Monthly Archives: September 2010

Feathered thing

h/t Andrew Sullivan

Without Feathers – Tomasky version

Mike Tomasky writes for The Guardian and maintains an excellent blog there. And any readers familiar with the New York Review of Books will have come across his dependably bright, tempered and well-written essays on the US political world.

On his blog today, he responds to a question put to him in the comments section. The question and answer in full  (I’ll comment later):

Commenter ravcasleygera (are you new? welcome) asked me on the last thread:

Just out of interest, Michael: do you ever actually think, ‘I give up?’ Have their been moments in this spectacularly depressing period since about six months into the Obama presidency where you have just thought: ‘American democracy is broken beyond repair?’, or, ‘the slow dismantling of the state is unavoidable?’

I’m not being facetious, I just genuinely wonder. People seemed so convinced the 2006-8 results meant some sort of leftward swing, the end of the Reagan era…. now that energy seems to have been replaced by libertarianism, of all things? Do you think it’s hopeless? Do others?

Well, no, I don’t give up. But my darkest fear goes something like this. Historically speaking, the conservative movement started in the late 1950s. It took a long time but it seized real power in 1980. Results were mixed, it retreated for a bit (Clinton), then roared back to power in 2000.

Living these events in real time, the general view of them, I think, has been, well, those were their two best shots, and now they’re bound to lose steam. You didn’t have to think that the 2008 election signaled a liberal renaissance (and I did not) to think that a 50-year old movement that hadn’t produced a truly new idea in a long time was running out of gas.

But now I think: taking the longer historical view, it may well be that the Reagan and Dubya years were just warm-up acts, and that the conservative movement has yet to behold its triumph. The amount of money corporate titans can now pump into politics, the level of activism, the utter inability of the media to call lies lies, the weakness of the Democrats…we may be in for a 40-year descent, until there is no Social Security and there are no environmental regulations and so on and so on, and it’ll take a couple of generations for Americans to see the grim effects of that kind of country and decide that pension security and regulation weren’t such horrible ideas after all, and America will have to spend 20 years, from about 2050 to 2070, rebuilding an apparatus of state that was built a century before but dismantled. Worst of all, of course, is that according to the actuarial tables, I will die during the descent.

As with Tiny Tim’s empty chair in the corner, it doesn’t have to be this way. But it might. I’m answering the question ravcasleygera asked.

Without Feathers

It is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine how the US is going to avoid further decline, both economically and politically. The gears of governance are being jammed and corrupted, quite purposefully and often quite explicitly, by those who stand to gain in wealth and power from the negation of the institutions which have been constructed for the precise purpose of preventing such isolated and undemocratic accretions of wealth and power as these people now have and wish to increase.

Anyone detached from the mythologies which presume that America will, axiomatically – as a consequence of the perfection and magic of its constitution or as a consequence of God’s discriminating grace or because of some fount of ‘common sense’ – be exempt from frightening internal turmoil or degradation into serious and widespread poverty (or both of those along with oppressive police-state controls which modern technology might so easily facilitate)  can’t be at ease with what we are witnessing.

My argument is not that these things will happen but rather that they could. And that such possibilities are nearer than most suppose.

Over the next while (though time is scarce) I will try to lay out why I’ve come to such a negative perspective here. Can we grant right off the top that I may well have some of this wrong?