Monday, January 23, 2006


I have a problem with the policy debates I read on the Internet. They all seem to assume that the difficulties we face are technical. I don’t think that’s often true, which is not to say that there aren’t all sorts of technical issues to consider. If our political leaders were serious about confronting the dilemmas of the day, it would certainly be time to conduct a massive debate about ways and means. In the absence of a non-pathological politics, however, gestures towards solutions will just make things worse as we see in the current case of the new Medicare drug benefit. The Administration passed the new law solely and only to win an election, and the resulting bill is a monument to its bad faith. Like everything else the Bush team claims to do in the public interest—Homeland Security, New Orleans disaster relief, rebuilding Iraq—it is proving to be just another opportunity to plunder the national treasury for the benefit of the same bunch of financial interests and good old boys. The quote from Casablanca, though inevitable, is not really applicable—in the movie, the usual suspects were always rounded up but seldom guilty, whereas the members of the corresponding group in our country are always guilty but never rounded up.

It’s easy to get people to argue how to deal with the energy crisis. Should we be building new nuclear plants? Increasing research on alternative fuels? Putting more money into renewables such as solar and wind? Drastically improving gas mileage in cars? Increasing the efficiency of industrial processes for recovering petroleum from tar sands and oil shales? Figuring out how to limit carbon emissions and capture the carbon dioxide from smokestacks? Installing heat pumps in public buildings? We should we probably be doing all these things and great many more, but the better answer, the sine non qua of dealing with the very serious pickle in which we find ourselves, is neither increased conservation or alternative fuels. Absent a revolution in our politics, nothing is going to happen and nothing is going to help. Unless political power is somehow reconnected to the real interests of real people, the politicians will go on doing the bidding of people with the most ready money no matter how short their temporal horizons. I have no idea how to end the convertibility of dollars into votes; but absent such a political revolution, technological discussions won’t matter very much. And since power in our system has barricaded itself formidably against democracy and the Constitution itself is part of the problem, I doubt if normal political remedies will suffice. I’m afraid the oil isn’t going to stretch until and unless some necks get stretched first and not just figuratively.

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