Life Sentences, Day 120: Voting Among the Ruins?

January 29th, 2011

Is democracy outdated?

Before you give up on me permanently, let me rant for a moment.  Or five.

In the past 30 years America has slipped, relative to other countries, in almost every possible way.  The richest country on the planet is now the biggest debtor in world history.  One of the best-educated societies is now in the lower middle rankings of student achievement compared to other developed nations.  We don’t even come in very high on the somewhat vaporous happiness and satisfaction indexes.

In the meantime, China has taken over the world economically.  It holds trillions of dollars of our debt.  Its educational systems are turning out the scientists, engineers, urban planners, and technology whizzes it needs.  It’s even in transition from being one of the world’s most polluted countries — a consequence of its extraordinarily successful, balls-to-the-walls industrial policies — and is making spectacular progress in going green.

What’s the difference?

Two things, I think.  First, the Chinese can make (and live up to) five, ten, and twenty-year plans and we can’t. Second, China’s leaders don’t need (as of now) to be afraid to make hard choices when they’re required for longterm benefit.  Our “leaders” are terrified of doing anything that might lose them a vote.

In America, we think in terms of four- and eight-year plans, which an administration announces and then attempts to implement while the opposition party, jockeying for position in the next elections, demonizes those plans and attempts to kneecap them at every turn.  Then, four or eight years later, a new set of programs — “important national initiatives for America and America’s children,” as the hack in office puts it every time — is announced, demonized, and kneecapped.

So, while the Chinese are working on their thirty-year green plan, every presidential candidate in the 32 years or so since Jimmy Carter turned down the thermostat in the White House has pledged “to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”  It’s been more than three decades since Carter made the pledge, and we use more foreign oil than ever before.

How many trillions of dollars have been poured into all the “wars on poverty”?  Let me check for a moment to see whether we still have poverty.  Yup.  How many hundreds of millions on the “War on Drugs”?  Americans still getting loaded?  Yup.  How long have we been arguing over illegal immigration?  Anything done — good, bad, or indifferent — about it?  Nope.

And when we do manage to move in one direction for any length of time, we do it on an ad hoc basis that is often self-kneecapping.  “Green,” for example.  It’s good, most politicians think, to be green.  So California, with Washington’s encouragement, enacts the most ambitious green agenda in history.

To support California and encourage “green jobs,” the perpetually misguided Obama administration gives half a billion dollars to a California maker of solar panels so they can expand, “grow jobs,” and help the state go green.  Problem is, making solar panels is environmentally dirty, and the same state and federal governments enact fees and restrictions that drive the price up on California-produced solar panels, so the company doesn’t expand and, in fact, cuts jobs.  At a time when California unemployment is 13 percent.

So we go green and “reduce our dependence on foreign oil” buy buying foreign solar panels — from China.  And the the Rebuglicans and the Damnocrats — whoever’s blaming the current administration for letting the deficit get out of hand — says it’s time “To get tough on China.”

The student council in my junior high school was run more effectively than this.

And the trillions and trillions of dollars in debt?  Where are we going to find the people who will make the choices necessary to reign in spending and increase revenues?  The Republicans in the House and Senate have barely gotten their chairs warm and they’re already attempting to wiggle out from under.  So what happens if we simply continue to pile up debt, if our states go bankrupt, if China eventually holds paper worth eight or ten times our gross national product?  And other countries lose interest in the dollar? What do we do then?  Get rough on China?

Maybe the world just changes too fast these days for the processes of democracy to keep pace with things.  Maybe American democracy has been corrupted and degraded and needs — somehow — to be washed clean.  Maybe we need to outlaw our disgraceful political parties,  put all professional politicians on the street to sell apples, and elect hairdressers and lumberjacks and street mimes.  Maybe we need to lift the term limits on the presidency and give someone a chance at actually implementing the policies he or she gets elected on.  Maybe we need one-party rule for a while.

Okay, okay, I know that all of these are impossible.  But we sure as shit need something.

There.  Now you can give up on me.

6 Responses to “Life Sentences, Day 120: Voting Among the Ruins?”

  1. Laren Bright Says:

    Interesting you bring this up. We were having a relate conversation just the other night & the idea was floated that we’re in this mess because people in this country (and maybe worldwide) believe what they want to believe. In other words, they don’t make up their minds, they make up their emotions. So how do you appeal to reason if people aren’t being reasonable?

    The answer is obviously privatizing and outsourcing — which I secretly believe Tim has done. He has privatized his blog and has outsourced it so it’s written by a nice fellah in Sri Lanka named Andy. Come clean, Tim — it’s true isn’t it.

  2. suzanna Says:

    Hi, Tim

    Well, I’ve left fuming over the state of politics behind for six weeks now since I deliberately have taken a breather from reading the news.

    I used to subject myself to at least a twice a day review of the national and international news, unless it was a hot news day. If it was a day when things were really heating up somewhere in the world I’d be online half a dozen times a day checking to see how things were developing. This level of news gorging made me highly informed, no doubt, but it also gave me a very bleak outlook on the state of our country and the planet.

    So I began to ask myself, how can I even begin to have any optimism at all if all I do is read about how f-d up everything is?

    Of course it hasn’t been a complete news black out. Little bits of news are unavoidable as I pass by a radio or TV someone else is listening to, or if people talk about some issue or another in my presence. But other than that I have been blissfully ignorant all this time and I highly recommend it to give time to reflect and recharge.

    I’ve learned that going on a news fast is a great way to revitalize the optimism that I should have about our future but which simply has no chance of surviving at all if all I do is spend time learning how messed up everything is.

    Surely, somewhere, there are stories of people who are working hard to make a difference? Our news media is not at all focused on solutions but on fear, tragedy, and heartbreak.

    In the past revolutionary changes were born for the people by the people and I really believe that’s what will bring the kind of change we need now. Guns in the street kind of revolution? Well, I’m not an advocate of that, but in essence we need that kind of energy to sweep across our nation in order to shift our current state of apathy to a place where people are invested in the changes that they want to see that will make us better equipped to provide the education that is needed, to ensure that we have a fighting chance to save our environment, etc., etc., etc.

    If I do not have a tiny shred of hope that maybe not tomorrow, maybe not ten years from now, but one day in America’s future all the things that have hampered us from achieving greatness will begin to shift from this very bleak time in our history to something better.

    What else what can I do? I can’t move to a more enlightened country, I can’t turn my back on the news forever. So then what to do?

    I need to follow my own advice and pick an issue and devote my time and energy to it. It doesn’t really matter what it is. There are so many issues that are begging for help and there are a lot more of us, the people, then there are of those nincompoops who call themselves leaders.

    Signing off from my soap box now and anxious to hear what solutions others may have.

  3. Phil Hanson Says:

    Excellent points, Tim.

    We’ve had one-party rule for thirty years, and we all know how that’s turned out. Democracy only works when the citizens living in that democracy are smart enough to actually vote intelligently. If American men were as over-medicated with Viagra as the general US population is with fluoride, no self-respecting American man could ever again stand up in public. (Yes, fluoride has a negative effect on mental ability.)

    Because the availability of natural resources is inversely proportional to the number of people competing for those resources, I believe that the redundant population world-wide is soon to be culled. The signs are everywhere that our corporate-appointed leaders are anxious to see most of us dead.

  4. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    The scariest thing about the rants is that I don’t see a solution, except to vote, and talk up the belief system I have. Democracy may not work due to the lowest common denominator factor, as in things will sink to the lowest…I also wonder about capitalism. I used to think this was the greatest system ever, but the theorists never factored in greed, and corruption. The thing that is scary is that the thing that made this country strong was a vibrant and large middle class. I see this economy eating into that group. The Republicans and Tea Partiers seem to advocate social engineering. If you can’t cut it, tough. And if you have to lie, well, learn how to do that. Oops, rant of my own here. I stop now.

  5. EverettK Says:

    All very good points, Tim. But it’s not just a political problem, it’s primarily a SOCIAL (society) problem.

    Tim said: First, the Chinese can make (and live up to) five, ten, and twenty-year plans and we can’t. Second, China’s leaders don’t need (as of now) to be afraid to make hard choices when they’re required for longterm benefit. Our “leaders” are terrified of doing anything that might lose them a vote.

    This is true. However, what is also true (and maybe MORE important), the Chinese (as a society) are HUNGRY, and Americans are not. Chinese are where America was 100 years ago: a LOT of very poor people, willing to work HARD to improve their lives and the lives of their children, and their children are willing to work hard to improve their own lives.

    In America today, most people have it too soft (bear with me…) Even many of the poorest of people in the U.S. have it better than probably 80% of the Chinese population. Because of that, kids grow up in the U.S. with a sense of entitlement (because they’ve been given everything they need and want by their parents, schools and government). Why would 80% of American kids work hard when 1) they don’t need to and 2) their parents don’t push them to?

    It’s the natural course of civilizations, and I started suspecting back in the mid-70s that American had probably peaked, and became pretty convinced of it by the 90s. I’m sure the U.S. will still have its ‘ups’, but it’s going to have a lot more downs. The debt we already have, as a nation AND as individuals, combined with the lack of interest and willpower on the part of too large of a segment of the population, is just not going to let our country recover its ‘steam’ any time soon. And meanwhile, China, India, and pretty much every other “poor country” are working their butts off to improve THEIR situations.

    I’m basically an optimist, but I try to balance that by being a realist, too, and I just don’t see things turning around in the rest of MY lifetime.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Everybody’s right, and everybody knows it but nobody knows what to do.

    I sympathize with Lil, who wants to believe that one party is better than the other, but I’ve come to think that the great political philosopher for the 21st century is Pete Townshend of the Who, who wrote in the 20th century:

    Meet the new boss
    Same as the old boss.

    Have you noticed the campaign financing reform ballet of the last 20 years or so? The party out of power calls for campaign financing reform and the party in power moves ahead in a meaningless fashion. Then the party out of power comes into power, and the parties reverse their positions.

    We will never have campaign finance reform.

    My brother Mike, who is, um, computer-new and is continually defeated by ReCatcha, e-mailed me to make the same point Everett does, about this being the inevitable decline, and the Chinese simply being hungrier. (I would point out that there are an awful lot of hungry nations and only one China, but that would put us back into the Tiger Mother discussion.)

    And I agree with Phil about the only voters who can vote intelligently are intelligent voters and that’s not what American schools are turning out these decades. I don’t think they want us dead (although that might not apply to Pakistanis and other, browner, people) if only because they’d lose their tax base.

    Like Suzanna, I look for hope without a lot of expectation of finding much. But I just went somewhere today that lifted my spirits, a little California town called Cerritos. I just blogged about it today for Murder is Everywhere, and I’m going to steal that blog and redo it for tomorrow. Just to cheer people up.

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