The Decline of America

Ezra Klein on the tax deal:

Stripped bare, here’s what the deal says about the two parties: Republicans care much more about tax cuts for the rich than about any of their specific arguments about what’s impeding recovery, while Democrats don’t have the votes to really put their preferred policies into place, and so are left settling for policies that they don’t think will work that well and, in some cases, don’t think will work at all. What we ended up getting was better than I expected, but it’s not a deal that anyone with a coherent view of the jobs crisis would’ve designed.

Roger that. I can’t remember when I’ve been more demoralized about American governance. I have this overwhelming feeling of barnacles building up relentlessly, untouchable because of interest group pressure on both left and right, and a complete inability and/or unwillingness to address any of it. Democrats have some things they want to do, but in addition to satisfying their own interest groups they have to settle for third or fourth best policies because Republicans have simply decided they don’t care about anything except tax cuts for the rich, hating gay people, and bennies for favored industries. In the middle of a massive recession they opposed a stimulus bill. In the aftermath of a financial crisis they opposed a financial reform bill. In the face of skyrocketing healthcare costs they demagogued modest cuts in Medicare spending. They spent months negotiating a spending bill — transparently, openly, via the ordinary committee process — and then killed it just because it would annoy Harry Reid. Global warming is a hoax, gay recruits will destroy the military, and creationism is an appropriate topic for high school biology classes. Our infrastructure is crumbling and our schools are mediocre, but the creeping encrustation of government prevents anything serious from being done about either. We’re in hock to Middle Eastern theocracies for our oil, and the laughable answer from the right consists entirely of nukes and a bit of marginal extra drilling around the periphery of America. An arms control treaty that could have been negotiated by Ronald Reagan himself is unsure of passage because too many Republican senators deem it unsafe to risk the wrath of Fox News or their tea party constituencies.

Democrats have their pathologies too. Teachers unions really do impede school reform. Public sector unions have bid up government salaries. Environmental and land use rules have made infrastructure development of any kind a grueling, expensive marathon. Both parties subsidize idiocies like corn ethanol, and both sides boast coal state senators who are unwilling to think seriously about pricing carbon.

But at least we all have access to 300 TV channels in glorious high definition! Who says America can’t accomplish great things anymore?

Anyway. Just had to get that off my chest. Sorry. Back to work now.

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THE BIG QUESTION...

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