End of the Kabuki Debt Ceiling Play, For Now

by Matthew Payne on August 1, 2011Comments Off

So, the curtain has gone down on the latest Beltway Kabuki drama and pretty much the actors all played their part and the neo-Hooverism was imposed, to general satisfaction.  Matt Taibbi, as usual, completely understands the grift.  The Establishment corporate party, made up of both Democrats and Republicans, under the able stewardship of Boss McConnell got exactly what it wanted–massive cuts in Federal spending, especially in social welfare provisioning, which will act as a huge anti-stimulus.  And, of course, this is precisely the point, because real wages will continue to fall and federal fire sales will allow more asset stripping for a rentier class completely incapable of producing goods and services that, you know, folks actually want to buy.  Which is good.  Because consumer demand will tank further now that lots of folks are about to be fired or denied essential services or, you know, won’t be able to eat.  A couple numbers should be worth watching in the next few months or so–the U6 unemployment rate (almost certain to go up), the level of contraction of GDP (yes, of course we’re going to double dip in recession–we’re practically already there and the UK showed us where this road leads months ago), increase in home foreclosures (as paperwork in the “fraudclosure” scandal is resubmitted) and, of course (no one seems to like to mention this because pain for the proles is good but pain for the burzhui, not so much), business bankruptcies.  I think it’s even money that despite the enormous public funding they are receiving, one of our many zombie banks (I’m betting on BOA) actually stops shuffling over this deal.  Yes, yes, I know everyone says the cuts are all “back-loaded” until after the election of 2012 (hmmm, why was that important?) but just wait until the Continuing Resolution Fiasco of Septemeber 2011 to see why I’m right to be nervous. 

The key point is everybody gets to put on their heavy theatrical make-up and pretend they actually believe in their roles, as Taibbi notes.  The Tea Party and the Progressives both can pretend they are uncompromising–except, of course, they have long since compromised (yeah, where’s that promised filibuster, Sen. Paul? Sen. Sanders?).  Mitch McConnell delivered a stunning defeat to the Democratic Party, all in the guise of saving it from its own fecklessness with a “compromise plan” that is about as “fair and balanced” as Fox News.  He and other establishment Republicans can pretend they want to defeat Obama (as if!  the guy’s more pliant than W!), but of course he really only cares about getting that Majority Leader gavel from Sen. Reed, who was the biggest patsy in this whole deal (completely excluded, as the Village dolt, from the ”big person’s table” to such a degree that his own fellow Democratic Senators decided to flay a White House flunky to show their umbrage).  To put it mildly, the triangulating White House has turned Reed into a ”dead Majority leader walking” (If you have to ask, “‘I’m the Senate majority leader. Why don’t I know about this deal?” you’ve pretty much declared your political impotence) and the GOP seizure of the Senate is now a done deal.

Of course, the White House has brutally sacrificed the Congressional Democrats of both Houses by agreeing to this ridiculous, supraconstitutional Politbiuro Super Congress Commission to make more or less binding decisions of the debt.   The “Paul Ryan Plan to Destroy Medicare” approach that was pretty much guaranteed to hand Nancy Pelosi the Speakers’ gavel while preserving Reed’s majority has now gone “poof!”  Not only did Obama decide to look all presidential by “reforming” the shit out of social security by cutting benefits (chained CPI), raising the eligibility age for Medicare (thus embracing what Grayson called the Republican “plan” for health care: “Don’t get sick.  But if you do get sick, die quickly!”) and tossing Grandma out of her nursing home, but he’s actually going to double-dip on this since the Politbiuro Super Congress Catfood Commission II is pretty much set up to do just this.  The polite term for this in Washington is “triangulation”–in the rest of the world it’s called back-stabbing your own team.  Man, the most pathetic figure on cable news all day was the Chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has to polish this turd.  Big surprise she and Pelosi conspired to roll out Gabbie Giffords today–”What?  My opinion on how to campaign on this dog of an agreement in 2012?  Look, over there!  Hey, Gabbie!”  Seriously, Wasserman Schultz had more flop-sweat before the cameras tonight than anyone since Albert Brooks in Broadcast News.

Which leaves us with the Kabuki actor in Chief, President Obama.  Oh, my!  What a defeat for him!  He’s so weak!  He’s such a bad negotiator!  He didn’t get any “revenues” at all.  Puhleeeze!  Obama figures he won this thing.  He comes off as a hippie-puncher by throwing his own party under the bus (don’t you love that in the official White House press release on this deal, he called his own party the “Democrat Party” because, you know, those fools with a “D” after their names don’t deserve the adjectival form, “Democratic”.  Fox News established that they are “rats” so might as well call them “DemocRATS”).  His fundamental opinion is that the independents will like him because, after all, he’s taking away poor kids’ food stamps and independents love them some curb-stomping of the poor (it is, after all, what defines the Herrenvolk democracy).  And he also figures that all that Wall Streeet money (they’re in on the con–they knew once he tossed Elizabeth Warren to the curb he was their boy) and the genius of messaging that is David Plouffe (who btw, looked pretty flumoxed on yesterday’s Sunday Gasbag Shows, so he ain’t the Maestro everyone thinks he is), will deliver the “low-information voters” in 2012.  This is, of course, cynical, but not as cynical as their attitude towards their base voters, who they pretty much believe have no other choice but the “lesser” evil.  Don’t believe me?  Here, let’s try–Michelle Bachman!  Oooh, didn’t you just catch yourself running for a precinct to pull that Obama lever, even though the election’s 18 months away.  Let me try it again.  “Michelle Bachman!”  See, it works!   Millions and millions of otherwise reasonable progressives and moderates will stampede, reluctanctly, to the polls to avoid the Tea Party Jihad Apocalypse that will be manufactured.  The party apparatchiki have a different interpretation–which is along the lines of, “silly liberals!”  Presidents can’t do anything they promised you they would do!  Though everybody, right about now, should be wondering if Barack is really the lesser evil on any particular level.  Only Nixon can go to China and only a charismatic Democratic can permanently eviscerate the New Deal and Great Society.  No wonder Barack likes to quote Reagan.

All of this would be so much theater, except it is likely to tank the economy.  Since America’s “feral elite” (the term is the incomparable Philip Pullman’s), really do want the proles to suffer–Digby calls this run of the mill sociopath’s the “pain caucus”–we’re looking at a prolonged degradation in mass standards of living that will make Japan’s “lost decade” (isn’t it the “lost two decades and one-tenth by now?) look like a walk in the woods.  The feral elite already looks with equinimity on the destruction of 66% of Latino-Americans’ household wealth, 53% of African-Americans’ household wealth, and 16% of Whites’ (ain’t that a fine category, by the way?) household wealth.  Everybody in the Beltway and Wall Street pretty much thinks those suckers should be poor.  After all, if you haven’t got an MBA in finance, you are pretty much a loser, aren’t you?

But these geniuses–lest we forget, the people who sank the world economy in their infinite “masters of the universe” contempt for, you know, standard risk assessment–are so busy globalizing themselves that they forget consumer demand is responsible for nearly 3/4ths of the American economy.  As sickly, unemployed and elderly Americans start selling their household goods to buy food (yes, I saw it before, in Moscow in 1990-1996) and young families having to sacrifice income to care for aged parents turfed out of nursing homes, they ain’t going to be stopping by Walmart for the latest version of Slankets.  And no, Chinese demand is not going to pick up the slack due to inflation concerns.

There’s some kind of grand morality play being acted out in Washington that fits into Andrew Mellon’s view that bad economic times were some sort of Calvinist retribution for “luxury.”  After all, what’s the matter with those old folks, actually living longer and consuming more health care?  The fuckers!  Somehow the Social Darwinists from Galt’s Gulch will march right in and right the situation, if we just stop pampering those greedy seniors, shiftless unemployed and hungry children.  And then will have way more money to bomb people!

Problem is, real economies don’t work like some sort of glibertarian adolescent fantasy.  Shouting “Freedom!” like a “wolverine” in Red Dawn won’t actually make the confidence fairies alight on your economy and douse it with awesome sauce.  Instead, as Krugthullu has cogently pointed out, all these massive cuts when you’re in a liquidity trap is likely to just make your deficit worse.  Ask Ireland and Greece, to say nothing of the UK, how that whole austerity thing is working out for them.

“Expansionary contraction” is one of those mystical concepts, like unicorns, that have never actually been seen in the wild, though IMF economists assure us it’s bound to show up if you are virginal enough to fall for their crap.  (And yes, the President’s crack team of pseudo-economists buy into this particular brand of crap).  But another word for “expansionary contraction” is “depression.”  And yes, the feral elite presently running the Western world has already turned the “Great Recession” into the “Lesser Depression” and are trying real hard, real hard, to get into the big leagues with a “Long Depression.”  All to make their rentier campaign donors financiers happy.  Idiots.

And please don’t buy into this Republican vs. Democrats, Tory vs. Labor/Liberal nonsense.  They’re the same guys pulling the same policies only appealing to different corrupt crony networks and different tribal indentities with different shibboleths.  How Barack H. (the “H.” is for “Hoover”) Obama is any different from George W. Bush on national security or fiscal issues (why, after all, do we refer to them as the “Bush Tax Cuts” since Obama gave them legs?) is a mystery to me.  It’s a big con, a grift of elegant proportions.  Hard to argue with the power of what William Cobbett would call, “the Old Corruption.”

Still, Cobbett was on to something.  It is time for liberals, progressives and just sane Democrats to start hammering their own establishment.  Every Democrat who takes seriously the idea that their party is a people’s party should stop voting for the lesser evil and start turfing out anyone who has been complicit in these reckless budget cuts and to primary, primary, primary.  There’s probably going to be a nasty spell in the wilderness, but I’m afraid that President Obama’s cynical strategy of claiming “hope” and “change” while vigorously pursuing the status quo has made this inevitable.  Yes, time to vote third party and yes, time to fire even Barney Frank if he votes to gut the social safety net in some deluded belief it will end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan (scroll down to 8:03 am).  People are suffering out there–big time–and national Democrats care only about seizing the mantle of corporate valets from the Republicans.  Fuck ‘em.  I wouldn’t abandon the party, since the Tea Party has made it clear how you can seize a party from within, but it’s time actual Democratic voters dropped the curtain on Washinton’s Kabuki Theater, and the only way to do that is to ensure that they guys who are supposed to represent you actually, you know, represent you.  As Taibbi points out,

The Democrats aren’t failing to stand up to Republicans and failing to enact sensible reforms that benefit the middle class because they genuinely believe there’s political hay to be made moving to the right. They’re doing it because they do not represent any actual voters. I know I’ve said this before, but they are not a progressive political party, not even secretly, deep inside. They just play one on television.

Time the actual voters helped the TV party to feel their pain.