq (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan), our troubles in those places would be fewer.

    I also want to know where the Counter-Tea Parties are being held. Why aren't those of us who are pro-health care, pro-regulation, anti-excessive-tax-cuts, out there protesting just as vocally as the asinine Tea Partiers? Maybe this is going on, but I don't see or hear much about it.

  3. MonkeeSage Says:

    "those of us who are pro-health care"

    Heh. I think THAT is exactly what the OP was talking about when he said "we are unable to do anything but divide ourselves and argue."

    "Pro-health care"?!? Really? That's about as meaningful an expression as "death-panels" from the other side of the aisle. I can't imagine anyone who is "anti-health care"–"sorry, ma'am, I think you should die from your disease, I'm again health care. I'm also against happiness, love and kittens."

  4. Zebbidie Says:

    The Happiness Quotient of this page has dropped below the critical level and the little red danger light is flashing. i suggest refueling with pictures of kittens and/or hamsters. Maybe you shhould be like TBogg and buy beagles to keep us amused when the stupidity of society becomes overwhelming.

  5. beau Says:

    Who are these commenters? "The news is bad, show me some kittens"? Fuck that. This is Gin & Tacos, and hopefully always shall be.

    Keep it black, Ed. We love you for it.

  6. fuzzbuzz215 Says:

    Wasn't it liberal democratic Presidents that committed us to and escalated our involvement in Vietnam? They were conservative in a manner of speaking, especially Johnson, but they were still son's of New Deal Liberalism.

  7. RosaLux Says:

    The poet Philip Larkin once said that "deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth." Gin and Tacos, too, is most inspired in the mode of despair, I think.

    Yea yea, so many people in our generation who voted for Obama are demoralized now because politics is hard. They'll tune out and stop caring about politics again and go back to watching reality TV or whatever the hell people watch that don't think much. The real lesson is that people have a distorted idea about how Change occurs and will occur in the future. Politicians – certainly Obama – always peddle the "great man" theory of Change, which suggests that the key catalyst of Change is electing a Great Savior, a leader, a hero, a latter-day Moses…

    But what Obama's minions are now learning is that, while electing good leaders is important, change is impossible without controlling other power centers in the system, and without defeating several structural infirmities. Other power centers include: a batshit-crazy hyper-ideological and extremely mendacious opposition party, Big Insurance, Big Financial, Big Energy, to name a few. The key structural infirmity blocking change is insane campaign finance and ethics laws that allow monied interests to dictate policy to their pecuniary advantage at the expense of the citizenry. I don't care if you elect Jesus, or Ghandi, or the Buddha to the office of President (each an interesting thought experiment, by the way), our government will be a dysfunctional plutocracy without serious campaign finance reform.

  8. MonkeeSage Says:

    "controlling other power centers" … "our government will be a dysfunctional plutocracy without serious campaign finance reform."

    So…um…what we need, in order to overthrow the "dysfunctional plutocracy", is an aristocracy of "smart" people, who can regulate the "power centers" to protect the naive man on the street from himself (since he is so gullible that he cannot see past the false promises of corporate shill politicians)?

    So the proletariat, in essence, becomes the bourgeois…and this is…somehow…better. I'm pretty skeptical of that solution.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  9. Zeb Says:

    ""Pro-health care"?!? Really? That's about as meaningful an expression as "death-panels" from the other side of the aisle. I can't imagine anyone who is "anti-health care"–"sorry, ma'am, I think you should die from your disease, I'm again health care. I'm also against happiness, love and kittens.""

    I meant to say "pro health care REFORM." My bad. I'm trying not to be pollyanna, but hey, I'm a youngin', it's my job to be an optimist for a few more years.

    And you know, I wouldn't be surprised if there are some loons out there who would say exactly what you jokingly quoted! "Your health care infringes upon my property rights!!"

  10. Prudence Says:

    Monkee, please don't jump all over Zeb. GnT is one of the few places on the intertubes where respectful dialogue is mandatory– and the kid post-dates Vietnam, so he's only wee.

  11. Hazy Davy Says:

    1) Fuckin' right on, Ed.
    2) Beau: as I read the two paragraphs about a series of wars and a series of liberal "conflicts", "Paint it Black" was playing in the back of my head, too.

  12. Susasn of Texas Says:

    We divided ourselves, but we were also divided. Looking back it's possible to see how red/blue divisions were created and impressed on the public (by Bobo Brooks, for example). That kept us busy while the financial systyem was gutted, and after that, we were amused and diverted by tea parties, also ginned up and used as a weapon to separate and divide a natural constituency–the newly poor and hopeless.

    We are not depressed enough, we are not angry enough, we are not frightened enough to fight back at our destruction.

  13. Shane Says:

    I am surprised you didn't mention the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

  14. vghoul Says:

    MonkeeSage: While what we ultimately need is a public education system that teaches people critical thinking skills, I'd settle for some interim fucking draconian regulations of campaign finance law and corporate political "self-expression" in general, at this point. It's not about condescension or paternalism toward a "naive man on the street," it's acknowledging that the laissez-faire activity of the propaganda industry is ultimately destructive toward our political climate, that as the real "man on the street" gets stretched thinner and thinner economically, he may not always possess sufficient time and resources to research his way through the billion-dollar minefield of willful deception we've got now.

  15. Kulkuri Says:

    Zeb, check out the Coffee Party.

    Fuzzbuzz, it was Ike that got us involved in Vietnam. He had our military helping the French leave and then we took over but in a covert way. JFK brought it out into the open (rumor has it JFK was planning to end the war, but got shot before he could do it) and LBJ was stupid enough to escalate it. And then Tricky Dicky interferred with the Paris Peace Talks in 1968 by promising they would get a better deal after he was elected. Then he kept it going to win re-election. Shows how the Republic Party doesn't give a shit about people, just power and money. There's that history in a nutshell.

  16. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    Good post Ed, good comments everyone. I'm another idiot who thinks campaign finance reform is needed to help people make sense of all the advertisements meant to mislead us. I disagree with the MonkeeSage because frankly, I'm an elitist jerk who thinks advertising does work (otherwise why would corporations pay so much for it?). How many times have I thought about Senator Max Baucus and just said, here is a guy who has done this for 30 odd years and is closer to the Insurance Company Lobbyists than his own constituents (namely, me) because most of the Insurance Company Lobbyists are his former staff members! Maybe if Senators were paid more and could live a posh lifestyle without having to party with lobbyists it would improve things…

  17. Sarah Says:

    Regarding counter-tea parties, there is a new movement called the Coffee Party. They have a web site (which they just upgraded to a new server due to the unexpected and overwhelming interest) and they have a presence on Facebook.

  18. ladiesbane Says:

    I don't think higher salaries are the answer. I used to think it would attract bigger brains who went to the private sector instead, but now I think public service (like the police force, the military, and other positions of dominance) attracts the best and the worst, and the bait is power — money has nothing to do with it. Power to serve the public and improve things, or power to serve themselves and line their pockets — or both. But I don't want to encourage the latter, or even the last.

    (CFUP, are you a Montanan? I was born in Indiana, but grew up in Kalispell before escaping to college and points south. Funny to have two from such a low pop state.)

  19. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    Ladiesbane? Yes, I'm in Missoula. That is pretty much what they said in 1984 wasn't it? Power was all the guy talked about having a desire for when he went and met the two characters. I can't say I've ever touched power so I don't know what would be so good about it…

  20. moonbat Says:

    Have you read The Fourth Turning? It's about generational cycles in US and British history, to wit: every fourth generation there is an existential crisis (like the Great Depression + WW2) that makes everyone forget their differences and draws people together. When this crisis is resolved, it inevitably leads to people pulling away, pursing their own (antagonistic) ends, for a couple of generations, until the next crisis appears. (300 page book summarized in a few sentences).

    Each genearation's archetype roughly follows the four seasons (in parens, I've noted recent examples)

    Winter – death of the old, the big crisis (Great Depression, WW2)
    Spring – resolution, return to "normalcy", new shoots (post WW2 to early 60s)
    Summer – maxium expansion and prosperity, a time for spiritual awakening (mid 60s-70s)
    Autumn – contraction, divisions among people becoming more evident and antagonistic, until winter appears (Gen X, Ronald Reagan, up till 9/11)

    By this thinking, we're in the beginning stages of winter. The old order is trying its damndest to patch everything together and keep things running, but the cracks keep reappearing. People are more polarized than ever, and so the magnitude of the crisis we're in has yet to get big enough to take over everyone's minds and begin the process of pulling us together. But everyone knows it's coming.

  21. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    What a good post moonbat. You made my day, Winter is Coming… (also a "epic" fantasy book series)…

  22. Darkmoth Says:

    A worthy post, except for this line:

    "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"

    I have to disagree here. Each generation approaches it's time with a sense of purpose and unlimited possibility, and leaves it's time with a sense of things unfulfilled. No one is ever really disillusioned at 20, and everyone's a bitter cynic at 65. Those same young warriors who came home victorious from Normandy watched bitterly as flags and draft cards were burned two decades later. And the fiercely idealistic burners of those flags are just now coming to grips with their own harsh realities.

    Last year a black guy got elected President, this year that fact falls mostly in the "So?" category. Despite it being a paradigm-shattering realization of the dreams of *several* generations of Americans, we just take it in stride while we freak out about insurance premiums. Tell me which of these things schoolkids are going to read about 40 years from now (Hint: it's not the rising cost of insurance)?

    Another trippy realization – all of us were alive and adult during the invention of the Internet. We experienced the entire arc from vinyl LPs to 8-tracks to mp3 streaming. Not to mention the moon landing, and the fall of Russia, etc.

    The crisis we're facing is about what we left undone, not what's possible. It weighs more heavily on those of us who weigh our all-to-finite remaining time against what we thought we would see by this point. We have failed to change the world completely, and it stings. But I don't think failing to defeat the Enemy is the worst thing that can happen to a culture, much like failing to catch a car isn't the worst thing that can happen to a dog.

    The next generation, they each have their chance to change the world ahead of them, their place in the endless struggle, and they will probably not flinch from it.

  23. Hank Roberts Says:

    > something that creates the appearance of regulation but accomplishes nothing.

    BUT, BUT, that's what we did after the Great Depression.
    The accountants organized to avoid any government regulation or licensing, and sanctified "Generally Accepted Accounting Principles" — a matter of opinion — as sufficient guidance.
    The SEC, well, shit, just LOOK at a little of what's been written about how they were pwned!
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=accounting+Merino+SEC+Depression+%22American+Dream%22&btnG=Search&as_sdt=2000&as_ylo=&as_vis=0

  24. Zeb Says:

    Moonbat,

    It's an interesting theory, but I'm always wary of deterministic, cyclical histories. Reminds me of Giambattista Vico, who was wonderful, yet of whose philosophy I'm highly skeptical. I subscribe mostly to Isaiah Berlin's dictum that "history is just one damned thing after another," and doesn't necessarily obey any pattern or cycle. I'm an optimist, but I don't buy into any theories of history which reduce its complexity to some grand pattern or another.

    Also, thanks to Kulkuri and Sarah for that info on the Coffee Parties. Hopefully they will keep growing.

  25. moonbat Says:

    Zeb, I'm wary of stuff like that too, but I've observed even complex systems become simple at times, for at least awhile. And the authors of The Fourth Turning do cite one exception to their 4 generation model, the period either before or after (I forget which) the Civil War.

    My general rule of thumb is that if it fits the data and has predictive power, then it has value, for now.

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