Joke’s on the average AmericanAs an American, following what’s been happening in Washington for the past month has been exasperating and yet educational. With the last-minute congressional vote to reopen the government and to temporarily lift the debt ceiling, much of the world has let out a sigh of relief.
But if anyone thinks there is a “grow up” moment coming Washington’s way, they will be disappointed. Most Americans are engaged in a mass delusion that the past half-month was political theater of the worst kind or simply the work of extremists. In fact, the Tea Party obstructionists are now going back to their narrowly drawn constituencies, declaring that they stood up to President Barack Obama but were sabotaged by the “sellouts” in their own party. In other words, the GOP civil war is not over. It has just fought a major battle.
But it’s really not about political infighting. There are tens of millions of frustrated and angry Americans feeling disenfranchised and powerless, both financially and politically. All American institutions are essentially no longer respected except for just one or maybe two: the military and possibly the local police force. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent of the U.S. population earns a quarter of the national income. And within that 1 percent, the pyramid continues to grow where smaller fractions of a percent hold yet disproportionately more wealth. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans have not seen a rise in income/standard of living in real terms for a full generation.
In other words, what Washington just went through was only a symptom of a greater problem. And what I describe in the above paragraph is more in keeping with a “third world,” developing nation than what had been the United States.
The tea party generally represents the older citizenry while the Occupy movement consists mainly of younger people - but in spite of their differences, they spring from the same causes of dismay and discontent. But beyond being more mature and better organized, the tea party is also angrier.
To use an analogy, consider a decent person thinking of, or having, another person as a marriage partner. If one is young and attracted to another person, one may be greatly disappointed if one discovers that the other person has been sleeping around much more than one had thought. But compare that disappointment with one’s father who thought he had a rock-solid marriage of 35 years only to discover that his wife has been cheating without him knowing anything about it until recently. One’s own disappointment is nothing compared to the father’s rage. And that rage in knowing that he has been “had” for so long is like the anger that has been and will continue to fuel the tea party.
As irrational and irresponsible the Tea Partiers may seem, we should consider them as symptoms of a giant, underlying social-economic problem needing dramatic overhaul. Otherwise, we may well experience the overall U.S. slipping faster into a real decline than most Americans may dare to imagine.
To be fair, the Democrats have just as big a hand in this as the Republicans. Americans taking sides with one political party versus the other confuses the issue. Actually the whole system is jerry-rigged to confuse voters into believing the problem is with the Republicans in protecting the rich at everyone else’s expense - or with the Democrats representing the unproductive elements of society. In fact, both parties are protecting the rich - defined as those families with $10 million or more in assets. Both parties’ politicians spend at least as much time on fund-raising as doing their jobs so that they may be re-elected. That means whoever can provide the necessary cash gets access, and that usually equates to either the rich or their surrogates on K Street.
In a sense, what may seem to be Republican hypocrisy is probably candor - they actually are trying to reduce the size of government, so there will be less regulation that ultimately serves the welfare of the wealthy. If anything happens to help anyone else (let’s call it “trickle down”), that’s the icing on the cake. However, the Democrats hold the greatest hypocrisy. While they maintain they wish to provide a fair political and economic environment through regulation, ultimately they are not really that much different in their priorities from the Republicans. They, too, have to spend more of their time fund-raising for re-election. Net-net: the Dems say one thing, but when it comes to the legislative and regulatory details, they serve the rich, similarly to the Republicans, and at the expense of most of the citizenry.
Within this overall context, the Tea Party and the Occupy movement are both genuine and pathetic. There is genuine concern in both groups about a very real problem, but both are remarkably naive and ignorant in two areas: First, there is incredible confusion as to what actually is the problem; and second, there is ignorance about how to effect change. This past half-month has been a painful example of that - that stupid stunt in Washington has needlessly cost the country billions in needless government expenditures and lost economic income, not to mention the possibility of incremental interest payments on Treasury bonds if the U.S. government is further downgraded in the financial world.
Tea Partiers blame big government and runaway spending, without really doing their homework. Consequently, they are easily co-opted by the Republicans, so they end up going ballistic in attacking the wrong targets with the same baying enthusiasm of hounds chasing the red herring trail. Heaven help the Republicans - and the Democrats - if this group and others wake up to the greater reality that they are being “had” by the super rich via their Republican and Democrat minions. The average personal net worth of House of Representatives legislators has increased 260 percent from 1984 to 2009, whereas the worth of the average member of Congress is at least $1 million, versus only one in 22 Americans being worth at least that amount. In other words, the American government today is, much more than in the past, of, by and for the rich.
Meanwhile, we American yokels waste our time and energy trading barbs and comments as to whether the Republicans or the Democrats are to blame. Overall, it’s quite a joke - with the joke being played on the average American.
*The author is president of Soft Landing Consulting, a sales-focused business development firm, and senior adviser to the IPG Legal Group.
By Tom Coyner