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The Triumph of Political Derangement

(Photo: thierry ehrmann / Flickr)

There are many familiar symbols that represent the United States of America. There is the flag, of course. There is the strange eye above the unfinished pyramid on the back of the dollar bill. There are the myriad iconic buildings in Washington as familiar to us as the back of our hands.

Well, the moment has arrived to add a new symbol to the list, one that represents the sad state of our national politics, the ridiculous media coverage of same, and the deranged condition the American people find themselves in today. I suggest Janus, the ancient two-headed Roman god whose faces look both forward and backward simultaneously. In representing the American people, Janus would be a perfect depiction of a person who wants two things at once, and hasn't yet figured out how to do it.

To wit: every available scrap of poll data indicates that a large majority of Americans are stoutly opposed to the Ryan plan that seeks to end Medicare…and every scrap of poll data also indicates that a majority of Americans are dead-set against raising the debt-limit ceiling.

Who the what the where the when the why the hell is that?

Simple answer: the GOP pulled a bait-and-switch on America's most vulnerable voters by claiming that Obama and the Democrats wanted to destroy Medicare, and with this gambit clawed their way into majority control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. Once they were in, they turned on a dime and started laying the groundwork to annihilate the very Medicare program they had been sounding the alarm over.

The looming vote on raising the debt limit – a vote that had previously passed unremarked every year since time out of mind – is now the Line of Death, a doomsday deadline the GOP is using to force Democrats into savage cuts in the social contract. With savvy messaging, the GOP has managed to hoodwink a majority of Americans into thinking that failing to pass the debt ceiling increase is a good thing, our “mainstream” news media has coddled such viewpoints, and the Democrats are only just beginning to figure out how to message against such madness.

The people want to keep Medicare, but they also apparently want to eviscerate the national economy just as the most recent dour economic reports are coming in, because they want big cuts in spending…so long as it doesn't involve the social safety net or any of the hundred other programs they benefit from on a daily basis. They have reached this demented point of view for the same reason old-school computer programmers came up with the acronym GIGO – garbage in, garbage out – to describe how disruptive and destructive bad information can be to any process.

For the record: if Medicare is eliminated, growing old in America will once again be synonymous with growing poor. Millions of people will be financially ravaged, as pensions and long-term investments have been plundered and proven to be worth less than the paper they are printed on (thanks to the economic policies of the very people now seeking to eliminate Medicare).

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For the record: if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling by the drop-dead date in August, the economic calamity we suffered through two years ago will seem like a Cape Cod clambake by comparison. Interest rates will skyrocket, delivering a body blow to the all-important Treasury bond market. The already-anemic housing market will further collapse, crushing the construction industry. Worst of all, the rest of the world (which believes at this moment that America would never be utterly stupid enough to let this happen) would immediately lose confidence in the United States, and a global Depression would fold its wings over us like a funeral shroud.

Ever paid $50 for a Big Mac? You will, if this deal goes down.

Wall Street finds such a possibility unthinkable at this point, which is why the markets didn't even blink when the GOP House majority vomited up their sham bill to raise the debt ceiling, only to vote it down as a show of force against Democrats and a sop to their Tea Party base. It seems inconceivable that the GOP would shoot itself in both feet – one bullet labeled “Medicare” and the other labeled “economic annihilation” – because it would be the end of them as a force in American politics…but consider this, from Walter Shapiro of The New Republic:

Think it can't happen here? Remember that in 2008, with the financial markets in free fall, the House initially voted down TARP, with 95 Democrats and 133 Republicans opting for the apocalypse over risking their reelection chances. During the 2010 campaigns from South Carolina to Nebraska, both Republicans and Democrats confided to me that voting for TARP the second time around was the most difficult political vote of their careers. Having done the responsible thing back in 2008 (and then discovering that the voters will never fully forgive them), these legislators are likely to let someone else mount the scaffold for the debt-ceiling vote.

Looking at the arithmetic of Tuesday night's debt-ceiling vote (97 Democrats voting aye, 7 voting “present” to protest GOP gamesmanship, and party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer voting “no,” although they will undoubtedly support Obama on a final vote), it is hard to see how the legislation can ultimately pass the House without 80-90 GOP votes. Unless you believe that there will be a grand deficit bargain by the end of July (and elves are dancing in the glen), finding 80-90 Republicans willing to take on both the fury of the Tea Party movement and the doubts of independent voters is a daunting task.

In other words, yeah, they are exactly that crazy and stupid, and very well might just let this happen…thanks in no small part to Janus, god of the American voter, who can't decide which way to look, and thus tries to go in two directions at once. The mixed polling signals coming from the electorate are as unhinged as the politicians who listen to them, and that spells bad trouble for everyone.

If we go down this hole, we can blame the Tea Party, the media, the GOP, the Democrats, the White House…and us. If we save Medicare but nuke the economy, we're screwed. If we nuke Medicare but save the economy, we're screwed. But if we save Medicare and the economy…wow…what a concept.

Seems pretty straightforward to me. But, then again, I'm not deranged.

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