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Lament for America

November 23, 2011

Friends of America will lament that the “super committee” of the Congress has failed at its task of putting together a fiscal package that can win support from both sides.

America’s system of divided government, laid out in a constitution written in the 1780s, is now revealing radical weaknesses. Just reflect on a contrast between us and them. Australia was able to increase the retirement age and reduce middle-class welfare as part of a process of budget tightening, and even introduce two significant new taxes. One new tax prices carbon in order to mobilise market pressures to support economic restructuring. The other spreads the benefits of the resources boom. The Federal Government is winding back middle-class tax privileges and the disability support pension.

No such reforms are possible in the US system because the legislature can say no to the executive without bringing the executive down. Also because there is an absence of party discipline. And because a system built on the need for compromise and trade-off and deal-making is now so polarised. Republicans can’t tick off tax increases and Democrats can’t tick off cuts to entitlement programs.

The polarisation seems to have its roots in President Richard Nixon’s grand strategy in the late 60s of mobilising white voters in southern states to move from Democrat to Republican ranks. Race, rights and taxes were the rallying cries. And the result? A diminution of the centre and more extreme political rhetoric and political behaviour.

Two catastrophic wars following September 11 have aggravated the effects of political deadlock and cast Washington with an aura of the Roman Empire’s troubled, inflation-prone and bankrupted last century. One could previously dismiss arguments about American decline. It is harder today.

Will the 2012 election produce a political settlement more likely to take decisions to lift revenues and trim middle-class entitlements? Nobody knows. Meanwhile Tea Party rhetoric inflames the Republican Party and produces candidates like Bachmann, Perry and Gingrich. The Democratic Party struggles to hold its base and has to rally support any way it can. This would suggest that compromise is going to be just as elusive after November next year as it is now.

And there is the prospect of another ill-judged war over Iran, as if two failed trillion dollar military adventures in Islamic lands in 10 years were not enough.

When it comes to Iran’s nuclear ventures, stick to the viruses.

Low risk and super-smart.

And unique – a CIA intervention that has actually worked.

8 Comments
  1. Ramapriya permalink
    November 23, 2011 4:32 pm

    Right on the money again. I’ve only recently found your blog but it’s a pleasant reminder that we once enjoyed the great benefit of politicians who were a little more circumspect than the extant lot.

    (Mind you there was that line by Nick Griener in the early 1990’s: “By letting Private Insurance companies handle 3rd party motor vehicle insurance, the government has ensured that the price of these policies will stay low.” LOL)

  2. November 23, 2011 8:26 pm

    Many historians and political analysts have argued that the American separation of powers, as outlined in its Constitution, has long been its strength, and they are correct. It is a strength that was predicated on a consensus style of politics. With the current political polarisation, that same constitutional strength is now a serious weakness that transforms the political process into being so dysfunctional it beggars belief.

    I feel sorry for Obama as he obviously has the capacity to be one of their greatest consensus Presidents, however, he arrives at a time where the political environment has shifted to the right, with the extreme rump of that movement refusing to play the consensus game. It is a strategy that has worked in the UK, seems to be working in the USA, and Tony Abbott is peddling furiously to make it work here. We live in ‘interesting’ times.

    I enjoy your blog. Please keep pencilling away. Best wishes. Joan Evatt

  3. TerjeP permalink
    November 24, 2011 12:09 am

    When people say Tea Party I’m more inclined to think of politicians such as Ron Paul or Rand Paul. Ron Paul did after all have a hugely successful “money bomb” fund raiser during his 2008 presidential bid which was called “the tea party”. And Rand Paul is considered by some to be the head of the tea party faction in congress. Although neither of them fits the mould of racist redneck so the critics of the tea party rarely point to them as representative.

    No such reforms are possible in the US system because the legislature can say no to the executive without bringing the executive down. Also because there is an absence of party discipline.

    In Australia our senate, which is an integral part of the legislative process, can say no to the executive on legislation and frequently does. However I somewhat agree that the absence of party discipline in the US system is an issue. Yet on the GOP side of things that is exactly the issue the tea party is intent on addressing by ousting GOP candidates who are not disciplined in terms of a small government agenda.

  4. TerjeP permalink
    November 24, 2011 12:15 am

    I feel sorry for Obama as he obviously has the capacity to be one of their greatest consensus Presidents,

    He seems to have achieved consensus on most matters military by simply adopting the position of his GOP predecessor. So much for being the guy that would close gitmo and end perpetual war. He seems to quite like those drones now that he controls them.

  5. November 24, 2011 1:05 am

    Bob your comment and hitherto analogy between the last century of The Roman Empire and the political innadeqicies of the American political system – between it’s executive and legislature – are so true.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      November 24, 2011 11:13 am

      A book, The New Rome, explored the analogy and rejected it. But it is about five years old. The evidence of imperial decline has strengthened since.

  6. November 24, 2011 5:14 am

    It really stops you dead in your tracks when you hear these Republican hopefuls rattling sabers at Iran. The ashes of the U.S. economy haven’t even cooled down.

    I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t another aspect of Grover Norquist’s “Starve the Beast” brigade. Perhaps they actively want to bankrupt the U.S. via expensive foreign deployments to further their domestic agenda? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. Anyone who thinks this is a far fetched conspiracy just needs to tune into the T.V. debates or listen to some NPR.

    Meanwhile the fundamentals of the economy don’t show many signs of improvement. In fact the reliance on credit to fund college education shows all the signs of another crippling bubble – http://bit.ly/tfftwo.

    The Republican solutions to these problems – if they are mentioned at all – are all generic statements about less government spending and cutting taxes.

  7. David May permalink
    November 24, 2011 8:30 am

    Why does America or Australia need to continually change tax levels and pensions, when we can have a system that generally provides economic stability & functions, the underlaying point is not that the U.S. cannot cooperate but that they and the rest of the world cannot agree on a reasonable set of management tools that will manage the economies of our courtries. Bob your still trying to make political points and miss the humanitarian ones, Yes the political squabbles are stymieing the U.S. because they are doing the opposite of what they believe, Republicans shout rights, Individual rights are afforded by the people of America, through their government – Socialism, The democrat corporations want to overcompete and monopolise the market – Fascism. Their economic theories are based on a free market and none exists. We are all still argueing these points in U.S. & Australia, rather than responding to the situation. We need to Grow Up!

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