I cranked up this creature a bit over a year ago. How’s the year gone? Not terribly well, I’m afraid. First up is the overall political situation here in the US.
A reality becoming increasingly obvious to many is that the political system down here has become profoundly dis-functional. Obama’s attempt to reform medical insurance and medical delivery has set the problems in high relief. But we need to immediately stipulate that it isn’t this particular issue which has caused the dis-function but rather that it merely reveals it. The obstacles to getting this project done either already do or will come into play where any large or significant legislation might be advanced.
An immediate problem is structural – the party out of power, if they demonstrate an unyielding discipline and hold to a policy of obstruction-at-any-cost, can thwart any legislative proposals. James Fallows at the Atlantic lays out the exact problem here.
One can think of that problem as something like an emerged loophole. It had not been a problem anywhere near the present magnitude previously but is now because other conditions have arisen which have facilitated or encouraged its use.
The most fundamental condition which has arisen to facilitate this situation is the nature of the modern American conservative movement. That movement is both much further right than the versions of conservatism we have known previously and it is much more ideologically rigid and self-certain. This rigidity and (pathological) certainty that it alone represents “real” Americanness has led it to a set of beliefs and strategies which justify, even demand, maximal obstruction of any other set of political ideas and policies. No other ideology is considered valid. These are rather sweeping claims, I understand, but they are accurate and reflect the real states of affairs here presently.
Thus it becomes not merely possible (conceptually or “morally”) to invest nearly all of the movement’s energies, activities and money towards bringing down any Democratic government but it also becomes a matter of patriotic duty to do so.
So that is the ideological condition which is now in place. We can chart out an evolution (growth) of this extremism along with the attendant strategies through the Carter administration and the Clinton administration and up to today.
A second and necessary condition now in place is the propaganda mechanisms and institutions which have been purposefully established beginning in the early 70’s and which are now both broad and very effective encompassing talk radio, FOX, the Wall Street Journal and rightwing papers, internet sites and well-established information-dissemination organizations which have as their primary function the insertion of conservative voices into cable tv shows and major news outlets. For one example, the regular presence in the Washington Post of George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Karl Rove, Bush speechwriters Michael Gerson and, as of last week, Marc Theissen.
Another necessary condition in this mix is the enormous amount of monies flooding into this entire arrangement to enhance media control and to affect the outcomes of primary contests and elections. Lobbyists and front groups are the middlemen here and their numbers and their influence have increased far above what we’ve seen previously. The source of those monies (and the healthcare issue is a perfect case in point though entirely usual) are either corporate or from a group of rightwing families with corporate ties and extremist ideologies.
The very real question before us now is whether or not the US will be able to pull itself out of this mire. Unfortunately, the recent Supreme Court decision (5-4 along ideological grounds) might make the damn difficult the damn near impossible. If we just consider the make-up of the present Supreme Court and it’s consistent drift to an extremist right we get a good picture of how the conservative movement has reset the gears of governance in the US. For the consequences of this new court and this particular decision, see here
I am not, I confess, optimistic. Tendencies towards extremism and towards pervasive propagandist influences on significant sectors of the population down here (take a look at Sarah Palin’s Facebook comments or at the polling on whether torture is just find and dandy) will only be heightened in a period of economic hardship such as people here are now facing.