The often-brilliant George Monbiot asks at The Guardian, “Why do we allow the US to act like a failed state on climate change?” Following a useful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, he says,
Even so, I would like to see the bill passed, as it at least provides a framework for future improvements. But why do we expect so little from the US? Why do we treat the world’s most powerful and innovative nation as if it were a failed state, rejoicing at even the faintest suggestion of common sense?
And then he says,
You have only to read the comments that follow this article to find out.
Bravo, Mr. Monbiot! He correctly anticipated that the comments would feature some prime American wingnut apologia.
Thanks to the lobbying work of the coal and oil companies, and the vast army of thinktanks, PR consultants and astroturfers they have sponsored, thanks too to the domination of the airwaves by loony right shock jocks, the debate over issues like this has become so mad that any progress at all is little short of a miracle. The ranking Republican on the House energy and commerce committee is Joe Barton, the man who in 2005 launched a congressional investigation of three US scientists whose work reveals the historical pattern of climate change. Like those of many of his peers, his political career is kept on life support by the fossil fuel and electricity companies. He returns the favour by vociferously denying that manmade climate change exists.
A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages. This bill is the best we’re going to get for now because the corruption of public life in the United States has not been addressed. Whether he is seeking environmental reforms, health reforms or any other improvement in the life of the American people, this is Obama’s real challenge.
Also at The Guardian, Michael Tomasky writes,
You might wonder, as many American liberals wonder: OK, we’ve elected probably the most progressive president in decades, and Democrats have big majorities in both houses of Congress. In addition, the Republican party is at a historic low point. So why can’t the Democrats get more done? Why is Barack Obama so timid?
I’m not sure I agree with his answer:
The answer has less to do with Obama’s DNA than with our constitution’s. The GOP may be a laughing stock nationally, the last redoubt of high-profile mistress-shaggers and witless pit bulls with lipstick, but that has absolutely no bearing on its level of power in Washington. Congress was designed so that minorities can wield power well out of proportion to their number if they stick together.
We’ve been through times in the fading, distant past in which the federal government accomplished remarkable things done in spite of itself. Speaking as a history nerd, I don’t know when Washington has been more helplessly dysfunctional than it is now, except maybe for the stretch of years just before the Civil War. Not a cheerful thought.
As Tomasky says, the federal government was set up the way it was with the prevention of tyranny in mind.
Our founders were concerned first and foremost with the potential for authoritarian tyranny, since there was a lot of that afoot in those days. So they built a system of divided government, compulsively concerned with checks and balances so that few actions could be taken quickly.
True. But the terrible irony that you will never ever not in a million years get a conservative or libertarian to admit is that this very weakness now is allowing a different sort of tyranny to emerge. We, the People, no longer have anything to say about our own country. It’s all in the hands of corporations and lobbyists. The result is a loss of genuine political liberty, the loss of government by the consent of the governed, as surely as if Congress had been taken over by a military junta.
Today’s liberals need to give more thought and devote more energy to this problem than they do. When progressive legislation is weakened, as the emissions bill was last week, most people just reflexively chalk it up to a presidential failure of will. And sure, to some extent, Obama is perhaps too quick to seek compromise.
But the more pressing issue — and the hidden one that most big-time pundits don’t write about — is how messed up Congress has become. This is on the brink of becoming a disaster for this country. Reforming Congress, something we call a “process” reform rather than an actual matter of “substance”, is something most liberal interest groups don’t give much thought to. But today, process is substance — or is killing it. Obama and the advocacy groups that support his goals need to grasp this and do something about it, or the whole agenda will sink into the quicksand down the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
I think this is exactly right. Although I agree that President Obama is too quick to seek compromise, he’s not the real problem. The real problem is that the U.S. really is on the brink of being a new kind of failed state.