Gridlock: The Sequel

Well, that didn’t take long. After the Republican sweep became apparent some Pollyanna pundits and pols opined that it would usher in a new spirit of cooperation. Channelling Mr. Spock, they argued it was only logical. Obama wants a legacy other than stasis. Republicans want to show they can do something besides erect logjams. Voila, deals will be made.

But Spock was notoriously incapable of understanding illogical humans. And in this daggers-drawn political environment, Pollyanna would be a victim of child abuse. Mitch McConnell in his victory speech offered a few anodyne remarks. There was even a hint that amending rather than repealing Obamacare might be in the cards.

This lasted about a day. Soon the President was suggesting the low turnout meant the election only represented the will of a third of the people and promised to address immigration by executive order if Republicans didn’t pass a bill already on the table. Boehner and McConnell immediately shot back that this was waving a red flag in front of a bull. Presumably them.

And the pair of them soon issued a proposed agenda with four main points. Repeal Obamacare in toto. Approve the Keystone Pipeline. Cut Taxes and Cut Deficits. So the parties have gone to their corners and will come out fighting. And since Obama has the veto and Republicans don’t have the numbers to override, Gridlock is baaack.

It is worth noting that the agendas of the two sides are insane since they are clearly designed chiefly to annoy each other and accomplish nothing. Yes, Obama promised to do something about immigration, but his method is deliberately inflammatory and doomed to failure. It is not a policy proposal but a political act aimed at cementing the Hispanic vote in 2016.

As to the Republicans, Obamacare repeal will obviously be vetoed so voting to do it is mere posturing. Especially since the party still offers nothing to put in its place other than “good luck to you if you don’t have health care.” The Keystone Pipeline is really a way for the Republicans to say, “We don’t believe in global warming. Drill, baby, drill.” In fact, the energy sector is booming without Keystone which would chiefly benefit Canadian drillers and Texas refiners, but wis a drop in the bucket compared to the great ocean of energy production.

As to the lunacy of cutting taxes and cutting deficits simultaneously, only fans of voodoo economics and the Laffer curve could suppose this would end well. Cutting the deficit is actually code for gutting Democratic programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, aid to the poor, everything except Defense. Cutting taxes is code for trickle down since the taxes cut will be those of the affluent. “There’s nothing surer, the donors get rich and the voters get poorer. In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun.”

The most depressing aspect of this familiar scenario is that there actually was an election last Tuesday. Many people sat it out, but those who did turn up and those who didn’t were united in agreeing that Washington is a morass of dysfunction. Seventy-eight percent in one poll said that because of the scarcity of jobs and the unequal rewards of the economy they fear for their future and that of their children. They want action. Five states, for example, decided to take matters into their own hands and voted to raise the minimum wage.

Yet nothing on the agenda articulated by the winners or the losers or in the campaign leading up to the election had anything to do with putting people to work, educating them for the new economy, increasing wages to juice consumer spending and allow the middle class to thrive. Immigration doesn’t. A huge program to update crumbling infrastructure would. One pipeline won’t. Making healthcare harder to get and more expensive for struggling families won’t. Cutting taxes on the wealthy and cutting entitlements for everyone else won’t

Ideological zealotry has trumped logic. Running for the next election has superseded doing anything to deserve reelection. Political enmity is seen as preferable to compromising to improve the country’s prospects. Gridlock will continue even though the country seems to have just issued a huge cri de coeur which might best be summed up in the words of an old Randy Newman song,

“Maybe you’ve cheated. Maybe you’ve lied. Maybe you have lost your mind. Maybe you don’t care about nothin’ but yourself. It is cold and the wind is blowing. We need something to keep us going. Mr. President (and Congress), have pity on the working man.”

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