December 17, 2009

Tea for Two...or Three Hundred Million

I watched a little of the Bernanke confirmation hearing this morning on C-SPAN, as the august solons on the Senate Banking Committee took turns either commending Gentle Ben for a good job in difficult times, or ripping the guy a new one. Although Bernanke is a Republican, most of the opposition to him comes from Republicans such as Jim ("No Hitter") Bunning and Jim DeMint. Being against Bernanke is a kind of code for "Main Street" advocacy, whereas support for Bernanke substitutes for a wink and nod to the Senate's benefactors on Wall Street. As to the question of whether Bernanke is doing a good job - who the hell knows? I can still get money out of my ATM, so that's a plus.

I noted that a few of the Senators have started to say openly that the United States is in a helluva financial bind. That's alarming. For example, former Texas pom-pom girl Kay Bailey Hutchison wondered out loud whether the U.S.'s credit rating is in jeopardy, and whether we aren't staring down the abyss of sovereign default. Heavy stuff. Well, the House just increased the debt limit by about $300 billion as a stopgap measure to keep the government in business. They wanted to go $1.8 trillion, to get the ceiling up to $14 trillion and leave it there through the 2010 midterm elections (so the somnambulant electorate would forget about it, in other words), but the crafty Republicans, who derive an amazing amount of juice out of being a distinct minority, wouldn't let them get away with it.

Excessive government spending is part of the "Tea Party" agenda, apparently, although it's hard to label this diffuse political "movement." The Tea Party seems more like an aggrieved, amorphous mob that is definitely aware it's hurting but only dimly cognizant of what might be causing the pain. A group like that is inherently dangerous. Sad to say, just as Bush set the table for Obama, I think Obama's capitulation to...what?... has set the stage for the Tea Party. Here's something from the Wall Street Journal:

The biggest worry for Democrats is that the findings could set the stage for gains by Republican candidates in next year's elections. Support from independents for the president and his party continues to dwindle. In addition, voters intending to back Republicans expressed far more interest in the 2010 races than those planning to vote for Democrats, illustrating how disappointment on the left over attempts by party leaders to compromise on health care and other issues is damping enthusiasm among core party voters.

But public displeasure with Democrats wasn't translating directly into warmth for Republicans. Twenty-eight percent of voters expressed positive feelings about the GOP -- a number that has remained constant through the Democrats' decline over the summer and fall. Only 5% said their feelings toward the Republicans were "very positive."

Well, that makes sense. Naturally, the Wall Street Journal would use the normal bipolar analysis: if not Democrats, then Republicans. Between now and 2012, however, things could change a lot, especially if our recent convert to fiscal austerity, Kay Bailey, is right. Naturally, her new belief in a balanced budget wasn't around when she enthusiastically voted for every war Bush&Cheney could come up with, but hey - that's so 2003. It's hip now to talk about "Obama's spending," and to direct everyone's attention to Bernanke, who's been on the job since 2006.

This is an early sign of impending doom, when the jugglers in the Capitol Clown College start aiming their seltzer bottles at each other, or sticking out their size 22-EEEE red shoes as another senator walks by. It means they're beginning to realize that this fiscal crisis probably cannot be hidden much longer. Now where would they get an idea like that? Well, that strange chart up above may give you an idea. This is one of Tyler Durden's (of Zerohedge) typically brilliant summations of just how massively screwed we are. Looks innocent, huh? Yet within its clear, elegant and horrifying details lie the sure signs of ominous portent. The UK, Japan & China, our BFF's when it comes to keeping us afloat, are beginning to peter out. This is an inauspicious moment for this to be happening, because, you see, Congress has authorized the government to "spend" about twice as much money this year as it actually "has." This is on top of the $7-8 trillion we'd piled up in previous years of keeping the world safe for democracy.

The Tea Party people use the iconography of a great patriotic rebellion, the Boston Tea Party of 1773, which protested taxation without representation. A nice heritage. The Journal, I think, is engaging in some wishful thinking in believing that: If not Dem, then Repub. Not necessarily. This is very worrisome. The Tea Party, whatever it is, does not have to know what it stands for in order to be convinced that neither of the Big Two Parties is on their side. Such dangerous stuff. They lack only a corn-pone Hitler to lead them in their fervent belief that they can be great again. And if recent history in the USA has taught us anything, it's that demagogues, in this country, are a dime a dozen.


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