Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The health care debate is over and no one is happy. When Barack Obama was elected the First Black President Of The United States there were literally people celebrating in the streets. Strangers high-fived and hugged each other. The police stood back at let it happen, because there was no threat of violence and this would never happen again. Our president is black. I'm only 23 years old, but that was the first time I can ever remember that happening.
No one is celebrating like that now. The dyed-in-the-wool leftists are grousing about how this bill just forces us to give money to the insurance companies and the conservatives are up in arms about the cost and the “unprecedented” expansion of the federal government. If the election of Obama was a night of emotional, wonderful, soul-merging sex, the process by which HR 3962 got passed was a drunken, coke-fueled one-night stand where no one comes and both of you hopefully use as an indication that it's time to reevaluate your lives.
What's happening now—as if anyone has the energy to care at this point—is that a group of mostly-Republican attorneys general are suing on behalf of some states to invalidate the just-passed bill (this won't work, but it's good press for those AGs). If you were new to this country you would find this ironic, since conservatives have been bitching about “activist judges” since Brown v. Board of Education forced southern schools to integrate, but ha ha! That would assume you believed in principles, or at least you believed that people meant what they said. American politicians and political commentators have assimilated the concept of postmodernism far better than anyone else and now words mean nothing to them. Meaning is malleable, truth is nonexistent, and objective reality is just a dirty joke you tell to your attractive male aides while you're groping them at the after-hours bar. You win an argument not on the basis of facts and reasoning, but by getting as many people as possible to inhabit your version of reality. Those are the lessons of the last year of “debate,” if you can call it that—once again, I'm only 23, but this had to be a low point for the country, right? Right?
What was the lowest point we reached, anyway? Was it those town hall meetings that reminded us why “media circus” is such an apt turn of phrase? Or those incoherent citizens who didn't want government interfering with their Medicare? How about when Glenn Beck and those like him claimed that the Nazis were basically progressives? I gave up on the whole thing when people denounced even something as watered-down as the current bill as “socialism,” when what we got was well to the right of systems in the UK and Canada, where people are, I've heard, relatively happy and healthy and not living in a 1984-esque nightmare world.
Not long ago, I was told by no less a person than Conan O'Brien that cynicism "doesn't lead anywhere," but if you care about politics, how can you have come through the past several months without a conviction that the game is rigged and the best we can hope for is to rig it in our own favor?
It's supposed to work like this: people elect politicians who will more or less represent their interests. Politicians do so and pass bills that most of the people want to have passed, since they elected said politicians. Everyone is smart enough to look out for their own interests.
Instead, people vote without knowing what positions their politicians stand for—or in many cases the elections don't matter that much because districts have been gerrymandered for generations. The politicians try to do what is popular at the moment so they can get reelected, and what's popular changes on the stories reported by a handful of occasionally-biased media outlets. Some of the issues are so complex people never understood them in the first place, but that doesn't stop them from having opinions about them and writing angry letters to their congressmen. And the politicians fund reelection campaigns on corporate donations, of course, so no bills are ever passed that will hurt any large corporation—unless those corporations fuck up so publicly that they can't be ignored and then the politicians crucify them in public and then do very little to change the rules that allow them to fuck up, as they did in the case of the banks.
No one should be happy with either of the major parties right now. The Democrats claimed that all of a sudden American had a health care “crisis” that needed to be resolved right away and then—thanks to a variety of internal divisions—couldn't come up with a solution that could be explained in simple terms. The Republicans figured out that if the Democrats didn't pass a bill quickly they would look incompetent and stalled the process at every available turn. The Tea Party, meanwhile, managed to combine the naivete of the hippy movement with the knee-jerk conservatism of the John Birch Society and backed it up with a philosophy that managed to combine elements of Evangelical Christianity with the non-dirty parts of Ayn Rand novels (and that's not a compliment). The Black President didn't or couldn't do anything about all this. The Health Care Debate became it's own cottage industry and catapulted Glenn Beck to superstardom, while almost no one mentioned that we could reduce health costs by being healthier as a country. Who could possibly be satisfied with any of this?
What's important to remember is, it's spring right now. It's warm outside. You can walk to the park and discreetly smoke a joint or drink a beer in the sun, or you can just lie down on the grass and close your eyes. People are riding their bicycles again and running and tanning and trying to get in swimsuit-suitable shape. The girls and guys are wearing less clothing once again. Baseball is right around the corner. You can drop acid at a summer music festival or watch your small children run on the hot sand at a beach somewhere, whichever one is more your speed. The health care bill doesn't kick in until 2014 and anyway, there are more important things in life than the increasingly nonsensical world of politics. Like this:
(Image is from the cover of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, one of the finest, most cynical books on American politics ever written.)