April 17, 2008


In its essential elements, the American political scene has come to resemble professional wrestling. The Republicans, naturally, have assumed the role of the heavy, the guy wearing a black hood with eye- and mouth-holes, named something like The Masked Avenger or Darth Raider. Menacing, in other words. The Avenger is out of shape, with a big gut hanging over his long tight pants, but he stays in the match by always fighting dirty. No matter how many times the ref tells him to stop using a closed fist, he keeps rabbit punching away, knee-dropping on his opponent's Adam's apple, anything, so long as it does damage and heightens the drama.

The Democrats are the goody twoshoes, someone like Cowboy Bob Ellis, in fabulous condition and looking buff in a red, white and blue Speedo. Scrupulous about the rules, the good guy takes the Avenger's worst; and while Cowboy Bob's chances often look grim, he throws off a couple of last-minute pins to pull a dazzling reversal that wins the match.

The suckers in the audience are unaware that the Avenger and Bob, just before entering the ring, have met and worked out the elaborate choreography of their match in detail, so that no one gets hurt but the crowd gets a good show. In essence, that's where we are now in American politics, except for the part about no one getting hurt. The Avenger and Bob, through their Professional Wrestlers Union, have guaranteed health care, a well-paid sinecure and a bounteous pension. They're famous and taken care of. The rubes out in the crowd have to shift for themselves.

Books such as David Sirota's Inside Job or Greg Palast's The Best Congress Money Can Buy provide the fine-grained detail on the more or less complete corruption of Congress and the federal government in general. The two parties have worked out the division of labor so that the Republicans do the dirtier work in exchange for the more lucrative graft. For example, the awful bankruptcy bill passed a few years ago was, naturally, introduced by Republicans and written by credit card lobbyists. (This is how it works now; the blow-dried solons are of such low quality intellectually that they rely on lawyers for the industries in question to draft the bills, in this case the American Bankers Association.) No one even pretended that such legislation could possibly benefit the individual "consumer," or what we used to call "Americans." The bankers who wrote the bill were looking for a way to cut their losses on credit card debt which they encouraged in the first place, by mass-mailing solicitations to millions of cash-hungry Americans. The arguments in favor of the bill, from both sides of the aisle, were of course dressed up in the usual finery of homespun virtue, of thrift and "honesty" in paying one's debts. The Democrats voting for the bill, including Joe Biden of Delaware and Harry Reid of Nevada (of course), found ways to justify voting for the bill even after an amendment was killed that would have protected the residence of Americans filing bankruptcy because of medical bills. What the hell. They have insurance. Why didn't Reid use the "60-vote" rule to corral support among the Democratic caucus to prevent this corporate dreck from entering the Bankruptcy Code? Now that the Dems are in the majority, Reid always cites the rule as the reason he can't stop Iraq funding; how come it didn't stop the Republicans from passing this bill? (Hint: Reid liked the bill; it supported his true constituency.)

And why do hedge fund managers, such as John Paulson and George Soros, who make over $3 billion per year (the average among the top 25 hedge fund managers is $775 million per year), continue to pay capital gains rates on their income? Because of the principled advocacy of Democrats such as Chuck Schumer of New York, that's why; it would be tragic indeed if these visionary entrepreneurs were forced to pay the same marginal rate as the secretaries out in the typing pool.

The Iraq war voting, of course, is an old story. Carl Levin, Democrat from Michigan, subjected us to a nauseating analogy between his decision to continue "supporting the troops" by voting "yea" on funding for Iraq with comments Lincoln made about the Civil War. I wonder how much Googling his staff had to do to come up with that claptrap. And despite the open, indeed cocky, admission by the highest officials in the Bush Administration that they committed systematic war crimes, the Democrats will not lift a finger to exercise the Constitutionally mandated remedy of impeachment. You see, "impeachment" is what the Masked Avenger does; Cowboy Bob fights clean and wins the elections. These are required elements in the dramatic form; the handsome lead actor wins the girl in the final scene because he's such a good guy, not because he turned in his rival to the cops.

Gradually I think even the rubes of the American Booboisie have come to the realization they're being taken for a ride by the choreography of the two-party system. It seems to my somewhat acute ear that a rising clamor for an end to the monopoly of the Democrats and Republicans is gaining force. Right now it takes the form of Neo-Nihilism, the utter disgust and contempt of Americans for their elected representatives reflected in sub-20% approval ratings, but maybe it will transmogrify into something more positive in the coming years. Grass-roots movements in which new parties choose candidates from a "bottom up" process. Right now, through processes they don't completely understand, the electorate is presented with choices made by Big Media based on narrative potential. An African-American man; a woman; a war hero, in the present case. We are instructed to get excited about one of these, even if these candidates are completely constrained, by the rules of the Professional Wrestling Union, from ever talking about a problem in practical terms leading to a practical solution. That's not what the Avenger and Cowboy Bob do. They take money from Big Money to represent their interests, then put on a violent show in the center of the caged ring involving flips and body slams and clothesline shots to the throat, and a mesmerized populace votes for their favorite actor. While outside the arena, the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

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