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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What do you expect when one political party embraces the ravings of idiots -- and the other party capitulates to them
Posted by Jill | 5:17 AM
Bob Herbert:
As a nation, we are becoming more and more accustomed to a sense of helplessness. We no longer rise to the great challenges before us. It’s not just that we can’t plug the oil leak, which is the perfect metaphor for what we’ve become. We can’t seem to do much of anything.

The city of Detroit is using federal money to destroy thousands upon thousands of empty homes, giving in to a sense of desperation that says there is no way to rebuild the city so let’s do the opposite: let’s destroy even more of it. Lots more of it.

There are plans aplenty for demolishing large parts of what’s left of Detroit, which in its heyday was the symbol of an America that was still a powerfully constructive force, a place that could produce things and improve the lives of its people and inspire the rest of the world.

Referring to an aspect of one of the plans, The Times’s Susan Saulny wrote in an article in Monday’s paper: “An urban homestead — one of the more popular parts of the plan — would be tantamount to country living in the city, the plan says, with homeowners enjoying an agricultural environment and lower taxes in exchange for disconnecting from some city services like water.”

The June 28 cover story of Time magazine is headlined, “The Broken States of America.” As I’ve mentioned here several times, the states are facing a catastrophic fiscal situation that is short-circuiting essential services, pushing even more people out of work, and undermining the feeble national economic recovery.

As Time reported: “Schools, health services, libraries — and the salaries that go with them — are all on the chopping block as states and cities face their worst cash squeeze since the Great Depression.”

We are submitting to this debacle with the same pathetic lack of creativity and helpless mind-set that now seems to be the default position of Americans in the 21st century. We have become a nation that is good at destroying things — with wars overseas and mind-bogglingly self-destructive policies here at home — but that has lost sight of how to build and maintain a flourishing society. We’re dismantling our public school system and, incredibly, attacking our spectacularly successful system of higher education, which is the finest in the world.

How is it possible that we would let this happen?

Here's why: Because American "greatness" was an illusion. It was an illusion because Americans, particularly all of us living in this country after WWII, got used to things being a certain way. We learned about heroes in school and then went home to television and suburban houses and cars the size of ocean liners (even the so-called "economy" cars) and new refrigerator models coming out this year, and a barrage of advertisements about how to achieve the good life through consumption. We made everyone who was in the military in WWII a hero, even those who remained stateside...and then we forgot the Korean war veterans. We gave a certain amount of credit to Martin Luther King, but forgot Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman and the kids who sat at that lunch counter. We heard about Abbie Hoffman a lot but never heard about Jeff Miller, Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer, and William Schroeder. We never heard about doing without something --well-being, even lives -- for a greater good.

And we decided we were entitled to what we had.

In 1976, as the consequences of our profligacy started to become clear, Jimmy Carter gave us a stern talking to -- and was promptly defeated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan. Here was an ersatz image of the American West, telling Americans that they could have tax cuts AND lots more military spending, and still balance the budget. The president who railed against "welfare queens" told every OTHER American that they could have a free lunch. This mindset, which turned every American into one of those kids who attend schools where EVERYONE geta a gold star, reached its height after the 9/11 attacks, when George W. Bush told us that continuing to shop was patriotic and Dick Cheney told us that our lifestyle -- which included driving huge military vehicles that get 8 miles to the gallon, was "blessed."

Who wants to hear belt-tightening after that? After a decade in which families with two kids bought 10,000 square foot houses in which said kids never had to share a bathroom, let alone a bedroom, Americans are no longer even EQUIPPED to learn how to do without something, or defer gratification until later. Even now, as Barack Obama tries, however fecklessly, to deal with the many catastrophes that are the result of decades of Reaganism and DLC ersatz Reaganism, Republicans are still telling Americans that they can have a golden age again, if we just shovel enough money into the pockets of guys like Lloyd Blankfein and Tony Hayward.

As Pogo said, we have seen the enemy and he is us.

UPDATE 6/23/10: Proving my point:
Overwhelmingly, Americans think the nation needs a fundamental overhaul of its energy policies, and most expect alternative forms to replace oil as a major source within 25 years. Yet a majority are unwilling to pay higher gasoline prices to help develop new fuel sources.

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Blogger Nan said...
Well said. Here in Atlanta I have days when the squalor and neglect in public areas (cracking and nonexistent sidewalks, potholes, trash everywhere) make me feel like I'm living in a third world nation -- and the state legislature's solution to everything? Cut taxes and services even more.