Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My thoughts on the 9/11 first responders bill's failure

I don't often talk about politics these days, but I feel the urge to say something about the failure of the 9/11 first responders bill. I don't much, well, care about it. It's not that I don't think that 9/11 first responders shouldn't get health care and other social services. I do. But I think that way about all Americans. I don't think first responders or soldiers or whomever are somehow "special Americans" -- indeed, I think that sort of reasoning, which I feel permeates American society, is aristocratic and, quite frankly, illegal given it's strictly illegal to give extra rights to select groups of Americans. Why should a policeman or firefighter who were at 9/11, and suffers, be given more than a firefighter or a policeman who suffers because of their labor who wasn't at 9/11, just because they got smoke inhalation in San Francisco or Duluth? And why should a firefighter or a policeman who suffers because of injuries sustained on their job get consideration that a construction worker or teacher doesn't get? Not only does it make no sense to me, I also think it's strictly against the legal principles of the US where we're all supposed to have the same rights and freedoms under the law.

The bill's existence is merely a political ploy. It's a Christmas bill, they make 'em up every year, something that doesn't cost very much but also has no real effect, but it can be paraded as a sign of the basic benevolence of the government. Something to feel good about during Christmas. Sure, there might still be forty-five million uninsured Americans, a number that is still increasing despite the "health care bill" being passed (major provisions of which don't go into effect until 2014 and thus have three years, yet, to be watered down, probably in amendments to other bills that will treat the dismantling of any benevolent provisions of the health care bill, which stinks on its own, as compromise) and official unemployment is still almost 10% (while total unemployment is something like 17%, including people who have been unemployed so long that they're not counted in the statistics anymore or have just given up looking for work), but, hey, it'd feel good to get better insurance and unemployment benefits for a couple thousand people. It's just not a big deal.

I don't like those kinds of feel good symbols used to mask far greater suffering, so I'm not for the bill. I'm not precisely against it, either, every little bit helps, but I don't think it's a very good bill. Health care in America can't be solved by laws like this and it would much easier, efficient, moral and benevolent to just give everyone the kind of social services the rest of the industrialized world takes for granted.

However, man, wow, the arrogance of the Republicans is at least as great as the incompetence of the Democrats. I'm very nearly the only guy in America who doesn't think that this bill is a big deal, so to me this is so clearly just theater. To hold up this bill because the top two percent of income earners in America will have their taxes increased by three percent is just a bone-headed move. No one is liking the Republicans for doing this, except the top 2% of the people in income distribution.

I, of course, love stuff like this. Not that 9/11 first responders are getting the shaft. That sucks. What I love about it is how it so clearly and plainly exposes the masters behind the politicians. That Republicans are willing to make themselves look like the Grinch who stole Christmas for the richest people in the world, but unlike the Whos, disaster relief workers suffering some terrible black lung won't be singing around the town square. Right now, a bunch of people who voted Republican -- that swing vote demographic that carried the Republicans into power in the House and gave them big boosts in the Senate and in state houses all across America -- they're feeling a little screwed. When 2012 comes around, they're going to think back to this election and they're going to remember how the Republicans repaid their support with arrogance and spitefulness a mere month after the election. It shows that the Republicans are just downright openly working for rich people, that the interests of rich people are worth more than the health of fire fighters and disaster relief workers. That's just ballsy. Stupid, but ballsy.

It's also refreshingly honest. That's really going to be the Bush legacy, the stripping off of the conservative politicians' masks. Bush really mainstreamed a level of overtly working for business that we've never seen in the US. Even as late as the Reagan administration you saw the Republicans compromising with Democrats, but now you've got these forty-two Senators absolutely refusing to budge even in the face of a bill that's America's sweetheart. Y'know, so the richest people in the world don't have to pay a bit more in taxation.

(The part of me that things the modern democratic experiment is on the verge of total ruin is feeling a bit confirmed, too. The government dynamic is a lot like a dysfunctional family. GOP Daddy and his greedy, mean friends abuse the national family in an orgy of destructive legislation aimed at an anarcho-capitalist state, and when it goes too far, Democratic Mommy comes along and kisses everything better while Daddy promises that it won't happen again, and as soon as Mommy is gone, Daddy's back on the bottle with his nasty friends tearing the place up. Mommy, of course, refuses to get out of this dysfunctional and abusive relationship, no matter how badly Daddy treats her. I've seen the cycle since Nixon, the whole country getting dragged further and further each time towards openly corporate rule.)

It's all of a piece with the rest of the financial news. It'll take decades for unemployment to get back to "normal", if it ever will, and banks -- who are largely responsible for this mess in the first place -- are making record profits in large part because of the bailout money. Well, the bailout worked . . . for banks. Not so well for the millions of people who continue to be unemployed because of the arrogance of the financial elite . . . the same people for whom the Republicans are scrooging the 9/11 first responders.

It's just amazing, it really is.

That said, there will probably be backlash. It's too soon for that kind of heartless grandstanding. The financial crisis might be over on corporate ledgers, but in actual US households it's still alive and kicking. Unemployment is nearly 10% and underemployment is somewhere around 25%. A quarter of people who would really, really like more work either can't get it or can't get enough. Wages are in freefall. It's been years since most people got a raise and it's been longer, yet, since the raises people got kept up with inflation. To starve government programs of cash -- and given the timing of this, it very much looks to Americans like the Republicans are giving the finger to disaster relief workers of 9/11 so billionaires can get tax cuts -- so openly for the benefit of the very rich is too soon. It makes the Republican Senators look like heartless bastards and it feels like an insult (both of which are, of course, true). It makes them look like they're bought and sold by rich people (also true).

As a result, in 2012? Don't expect Obama to get shown the door. Now, everything Obama fails to do will be laid at the feet of arrogant, bullying Republicans. And because of their incredible, ill-timed, heartless arrogance, it's going to look more-or-less true even though, y'know, the Democrats don't need any help to fuck things up. (Seriously. This confrontation should have taken place two years ago when the Democrats had control of, y'know, the House, Senate and administration -- they should have tried to bull through bills and provoked a confrontation with the Republicans from the onset, to demonstrate the extent to which the Republicans are unwilling to compromise and are willing to hurt the American people for the interests of their masters. But the timid Democrats were, of course, unwilling to provoke that kind of confrontation and because they looked weak and ineffectual, the lost big in the 2010 elections.) But in 2012, people will remember the arrogance and spite of the Republicans the same way they remembered the wishy-washy bloodless Democrats from 2008 to 2010.

The smart move for the Republicans should have been to play the good guy until 2012. Then, if they get the Presidency, pull out the stops for the two years they're likely to have parliamentary dominance and the administration. The kind of political grandstanding they're doing, now, isn't going to win them any races in 2012, though, and will likely strengthen the Obama administration considerably in 2012.

So, that's my take on this political theater. I find the bill more-or-less irrelevant, but it's a stupid move to vote it down because you want to see very rich people get richer in a time when many American families are suffering financially.

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