Lament for America
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.