Wednesday, January 30, 2008

SOTU 2008: Twilight in America

Howard: I don't see it that way, Geoff. Let me tell you what we're dealing with here. A potentially positive learning experience that can—
Grim Reaper: SHUT UP! Shut up, you American! You always talk, you Americans. You talk, and you talk, and say "let me tell you something" and "I just wanna say this". Well, you're dead now, so shut up!
from "Death" in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

1. As I write this I'm guessing Mr preznit is saying all sorts of swell stuff about what an honor it's been, blah blah, and somewhere out there some lame-ass pro-Obama blogger is counting his guy's closeups vs HRCs to detect media bias, and another lame-ass pro-HRC blogger's doing the same.

And nobody on TV will say anything about how America has long-term problems that both Bush and the democrats are only likely to make deeper. You'd have to mention the war, and how it's going-for-broke, off-the books spending helped get us into this mess and in fact helps keep us in it, but this is inconvenient because of how it doesn't jibe so well with the narrative of how it's disloyal to defund the troops, and it reminds us that the democrats are just the enabling, other bad guys, and there's no white-hatted Gary Cooper in sight.

And even though his wife is running for president, you can't talk about how the last recession was dealt with by a president who was denied a "stimulus package" (mostly on political grounds) and subsequently raised taxes, on gasoline and higher incomes, and put some brakes on expenditures-- like the military base closing commission.(Remember that?). Didn't they call Bill Clinton's 1990s the largest economic expansion in postwar history? But even the Clintons are reluctant to talk about that any more, as it might reinforce the sturdy and simple lesson of raising taxes on those who can afford it(including their huge new rolodex of friends acquired since 1992), and undercut her Iron Lady schtick.

On the other hand, it's o.k. to talk about being "addicted to oil", but less o.k. to talk about any practical short-term strategies for actually starting the transition to a post-petroleum economy. Big vague ideas, hydrogen, The Car of the Future, goals for where we'll be in twenty years without a sliver of a plan to get there-- much better.

It's also o.k. to label that ex-president as bigotted, or at least as too-willing to engage with race-baiting, but not so o.k. to talk about the collective racism that took America to war with Iraq.

GWB: We have other work to do on taxes. Unless Congress acts, most of the tax relief we've delivered over the past seven years will be taken away. Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800. Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm. I'm pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders. (Laughter and applause.)

Most Americans think their taxes are high enough. With all the other pressures on their finances, American families should not have to worry about their federal government taking a bigger bite out of their paychecks. There's only one way to eliminate this uncertainty: Make the tax relief permanent. (Applause.) And members of Congress should know: If any bill raises taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it. (Applause.)

Nobody calls him out for being a bloody, psychopathic loonie. Kansas republican governor Sibelius "responds",talking about bipartisanship: code for we're going to screw you too, and protect wealthy democratic donors in an election year.

GWB:"the armies of compassion continue the march to a new day in the Gulf Coast."

Eric Alterman: Here's what [that] new day looks like: residents in 40,000 trailers, provided by FEMA, that contain potentially dangerous levels of formaldehyde.
[also here.]

(Junior didn't even mention Katrina reconstruction in SOTU 2007, perhaps because it didn't involve explosions and he was bored with it at that point.)

The idea of an "army of compassion" is an odd one, and strikes me as another indicator that George, Jr is a warped, demented character who, whether by his own fault or others', never quite managed a regular route to adult character development. As far as I know he's never spoken about it, but time and again I imagine this metaphor of a coked or boozed up Dubya watching Patton over an over again at a second-run theater in the early 70s on his off days in the Texas Guard, fantasizing about a powerful future when the old man would never, never lord it over him, ever again.

They say he's stupid. Who knows if he is-- either way he's been remarkably successful in getting a nation of 300 million to go along with his numerous crazy schemes, and hastening her collapse. But I guess we can't talk about that either. Sometimes it puzzles me why there weren't more evil but sane capitalists who were smart enough to see the writing on the wall and be alarmed by the portents enough to do something about it, er, him. (If they thought Kerry was the answer, obviously the evil but sane capitalists aren't much smarter than the rest of us.)

Then again, maybe the evil but sane types decided to just ride 2004-2008 out, recognizing it would help to further cow the democratic party, possibly as part of a long-term project designed to convert tomorrow's democratic leadership into yesterday's pre-evangelized Nixonian republicans, since the speaking-in-tongue crazies who had increasingly taken control of the GOP had probably begun to embarrass the industrialists, and even started to get a bit uppity. You're going to put the kibosh on public funding of research that benefits the private sector, you bible-thumping little shits? Oh, hell no!

Certainly if you look at pretty much any democrat who has risen to any level of national prominence in the last 8 years, their voting records, and increasingly even their rhetoric sound pretty GOP. If Hillary Clinton didn't exist the funders of such a project would have had to pour her out of a test tube, while Barach Obama seems to channel MLK and Reagan with equal facility. Against such a discouraging background it's difficult to tell if Chris Dodd's crusade against the odious FISA legislation is the real deal or not, and certainly if it is he deserves to be commended-- especially given how tough his road has been made by unfortunate characters like Harry Reid. Maybe Dodd is an exception who helps demonstrate just what a hidebound, reactionary body the Senate has become, on both sides of the aisle.

2. Going back to Mark Twain and James Fenimore Cooper and maybe even earlier, Americans have been stirred by the twin myths of innocence and exceptionalism. These were probably pretty easy to nourish and keep functional for quite some time, as white settlers expanded from New England and the Old South and obliterated the people they encountered with weaponry and diseases that the natives never had to face before. And oh yeah, slavery, a few hundred years of it. Maybe the only choice for a society that builds itself with such underpinnings was between racist denial or insanity, and naturally we human beings try to avoid the latter.

One of the best bloggers most of you have never heard of, Jay Taber, calls his site "a journal of the American psyche in transition." I don't know what we're transitioning to, but from my vantage point Old America looks pretty much dead. A walking corpse with eye-sockets stuffed with reality-TV and celebrities, and a surfeit of nuclear weapons dangling precariously out of the pockets. We have the greatest concentration of wealth on the continent, while Cuba, the little runt of a country we've embargoed for 40 plus years, has lower infant mortality rates and universal healthcare.

And we're functionally bankrupt, our appearance of solvency dependent on furiously buying and selling foreign-made trinkets from one another, often with money borrowed from the banks of the trinket-makers. You think your country is alive?

[A late night addendum: see also "Twilight of Empire" by Rob Payne, and

Barbara O'Brien's "When 'bipartisan' means we're screwed." Sometimes when you can't sleep its because you forgot something. I'm no Shakespeare, but like old Will I try to only borrow good stuff. G'night.]

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