Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Utter Contempt

Between being buried in work and feeling incredibly depressed about the overall political situation, I wound up taking a much needed break last week.  And while I am back, I have to admit a feeling of complete and utter frustration with the situation in Washington.  At time when the economy is teetering on the edge of a recession, we can point to Washington as being a primary contributing factor in our current economic malaise.  It should come as no surprise that we started to get really dismal domestic numbers right around the debt debate flare-up.  But that was actually not the beginning of what I noticed to be the complete degradation of our national political dialog.

I think it was about a year ago when we had to live through the health care town hall debacle.  It was during this time that I first began to seriously doubt our national ability to actually deal with a problem.  It started with a protester who informed his Congressman to "keep the government out of my medicare."  How on earth would you respond to that statement -- I mean, besides being utterly stunned by its sheer stupidity?  How do you actually have a meaningful conversation about how to deal with a very complicated problem (such as health care costs) when people want you to somehow keep the government out of government insurance?

Just when I thought our national debate could not sink any lower, we had the national debt crisis.  This should have been a simple vote, nothing more.  Instead, we had a group of people in Congress who actually thought it was a good idea to vote (or, more specifically, not vote) for a national default.  To even think this is a good idea should demonstrate to anybody how completely debased out national dialog has become.  The US yield curve is a fundamental component of international finance; to threaten it's viability in any way is to essentially invite the possibility of financial Armageddon not just for the US, but for the world.  And yet, we witnessed a group of people who invited just that -- and in fact were egged on by a not inconsequential group of pundits who agreed that committing financial suicide was a good idea.

And finally -- again, just when you thought we couldn't see a higher level of dysfunction -- we have the President's speech issue.  The level of petty bickering that occurred over the jobs speech is embarrassing on an international level.  On the one hand, we have a party (the Republicans) whose dislike of the president is obviously a seething hatred.  They have even stated they will not vote for an extension of the payroll tax break that expires in December -- which would be an obvious breaking of their little Grover Norquist pinky swear on no tax hikes --- because the president is for it.  That is beyond childish.  On the other had, we have a president who is so completely inept and unable to actually accomplish anything that it really doesn't matter.  Frankly, I don't think the president can make a peanut butter sandwich without screwing it up.  Yet somehow he's going to propose a jobs plan and a deficit reduction plan within the period of a week (or maybe in the same speech). 

Several weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled, If A Recession Comes, Blame Washington, where I wrote:
The problem with the debt deal is it took government action off the table at a time when governmental action is needed. Instead of borrowing at insanely low rates, investing massively in a degrading US physical and intellectual infrastructure, Congress is taking action off the table. Remember that governmental spending is a component in the GDP equation -- a fact lost in Washington policy debates, as is the different between consumption and investment. In short, Washington is focused on exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time and as such should bear the brunt of any economic slowdown we face.
But now it's more than just taking government action off the table; it's that both parties have now proven they are utterly inept, albeit it in different ways.  And frankly, that is deeply troubling, especially considering that the economy is now hanging on by a thread.

I've seen many people comment that this is more of a Republican issue -- that is, that the Republicans are more to blame than Democrats.  I would respectfully disagree with that statement.  While the latest Republican bunch in Congress is clearly hyper-partisan and hell bent on doing everything they can to derail the President, I would ask this: please list 5 points that outline what the Democrats plan is.   You can't, because no one really knows.  I've seen a bunch of trial balloons floated and ideas bandied about, but I have yet to see a concrete list of points that all Democrats are rallying around in any meaningful way.  And that -- in addition to utterly incompetent leadership -- is the central problem with the Democrats.