A certain, macabre phrase came to personify the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The colonel who uttered it was doubtless oblivious to both the psychotic irony and the larger surreal symbolism that the phrase represented. Savage destruction was perfectly consonant with ideologically-intended salvation, just so long as both were issued by the same sanctimonious American official. Indeed, in some perverse medieval rendering of modern imperial justice, salvation could only be achieved through destruction.
The phrase might just as well be a rallying cry for the Tea Party Republicans and their holy jihad against government and the cooperative society that government represents: they must destroy it in order to save it. For that is unquestionably what the debt ceiling debacle is really about.
Let’s dispense once and for all with the fiction that the debt ceiling debate is anything but a contrivance to destroy government and the shared aspirations to civility that government represents.
The debt ceiling has been raised over 70 times and the sky hasn’t fallen. More to the point, and of signal importance, is that those people who actually put their money where their mouth is (as opposed to politicians, who put other peoples’ money where their mouth is), are only too happy to buy and hold U.S. federal treasury debt for a return of — wait for it — 3%.
That is the rate going into this charade for 10-year U.S. treasury bonds and it doesn’t even include the erosive effects of inflation. With inflation factored in, smart investors around the world are actually willing to take a negative rate of return — to get back less than they put in — in order to trust their money to the custody of the U.S. government. That’s how much of a “crisis” there actually is surrounding the debt ceiling
Equally important, the vast majority of the current deficit problem is actually very short-term in nature: a cyclical artifact of the Great Recession or of the residual policies of the prior Bush administration. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports that some 90% of the deficit owes to a) the Bush tax cuts; b) Bush’s two (now Obama’s five) unfunded wars; c) Bush’s unfunded $600 billion give-away to the pharmaceutical industry; and d) the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression.
Without those forces, there is effectively no deficit problem at all. And the small problem that is left is entirely attributable to the out-of-control expenses of the free-market American health care system that costs twice as much as any other industrial nation’s system while delivering markedly inferior outcomes.
This is the truth. There is no U.S. debt crisis. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a U.S. debt ceiling crisis. But the one has as much to do with the other as do chalk and cheese.
So, if there’s no real crisis, what’s the deal?
The deal is that the elites in the country, those who buy politicians the way you and I do groceries (and that includes Obama and the vast majority of Democratic party officials) have decided that too much of the nation’s wealth is going to the poor, working, and middle classes and that those peoples’ shares must be cut so that the money can be given to the very wealthiest people on the planet.
That is what Obama means when he says that “everything is on the table, including Social Security and Medicare.” The most successful social programs of the last 100 years, those supporting tens of millions of people, those that pay for themselves with their own dedicated payroll taxes, will have to be cut back so that a few thousand billionaires can afford another jet, another mansion, another island, another politician.
This is after the last 30 years (beginning with Reagan) when the share of national income going to the top 1% skyrocketed from 8% of national income to over 20%. This is when 80% of the entire economy’s growth over the last decade went to the top 1%. This is when the richest 1% of the population are paying the lowest rate of taxes in the past 50 years and when inequality in the country has reached the highest level since statistics started being collected, in 1917.
This is after we just finished transferring $11 trillion to the same ultra-rich through the banking bailout so that they wouldn’t have to suffer any losses on their sociopathically greedy bets that went bad and wrecked the economy. This is after the share of home equity wealth actually owned by American homeowners reached its lowest level, 45%, since the Great Depression. And this is at a time when 77 million Baby Boomers are entering retirement having just lost 1/3 of their life savings.
The rich need more. So everybody else had just better suck it in and resign themselves to less.
What is going on is a highly choreographed campaign to “manufacture consent” for the destruction of Social Security and Medicare so that that money can be liberated to give to the wealthy. It is exactly analogous to the campaign that preceded the Iraq War when the media invented “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and fictions about Saddam Hussein’s involvement in 9/11 to stampede the populace into an illegal colonial invasion to steal Iraq’s oil.
It is entirely made up, entirely orchestrated, with all the “players” singing from the same song book, and all getting greased from the crumbs that fall from the table of the super-rich. And it’s working, flawlessly.
The six-and-seven-figure stenographers on TV who pass themselves off as “journalists” intone nightly about the gravity of the situation, the need for “shared sacrifice,” and the impending calamity lest we shunt the money upwards even faster. So do it we must. After all, it was on TV.
The tragedy is Obama’s weaseling complicity in the pathetic affair. We have run out of epithets to condemn his sycophantic betrayal of the American people before his own imperial masters. Equally tragic is the destruction of democracy conveyed in the whole sordid matter, for vast majorities of the people want social programs protected and taxes raised on wealthy individuals and corporations that evade taxes.
Alas, it is not to be. It will be the weak who will be shorn, as it always seems to be.
And to be honest, we have to lay a sizable portion of blame on the American people themselves who have abjured their responsibility to their own interests and their country in favor of more titillation on the Internet, another season of Desperate Housewives re-runs, the next episode of American Idol. Diddling themselves with their own puerile indulgences, they have no time for calls to their Congressmen, letters to their editors, feet on the street in protest, or any, ANY, expression of mass outrage.
The astounding thing is how easy the whole thing has been, how readily the people capitulated to their own destruction in exchange for a little faux “stick-it-to-the-man” righteousness ladled out in the name of Tea Party indignation.
Come to think of it, perhaps the Tea Partiers are the real prophets in this whole Revelation after all, impelled by a fatalistic impulse in which greed is at once its own justification, its own means, its own method, and its own reward: destroy the government we must, for destroy it we will, because destroy it we can.
Is this a great country or what?