Societal Meltdown

Remember the shockingly sudden loss of civility during the debate over reform of what everyone knows is a failed health care system; loud, rude shouting anti-government maniacs appeared at meetings with congressmen? Was this orchestrated or spontaneous?

My mother would have washed my mouth with soap for such behavior. What empowered these people to lose their manners and behave like anarchists?

Then came the Tea Party movement, fueled by anti-Obama, anti-government, anti-tax sentiments which did not completely parallel the evangelical anti-abortion segment of the population, but there was significant overlap. The Tea Party, motivated in part by the failure of our capitalist economy to provide jobs and the failure of the government to provide jobs, concluded that government does not, as a concept, actually work. So, they conclude, let’s abolish government.

This used to be the definition of anarchy. Maybe still is.

Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, both sporting big hair and big ambition, exploit the visceral intensity that only ANTI-stuff can generate (who gets excited about PRO-anything except pro sports), continuously fanning the embers of Tea Party fear, fiddling while Rome burns. People with less than 5 percent ratings in the candidate polls rely on hope instead of money.

Anarchy’s smoke wafts in the breeze like marijuana smoke at a Grateful Dead concert. And maybe more intoxicating. Motivated by the heady successes of the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, watching European socialists riot against government austerity programs, the Occupy Wall Street movement is galvanized. Galvanized by what, other than electricity, we aren’t sure. Leaderless it is; organized it is not. (ET phone home. Someone call Yoda.) Is there a goal here? Paralysis? Reform? Or just warmed over Herbert Marcuse critiques of capitalism, lots of spirited intellectual venting with no real targeted goals.

Meanwhile the whipsawing of our economy has left workers in the dust, the handicapped and helpless in the dust, veterans in the dust, people like me quietly doing okay and others like me going down hard, while the top 1 percent of Wall Street traders and hedge fund managers and commodity traders pull in obscene commissions and profits every day. These disparities, leading to perceptions of unfairness, are what fuel revolutions, folks.

Even Paul Volcker, interviewed by Charlie Rose and reported in Bloomberg, says that Wall Street is incapable of regulating its own excesses.

My liberal buddies at the Duck Club, anti-capitalists (like me) in the 60s and 70s, now invested in the stock market, lament: “Those guys wanted us to embrace capitalism, and when we did, they smoked us!!” Only they didn’t say “smoke.” Amateur capitalists are we.

Street protests took down governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and may yet do the same in Syria and Bahrain. Emboldened, youthful malcontents are taking to the streets in Greece and now Russia. Occupy Everywhere protesters are trying to close Wall Street, block Pacific ports, and raise hell from Denver to Philadelphia.

I am worrying about a convergence here. I may favor social justice, defined a bit differently from how many liberals define social justice, but I don’t want riots and revolution. Tea Party members hate government more than they worry about social issues. OWS participants hate wealthy people but they readily transfer the hatred to government. Arab Spring, Greek liberal, Syrian anti-Assad pro-democracy demonstrators, people are in the streets. Anarchy is trans-continental. This global fever is contagious, much more immediate than other forms of global warming.

The American system of government is paralyzed. Swollen federal bureaucracies promulgate rules and make people crazy daily. Ask any Senator’s office staff how many of the daily messages they receive are happy cheers versus complaints about government agencies.

The deficit, magnified by Ronnie Reagan’s flawed idea that starving the government of tax revenue would magically transform the universe, added to by W’s bright idea of cutting taxes while simultaneously starting two wars, eagerly augmented by Democrats whose wish lists of welfare and education and stimulus spending just blew everything totally past reason: This stuff is scaring people.

The Tea Party scared so many Republicans during what should have been a routine decision to enlarge the debt limit; those Congressional dudes are terrified of their own shadows. Or someone else’s shadows.

Democrats, still living obliviously in a Pelosi-Disney world where more government spending is the solution to every worry, are detached from what most of us would hope is reality. Maxine Waters, interviewed on December 11, rotely trashes Republicans while supporting extending payroll tax cuts for working people. Working people can afford their payroll taxes; if you have a job, be happy and do your part. The government needs those payroll taxes. This is not supposed to be a rich versus poor issue. But, Maxine, I say end those payroll tax cuts and then end the Bush tax cuts. Let’s spread the burden, folks. Ending the Bush tax cuts will hit my personal bottom line but it must be done.

The OWS crowd prefers simple slogans to the alternatives, but, when it comes to complaints about multimillionaires and billionaires hoarding cash while much of the country walks the street in search of a job or a meal, I will buy some of those slogans. Did Carnegie, Mellon and Rockefeller go broke during the Great Depression? No, and their successors suck up wealth while people like me pay for government and most of the 99 percent pay no taxes; that is not going to work.

At what point, as Congress refuses to pass a jobs bill, refuses to raise revenues, refuses to cooperate with the White House, refuses to let the Super Committee satisfy the responsibilities which the rest of Congress is too immature to perform, as the Senate Republicans choose to sacrifice the public interest in favor of denying Obama a second term, as the Senate Democrats dither? At what point is the electorate going to totally lose confidence in government? The truth is, about five months ago.

Remember the term limits movement? I always thought it was kind of dumb because if you did not like the candidate you could simply vote her or him out. But the term limits folks feared the power of incumbency. Now I am starting to get it.

I have a new idea. Instead of treating the first term as a cheerleader tryout and then re-electing the attractive ones, let’s simply outlaw re-election. We might want to extend some terms, but make everyone a one-term incumbent. You get one shot in the limelight and then you are back to your day job.

Fear of rejection at the polls for incumbents paralyzes and corrupts them. When incumbents are paralyzed, so are all of us. My new idea of a term limit is: ONE. One term. Then thank you for your service.

I think Warren Buffett would like this. ONE! One time, one screw up. One time, one success. One time, no worries.

Tying this off like the rodeo roper trying to tie together four struggling steer legs: if Congress cannot solve some problems the Tea Party and OWS bunches might decide that riots and store-front burning will be the new way to influence government. Cynicism breeds anarchy and a perception of vulnerability breeds revolution. The super rich can fiddle, and then burn, or they can wake up. For how long will the Tea Party carry the anti-tax increase mantra that benefits only the rich and not the Tea Party before they wake up and feel violated. Which wrath is the strongest?

This is a bunch of theoretical B.S. Congress will not reform itself; every congressman must posture for re-election. We need rules, like those in every state, which require that every amendment to a bill is germane. We need a one or two limit to terms. We need a balanced-budget amendment with a phased application not to exceed four years.

We may need a Constitutional Convention. We need a forum to sort out ideas which is not violent revolution.

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  1. One term in office is definately the solution. No incumbant. Get your election to an office, fix the problem and go home!! The only ones running for office are the ones not in office at that time. If you hold a position in office, you do not have time to run for re-election. You should be too busy handling the problems you were elected to solve.

  2. You expect us to read this crap and to believe you are non-partison. When I didn’t see your name on the article, I knew what to expect. Imagine Charles Krautenhammer calling himself “sauerkraut” with every column. You poke remarks at Reagan, Bush, and your math stinks. Five percent at the top pay forty percent of the taxes, not you. A reasonable spending president and Congress will not need to extract enormus taxes from the people (everything $ you don’t give them, you get to spend yourself.) Again you group the two together TP and OWS. Tea Party has never shown violence ever. Do you want to claim that (rapes and riots and attempted shut downs) of the OWS is non-violent. Perhaps you should go back to tying off steers. WE are not Europe

  3. Cut the Government back to where it was under Billy Clinton and the Republican congress of the 1990s (about 18% of GDP) and most of our problems go away.

    Also asking to cut down the size of government from where it is today (27% of GDP and rising fast) to where it was under Clinton is hardly a call for Anarchy. Personally I think we could go to about 10% of GDP and be a long ways from Anarchy….

    Exit Question: 40% of the US population calls themselves conservative (http://www.gallup.com/poll/152021/Conservatives-Remain-Largest-Ideological-Group.aspx) and presumably want the size and power of the government to shrink. When are we allowed to be upset and call our congressmen out for ignoring what their bosses want year in and year out?