Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Decision

Obama is quite right to point out that the finances of the United States and the economic health of the nation absolutely demand that we get a handle on health care costs and do so in short order. To this material imperative, one should add the moral obligation we all have of finally addressing the human needs of our fellow citizens in an adequate way. But there is a yet more pressing reason why the system must be reformed this year, a political reason. What’s at stake is the future of the nation as a going concern. It’s not just that defeat of health care in the face of a clear public mandate for change would be a clear proof that the nation is not even minimally democratic. Such an outcome would also and disastrously represent a victory for overt corruption and blatant thuggery. Can we really afford so dramatic a demonstration that our legislature is under the thumb of silver-haired whores and semi-literate ideologues? And what kind of a society can we expect to evolve into if we allow the disruption of our political debate by mobs of crazy, potentially violent, and heavily armed people who have been whipped into nativist fury by nonstop black propaganda? If incredibly cynical P.R. men really can convince people that the majority party in the United States is out to snuff your grandma, we’re simply toast.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Another Argument about a Pig

The American right is currently making yet another effort to show that FDR’s policies did nothing to ameliorate or end the Depression. Their argument, which has the virtue (for a conservative) of a lack of originality, is that it was only World War II that decisively ended the economic slump. I leave it to the economic historians to reprint the relevant graphs and charts that show that things did get markedly better in the wake of the first years of the New Deal, but I want to highlight the essential contradiction of the Republican argument. The first part of their argument is a claim that deficit spending, i.e. Keynesianism, doesn’t work, but the second part of their argument is that it does. War, after all, goes one better than Keynes’ recommendation that the government pay people to dig holes and then fill them up again. It simply blows holes in things all over the place. At the very least, the rightists ought to address the question of how the war ended the Depression if it wasn’t by ending the demand deficit.

In fact, the Republicans are perfectly aware that government deficit spending benefits the economy during times of recession. They just prefer military spending, if not outright war, as the vehicle of stimulus. There is also another peculiarity about their version of Keynes. They haven’t gone along with the second half of the Keynesian prescription: running a surplus when times are good. In my lifetime, only the Democrats have followed that suggestion.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


Crucial social ideals are not maintained by the magic of personal virtue. Something like tout comprendre c'est tout pardoner applies to good as well as evil acts. I have frequently asserted that American journalism is not atrocious because of the venality of its personnel, but because of the viciousness of a system that promotes and rewards bad behavior. Moralizing about the failings of this or that pretty face on cable amounts to blaming the electrons for the short circuit. Thing is, the same logic applies in reverse. If Cronkite and the other luminaries of the early decades of T.V. news were especially admirable, we should not forget that their careers were made possible because the big company executives temporarily tolerated an integrity from their employees they did not possess themselves—David Sarnoff, after all, was every bit as deplorable a human being as Rupert Murdock. Television news was a loss leader. If the execs of the 50s and 60s had insisted on making a profit from it, it would probably have been as bad as the current cheesy mix of entertainment, advertising, and propaganda.

Both virtue and vice are explicable, which does not mean, however, that we aren’t entitled to praise the former and despise the later.