Monday, February 21, 2011

Lines Drawn In The Sand

This is an Event Horizon for American politics, and it's one that - as Freddie deBoer notes - "reveals the basic character of the people who talk about it". It's no coincidence that the very people who reject and ignore the protests in Wisconsin and Ohio are the exact same as the people who never needed the rights the protesters are fighting for. They are the privileged who assume that their privileges are hard earned and fought for. They are the privileged who assume that your lack of privilege is a result of imperfections in your behavior. And when they dismiss, belittle, and scornfully mock the rightful protests in Wisconsin they reveal themselves as acquiescently servile agents of corporate oppressors. And for no other reason than because they can afford to be.

It doesn't matter whether you belong to a union, or whether you agree with what they say, or whether you buy into their issues, or whether you belong to the upper class yourself. Unions are either historically responsible for your paycheck and benefits, or they're responsible for the people who buy and pay for your products. Advocating their destruction and calling for their end isn't just a clear assault on first amendment rights, it is an assault on the autonomy of the American citizen. Genuine independence cannot be secured without economic independence. Economic independence cannot be secured without livable wages. And livable wages cannot be secured without the ability to politically account for the fairness of your employers. The attempted removal of unions should be seen for precisely what it is: the removal of the American citizen as a political force against corporate dominion. It is not enough for them to have us weakened: we're to be silenced.

In order to grasp their stratagem, you must first think on their terms. The wealthy own 80% of this country's money. After Citizens United and the Chamber of Commerce, politicians are disproportionately dependent on the donations they give to fund campaigns. Lobbyists frequently have the ear of lawmakers. In order to pass something, they have to make sure their political contributors find it palatable. Washington DC is a revolving door for Wall Street, where they can get people from Wall Street employed in the White House who quit after a couple of years to take 7 figure jobs as "consultants" in some investment firm. The media is primarily owned by the supremely wealthy, and they have no incentive to speak against their bosses. Even if they did, most of the media either come from or wish to belong to the same class of people that corporate CEO's are in, so the media is - if nothing else - sympathetic to wealth. The last possible vestige of opposition is the average American citizen, who - for basic survival - must become the average American worker.

Our effective neutralization is premised on a system that assures our dependence. What separates us from the wealthy and those who aspire to wealth is that it doesn't assure our loyalty. We will work two jobs not because we want to, not because we like the companies in question, but because we have to. We don't merely struggle to advance our status and work off the extra wing of our house; we struggle to eat and to possibly make sure we aren't rained on while we're eating. The only thing that serves to make that struggle bearable is that there's a minimal standard we can rightfully expect from the work we do. The only thing that makes it bearable is that while we need the crumbs corporations let fall on our laps, we are not subject to something as arbitrary as their whims to make sure we get them.

We do not have to hope - without a possibility of legal recourse - that our construction equipment won't explode in our faces. They have to make sure they don't. We do not have to hope - without the possibility of legal recourse - that the coal mines we work in won't collapse on our head without escape plans. We do not have to hope - without a possibility of legal recourse - that your boss won't take your failure to do a demeaning job that's beyond the demands of your job description will arbitrarily come out of your paycheck as a punishment.

We are dependent on them, but that dependency goes both ways. We need them to live, yes, but they need us to function. And they have to pay for that functionality. While it's true that they give only the bare minimum required and - in many cases, less than that - the point is that they give considerably more than they want to. And that pittance is secured by two things: the federal government (which they now own), and unions, which they're on the verge of destroying. This exposes two weaknesses, and no one is more aware of them than the business class.

The first - and main - weakness was their dependence on our purchasing power and worker productivity to secure profits. In order for us to purchase things, however, they had to give us jobs, and the presence of working standards meant giving us jobs negatively affected their profit margin. The worker problem was wholly negated by the success of globalization. China, India and similar countries gave them an impoverished work force to hire en masse for almost nothing, which meant they could throw bones to a population of people who were too poor and economically weakened to expect meat. The problem inherent to our dying purchasing power was negated by the presence of emerging markets that met it or surpassed it collectively. That means they could not only offset our diminished clout as a market; they could usurp it by making up the difference everywhere else. This is how America's economy and job market has floundered while the same companies that should be suffering with us are making record profits. This is how the American worker is written out of its own economy by its own would-be employers:
From 1995 to 2008, the American economy grew by a yearly average of 2.9 percent. During that time, the yearly economic growth rates in the world's two largest nations, China and India, averaged 9.6 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. Increasing U.S. presence in the Chinese and Indian markets followed as the night the day.

As growth in the U.S. economy continues to lag behind that of much of the rest of the world, those U.S.-based companies able to sell more abroad gain a clear advantage over those companies whose sales are more domestic. An analysis by The Wall Street Journal's Justin Lahart of the 30 companies included in the Dow Jones industrial averages concluded that the 10 with the largest share of their sales abroad were projected to increase their revenues by an average of 8.3 percent over last year, while those with the lowest share of sales abroad were looking at increased revenues of just 1.6 percent. This puts Coca-Cola, which gets 75 percent of its sales overseas, at a distinct advantage over the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which gets 90 percent of its sales in the U.S.

In industry after industry, foreign markets are offering more opportunity than domestic ones. The foreign affiliates owned in part or in full by U.S.-based multinationals now bring in just about as much money to their parent corporations as their domestic counterparts. A study published last year by the Business Roundtable and the United States Council Foundation concluded that in 2006, 48.6 percent of profits of U.S.-based multinationals came from their foreign affiliates, compared to just 17 percent in 1977 and 27 percent in 1994. What this means is that the equilibrium between production, pay, and purchasing -- the equilibrium that Henry Ford famously recognized when he upped his workers' wages to an unheard-of $5 a day in 1914, the equilibrium that became the model for 20th-century American capitalism -- has been shattered. Making and selling their goods abroad, U.S. multinationals can slash their workforces and wages at home while retaining their revenue and increasing their profits. And that's exactly what they've done.

For many, this would be a victory subtly fought and thoroughly won, but greed is aspirational. Its satisfaction is contingent on our consumption, not our neutralization. When they've secured our impotence, we become indistinct from the machines that depreciate the need to employ us. We become tools. Expendable. Replaceable. Cheap. This is not a fight to secure a pittance of political power just to be able to golf with some Senator or Governor. This is a concerted attempt to dismantle the foundational premise of freedom and dignity: choice. Their vision is not realized by the exclusive distribution of power to them: it is realized by the complete removal of power from us.

Despotism will not take the shape of conservative specters. It will not be Big Government taking away your guns and issuing death panels. It will not be the micro-legislation of every detail of your life. It will be you living in a shack or on the streets because it's all you can afford on what you now make. It will be you working 15 hours a day for 5 cents in conditions that affect your short-term and long-term health. It will be you begging your employer for a raise with the knowledge that the only thing that can assure it is his charity. The successful destruction of unions and collective bargaining doesn't merely secure this. It is the abolishment of your power to say "no" to it. Our ability to do that is the last ounce of strength we have left, and our "no" is the only thing that can uproot the encroachment of corporate oppression.

are their last weakness. We are the last mechanisms of opposition.
And we are positioned to remind them that their wealth is an us-given privilege and use political power to enforce that philosophy. Every word that regards these truths with tacit rejection, meek equivocation or silence is a word that loudly proclaims that an antidote to plutocracy shouldn't exist. Every "journalist" and pundit that ignores the meaning of this story and ignores the profound implications this imparts to Americans is a journalist that's complicit with the attempted destruction of the American worker. Every American that closes their eyes to this assault is an American that's comfortable with being a foundation for oligarchy. Ignorance is a luxury that only serves to afford our marginalization, and those who propagate it are heralds of a future that wishes to erase our ability to influence it.

This is not a defining moment for the question of whether we'll recapture the political process that's abandoned us. This moment defines whether we're capable of seeing that we should fight. The character of this country is on trial, and we're all witting and unwitting participants in how its longevity will be assessed. I choose to be conscious of my participation. Just as I choose to stand with those who envision this country's evolution over its corporate ownership. Our self-appointed overlords have made their move. They've chosen to assert that their right to own us overrides our right to question the extent of that ownership. Our political inaction is their weapon.

There are those who think that democracy is only valid or interesting when it's exercised in the Middle East. There are those who think that handling our affairs is exclusively defined by debating what to cut. There are those who are apathetic to the pain of what they propose, just as they're apathetic to the enormity of what they ignore. Those people have chosen their place, and it is not with you. It is with a future where America is China.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Wages of Civic Nihilism

The resurgence of conservative and libertarian-fueled Republicanism is not an excuse to embrace Manichean thinking. Its continuance as a dominant political philosophy is a collective sin; one which draws its energy and roots from parties that remain as our brothers and sisters. The wrongs that feed its presence don't merely begin with those who stalwartly propagate and apologize for evil. Their genesis is in the segment of the politically conscious electorate that took insufficient liberalism as an excuse for protest voting and civic disengagement. Irresponsible journalists and hyperbole fueled hysteria have subtly and directly augured a new equivalence that's equally as duplicitous and mistaken as the assertion that the Democrats and Republicans are equally right and wrong in different ways. The equivalence that confuses superficial similarities for evidence of no difference.

This strain is not new, but the practice of its current form needs to be looked at for what it is: a lever through which Republicanism gains traction. That strain does not call for or support evil, but it's complicit in its existence. No amount of slogans or protestations of "independence" and "standing for your principles" can change that. Portions of the left cannot unrelentingly call Obama a "continuation of the Bush presidency", "a bought and paid for stooge of Wall Street and the Koch brothers", "a DINO" or a "secret conservative" and think that they're doing anything but saying that the empowerment of Republicans will lead to the same results as the empowerment of Democrats. This is not just wrong. It's disastrously wrong. And it's a wrong that's acted as an extension of the magical thinking that's surrounded Obama's candidacy since his election.

Liberalism has become spoiled. It's forgotten that before a government can work better, it must first work period. The failure of Obama to descend from the sun and act as anything but a maintainer of the status quo isn't the fault of Obama or even the process. It's the fault of a liberalism that assumed that advocacy and the expectation of results should begin and end with the election of one person. It's the fault of a liberalism that assumed that "pressure" was the same as adopting the argumentatively specious exaggerations of conservatism with a progressive framing. And what's more, it's the fault of a liberalism that marginalized itself by declaring itself an enemy of the system instead of informed advocates for its improvement.

There's a malignant strain of liberalism informed by a malignant strain of liberal journalism that's mistaken what they want for what they can have. The political impotence resulting from their hubris stems not from systemic bias, but from a liberalism that sought to declare that the system denied them the fruits of victory before they ever even tried to fight. Again and again we saw assertions floated about what "should" happen with absolutely no feasible discussion of how it could happen. And when they discovered that assertions of righteousness weren't enough to uproot interests that have been entrenched for decades, they figured that the span of two years was too long to wait. This didn't merely coax their argumentative collapse. It birthed a temper tantrum disguised in a simplistic axiom: "because both sides are denying our opinions, both sides are denying them for the same reason and thus, are equal!"

This logic is fundamental to the case of the newly appointed Purity Police, but delusion has blinded them from concluding that the apathy their logic inspires isn't a seed for revolution. It's the soil that gives Republicanism room for growth. Republicans don't just appear with gubernatorial and congressional authority. They need supporters. More importantly, they need people who fail to oppose them. And the Purity Police act as vanguards for the civic withdrawal that passively allows their presence under the pretense of being "independent" and saying "neither party supports me". What they've forgotten is that whether their perspective is true is immaterial to the question of whether it's responsible. It's not. And because they've made "standing for your principles" more important than the people "standing for your principles" hurt, we live in a reality where one party can declare that a fetus has more rights than a woman while saying that freedom of assembly doesn't exist, and they can cry "they're both the same!".


When we're beset by radicals and regressive sociopaths, your choice to sit out an election or make your vote functionally useless is a choice that empowers the people that think that Americans don't get a seat at the same table as our employers. A vote for nothing is a vote for the default, and if the default goes to the Republicans, their presence is something you have to live with, because you did nothing materially helpful to stop it.
Republicanism is the consequence of a perspective that makes elections "principled stands" that "send a message to the parties that don't support you" by either not voting, or not voting for someone with a reasonable chance of victory. Republicanism is the consequence of a segment of the population that confuses elections for intellectual and political gimmicks. It's the consequence of people who disrespect the electoral process and take the basic functioning of the system for granted. And who do it at the expense of everyone - including themselves.

The belief that be-all-end-all elections are mechanisms for political activism instead of reflections of successful political activism is one of the most corrosive byproducts of America's civic laziness. Instead of making an argument, persuasively articulating it to the masses, organizing, getting people to agree with it and rally around it as an issue, we've internalized the entitled mindset which presumes that the only thing we have to do to politically express our perspectives is vote. We've made the simple act of drawing a line on a ballot the primary expression of political thought.

It's been collectively forgotten that no one is obligated to hold your perspective. Just as it's been collectively forgotten that it takes more than fussing at screens and calling non-anarchists corporatists to create political movement. The understanding that it's up to us to argue for ourselves instead of having Big Time Political Figures argue for us has been lost. And in our search for a leader, we've abandoned the conclusion that we should be leading. In a democracy, the actions that give power are not the most important. The actions that create power are. Elections are not changed by rejecting their relevance just because we don't love the people we're voting for. They're changed by evolving the discussion between elections. In the absence of the will to do that, you vote for the party that preserves the system over the party that dismantles it, and you do it until you can make a better party that serves the same function.

Historical turn-out being higher in Presidential elections is absolutely no excuse to sit-out midterms. The Republicans are here not just because their dying electorate turned out in greater numbers. Republicans are here because there are Democrats who stayed at home and independents who thought that "dissatisfaction" was an excuse to say "well, I guess it's the Republican's turn". When we vote, we don't need to think in terms of what we "could" or "should" have. Not when a vote can prevent the party that advocates the collapse of our most basic and least controversial rights. "Less bad" is not just a responsible choice in this context, it's the only one. Our suffering is the result of those who found elections to be podiums to ignore that, and those who offered the philosophical basis for that negligence.

Edit: I shouldn't have to make this caveat, because anyone familiar with this blog or my writing should know that I think this:

It is absolutely not wrong to hold Democrats accountable and try to push/advocate your view. I do it constantly. That's not just a good service, it needs to be done with as much frequency as circumstance warrants. What I reject is the argumentative dishonesty and irresponsibility that fails to put that criticism in perspective. To simplify: "Democrats suck" is a logically valid and perfectly acceptable position to take. "Democrats suck as much as Republicans and are just like them" is not. It's not factually supportable, it's not sensible, and anyone proclaiming that it's the only view that reasonable, non-partisan, n
on-Obot, Real Independents can hold is lying to you or engaging in contemptibly sloppy argumentation.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

They've Gone Too Far

Governor Walker's decision to effectively and legally remove all unionizing and bargaining power from the workers of his state wasn't a call to war against Americans and our ability to effectively use political measures to challenge a selfishly entrenched establishment. It's simply the final straw in a war that was already underway. Conservative judges are speciously and dishonestly challenging the premise that healthcare reform is constitutional. Conservative legislators are mounting a concerted attack on women by giving doctors the authority to let women die over giving them an abortion in emergency situations, defunding Planned Parenthood - which gives a plethora of uncontroversial services which saves the lives of the millions of women without threatening them with bankruptcy - and a failed attempt to redefine rape so that pregnant women would be forced to have their rapists child. Conservative executives/governors like Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Rick Scott are slashing any and all funding that relates to our livelihood, job security, job/economic growth and our ability to politically contest them and the world watching every second of it. We're watching every second of it. And what we're seeing is the last trace of blood being drained from America's progressive advances from a party with absolutely no mandate to do it.

They didn't think to inform us of their intents when they were campaigning. They didn't think to tell us before they started doing mass-budget slashes in the middle of union busting that electing them was the embrace of a false choice between serfdom or starvation. They just assume that philosophical principle and a single election cycle gave them carte blanche to overturn nearly a century of labor precedent while eradicating the only non-labor alternatives we have to maintain a survivable standard of living. This is an unconscionable, unjustifiable overreach and it's as disgusting as it is concerted. I understand that elections have consequences, and as a political loser in the previous election during a period when those who philosophically align with me were being stupid, I accept them. What I do not accept is that the previous election - or any other - is a signal to suddenly - and without debate, dissent, qualification or reason - rewrite the fabric of American livelihood.

The labor movement gave us the concept of paid overtime, minimum wage, safety laws, retirement, family and medical leave, collective bargaining, but more importantly, the labor movement gave us the middle class - the backbone of America's economic might and longevity. You don't suddenly declare a false, self-contributed economic crisis after a 100 million dollar benefit/pay concession from unions, and then assume that's a reason to just rip it out of American consciousness. In Republican willingness to give tax cuts to rich people while running gigantic deficits (which everyone else suffers for), they've forgotten that our economic straits are the byproduct of a Ponzi economy constructed by the amoral greed of people rich enough to pay the government for get-out-of-jail cards. Unions are not the cause. State overspending on entitlements are not the cause. The average American is not the case. But they're seeing the aftermath of the financial crash that decisively discredited plutocracy, and oligarchical capitalism as their opportunity to make those virtues permanent, and they're perfectly willing to starve us and strip away our most basic rights to do it. I reject the premise that they have that authority. And so should every American.

They're spitting on the American public with the contempt built up from decades of failure and philosophical impotence. Their righteousness is confirmed by their echo chamber. Their flaws are concealed by a corporatist, aristocratic media establishment. And their wrongness is accentuated by the delusions they've fed to legions of their truest believers. But the strength of their assault shouldn't veil its desperation. If they thought they could do this legitimately, they would. But they operate through subversion, deception and manipulation when they deign to do anything at all, so we should start seeing this for what it is: the final gasp of a movement with no real solution beyond the forced, avoidable degradation of our living standards. Their miscalculation is that they think they can use this false mandate to give their unaccepted policies and unsupported arguments a legitimacy that society hasn't accorded it. Their undoing will be in the assumption that we lack the teeth to bite the hand that's feeding us bones while promising meat.

This isn't the Gingrich or Bush era. Internet organization isn't outside of our imagination or a floundering concept in its infancy. They cannot do this and hide. What's more, they cannot continue this and get away with it. They've made this more than political. They've made this more than an honest disagreement between multiple parties who have reasonably divergent views. They've made this more than a practical or necessary measure. They've made it personal. And by doing so, they're cementing the radicalization that Obama's presidency made dormant.

These recent events don't call for centrism, or restraint. They don't even call for an exclusively partisan embrace of the Democrats. They call for anti-Republicanism. They call for pro-labor liberalism. They call for a liberalism that assumes that a social safety net should be a societal guarantee and not some abstract privilege for rich people to negotiate away when they feel like adding an extra billion to their profits. They call for a liberalism that assumes that the government's primary responsibility is the resistance of plutocracy, not subservience to it. They call for a liberalism that assumes that we've paid our fair share to the rich and we've suffered on their behalf for the last time. They call for a liberalism that assumes that now's the time for them to acknowledge that.

But first, we have to acknowledge that we have a philosophical stumbling block that fancies itself as a wall. There are still reasonable conservatives, and good Republicans. There will always be reasonable conservatives and good Republicans. But honesty should compel us to admit that the most reasonable ones have abandoned all that the party stands for long ago, and what it currently represents and what it speaks for either represses or perverts the good that exists in it. Nothing can happen as long as Republicanism is a dominant political option. It has long since gone past merely "wrong". It's become evil - and I do not use that word lightly. They're morally bankrupt, insurmountably corrupt, profoundly irresponsible, insufferably incompetent and utterly, thoughtlessly callous.
While it's true that these faults are bipartisan, only one party has embraced them as inherent features. What recent events demonstrate is becoming clearer with every day that passes without the slightest hint of reflection or concession. The Republicans don't just need to be defeated: conservatism needs to be permanently exiled from political consciousness.

It has brought us less than nothing as a social, political or philosophical model, and its almost religiously inflexible application has brought us completely avoidable pain. What's more, it's acted as a mechanism for the unaccountable wealthy and affluent to exert unchecked influence on our dialogue, at our expense without giving us the power to respond to the same degree. This was permitted because they always fielded politicians who were just stupid enough to weaken us but not stupid enough to do it swiftly or openly. But the media-created Tea Party sensation has caused them to let their useful idiots outpace their propaganda, and True Believers without the duplicitous vetting have been elected in place of the normal pro-plutocracy order. What I call evil is little more than the purest and most honest expression of Republican policies and their end results.

It means a state of being where a woman's uterus is state property. It means a fiscal discussion that makes sure that the standard of living for everyone is lowered for the sake of raising the finances of the wealthy - regardless of our capacity to pay for it. It means that civil liberties are situationally negotiable. It means that minority protection against institutional bias should never exist. It means that something as constitutionally basic as freedom of assembly is something to remove for unions that are perceived to vote Democrat, but preserved for unions perceived to vote Republican. It means that food and a place to live and a place to work are privileges to be stripped at leisure instead of reasonable expectations. It means that research and investment in the future of our infrastructure and technology is unthinkable. It means that lowering the standard of living for American citizens is more responsible than encouraging economic growth. It means coaxing extremism, racism and bigotry through lies and manipulation and then acting shocked when people assume you want others to act on it. It means denial of facts, denial of opposition, and an inability to compromise. It means making the foundations of our human security something that's open to question. It means the casual removal of every form of advanced distinction that conservatives rhetorically manipulate through the language of exceptionalism.

They have gone too far. And I'm no longer stoically disgusted by their policies.

I am angry.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Life As A Political Abstraction

As a preemptive corrective to populist backlash and as a means of insulating their arguments from the meaning of their arguments, austerity debates maintain an air of constant euphemism. They're entirely open about the presence of debt and a deficit. They're open about their belief that it's a problem that needs to be addressed now - often with apocalyptic undertones. They're open about their solutions primarily involving cuts to education, social safety nets, scientific research, infrastructure and regulation. Why, they're even open about how much will be cut and from what - sometimes with the benefit of figures. It's just simple math, isn't it? If we spend more than we make, we run a deficit. If we have to borrow money to offset spending we can't afford, we're in debt to whomever or whatever we borrow from. We have a fiscal obligation to pay it back with whatever means necessary, as soon as possible - or else we invite economic instability as our creditors lose faith in our ability to compensate them.

And that is exactly how the euphemism works.

I spent an entire paragraph describing a series of problems and solutions that would cause the labor market to implode (resulting in mass job loss), prices to go up (resulting in mass unaffordability), further weaken our already weakened infrastructure/job creation/social safety net and lower our overall standard of living. In this scenario, people would lose their homes, their credit, their basic means of survival, and even the regulations we use to test the viability of our food/water. A solution was outlined that would encompass all of that without ever informing you about the broad, human effects of such proposals; and that's the function of our austerity euphemisms. If this becomes a matter of "responsibly" cutting money, you avoid the discussion about the effects of cutting livelihood.

They shape a reality that doesn't just evade the presence of human repercussion; it goes out of its way to remove the idea that humans are being discussed when we propose defunding the FDA, social security and medicare/medicaid. If we're just numbers and the measures to handle our finances are just numbers, then whatever suffering we endure as a result of their "responsibility" would also just be a number. By divorcing their proposals from the face of what those proposals look like, they evade the very concept of consequence.

It's easier to avoid outraged protests when the people living from inadequate pay check to inadequate paycheck are spoken of in clinical "x out of every x are y" terms, and the reasons for that are simple. It's one thing to watch a mother describe her failure to feed and educate her kids because of newly enacted budgetary measures. But if she becomes a faceless, nameless number - indistinguishable from any other - the empathy elicited from her avoidable plight vanishes, and she becomes just another statistic to forget when you find the next shiny thing. The discussion is as much contingent on erasing the possibility of thinking about economic matters on these terms as it is about persuading you to reach their conclusions.

The human dimension to their solutions isn't to be gravely discussed and contemplated. You're not supposed to measure the morality of starving someone against sitting on an eventual surplus in 5-10 years. You're not supposed to wonder if our obligation to provide shelter for aged American workers outweighs our obligation to pay debt to foreign countries. No. Their first goal is to make pain invisible. Their next is to make it a statistic. After that, it's status quo.

A charitable reading would assume that this is another expression of the class disparity between the aristocratic Washington Beltway culture and broader American culture, and I can see how that's arguable for some of the dimmer, more sycophantic careerists and yes-men. But much as I'd like to attribute this to elitist indifference and ignorance, I can't. There's something painfully deliberate about the perspectives that have become canon in all discussions about American fiscal policy. The push to be "serious" about the budget and to "be the grown up" and "make the tough decisions" is too pervasive. Not simply for what it says about their superficial grasp of economic affairs, but for what they leave almost intentionally unsaid.

You rarely hear that revenue derived from taxes and economic growth (which can come from investment) are also deficit reduction measures (that worked in the Clinton years, no less). In fact, taxes doesn't exist at all for them as a "serious" solution. You never hear about the centrality of health care to the deficit, and how measures to address that with reform are amongst the most revenue-saving solutions attempted. You never hear about the bottom 50% of America owning only 2.5% of the wealth in this country. You don't really see them getting self-righteous about 20% of the country owning a whopping 85% of the wealth. In fact, a tax deal that shifted even more wealth toward the top 1-20% was widely supported by the beltway as a brave, bipartisan compromise (despite drastically increasing the deficit for limited material gain). One can spend hours documenting the incoherence of beltway rhetoric. At least until you understand that when you're talking about "tax cuts for the rich" you're talking about "tax cuts for politicians, their donors, and the media who covers them", and that when they talk about, they're talking about themselves. You can only call them indifferent or ignorant to the implications of their rhetoric if you think they don't know that.

They're activists posing as prophets, and their posture shapes everyone who isn't them into sponges that absorb the hardship of their proposals. The consequences become invisible because it's in their favor to make them that way. As long as they can avoid being counted amongst those who feel the burn caused by their fire, they can always go to someone else's neighborhood and have a teary-eyed interview with a homeless person before winding down for a hot bath in their mansion after work. The tonal and rhetorical shift to austerity serves to cleanse all gruesomeness from the reality they advocate. This is what they do. And the power of euphemism transforms the more we allow them to do it.

It evolves from a mechanism to say what they want to say without saying it, to a tool that erases the very thought that dissent is necessary. You think too small when you assume their goal is to manipulate your self interest. Their goal is much more elegant: they want self interest to be utterly foreign to any political interest you have. When you're characterized as figures; as part of a lingering, amorphous unemployment rate or a sympathetically discussed but swiftly glossed over foreclosure rate, or as "living in poverty", you become less than faceless. You become dehumanized. Ignorable. Immune to empathy. And easily forgotten.

As long as we think of "consequences" as something happening to an undefined and indistinct "them" or "other", we can avoid the chilling conclusion that such consequences will eventually extend to encompass us. But just us. As Yglesias insightfully pointed out, the politicians don't just insulate themselves from such a calculus, they make sure that the specific nature of our suffering is just enough to hurt us, but not enough to make us notice immediately. And they make sure their supporters are just as insulated from suffering as the politicians and media themselves are:

But if we are going to cut Social Security benefits, I think it doesn’t make sense to do what the Obama administration has done and make “No current beneficiaries should see their basic benefits reduced” one of the bargaining points.

After all, this isn’t how any other kind of benefit cuts work. When Obama proposes cutting oil and gas subsidies, they propose cutting them right away. When Obama proposes a nominal freeze in federal pay, he’s proposing a real cut right away. When LIHEAP gets the ax, it gets the ax right away. When Arizona cuts Medicaid, people can’t get organ transplants right away.

And on the politics, it’s a mess. Right now we have conservatives simultaneously calling for huge spending cuts and also getting the line’s share of old people’s votes even while the vast majority of non-security spending is on old people. In essence, by first separating the domestic budget into “discretionary” and “entitlement” portions and then dividing the entitlement programs up into “what today’s old people get” versus “what tomorrow’s old people will get” the political class has created a large and vociferously right-wing class of people who are completely immune from the impact of their own calls for fiscal austerity.
Isn't that a daisy?

What we've found in this debate is the ease with which people can demand that others sacrifice for the greater good. All taking place in a system where the nature of that sacrifice is rarely talked about and never seen.

As an aside, I just want to again note that the least regarded, the least discussed, the least understood and the least respected segment of America's electorate is forced - without so much as a say, or a request for an opinion - to act as a crutch for many of the incoming demands for austerity. They're not talking about cutting their own social security in their demands for budget cuts. They're talking about cutting mine. And while the lacking mention of taxes, jobs, economic growth and health care can all be attributed to the force of conservative rhetoric and the media's acceptance of it, it can equally be attributed to the continued marginalization of my generation.

It's common for us to get wide-eyed, passionate mentions as the "future of America" while President's verbally ruffle our hair. Equally common are the vague sentiments expressing the need to invest in us. But the truth is that as long as we don't politically organize and as long as we're seen as electorally negligible, we're the rug that the rest of the country sweeps its dirt under. Something tells me that in a situation where America's overwhelming amounts of youth are organized, tax increases for an upper class that can take them would like slightly better than losing a whole age demographic of voters by slashing any prospect of them getting retirement benefits. Our exclusion from the political levers of authority doesn't simply continue the stagnancy of our institutions, it makes us and our political repression just another story that's successfully erased from America's political consciousness. Doesn't that sound familiar?

Edit: The segue at the end of this essay was a recurring theme for many of last year's posts, such as this one:

We're politically positioned in a way that encourages, forces and creates our political impotence while rhetorically calling it our fault. They've internalized the "out of sight, out of mind" narrative while never wondering why we're out of sight or even recognizing that we are. Wilkinson's position comes from a place of ignorance that's not only fundamental to his exposure, but fundamental to politics generally. Younger voters can be caricatured precisely because they have little control over how they're presented. Politicians and pundits can give disproportionate favoritism and power to older generations without recognizing that as what they're doing, and they can infantilize younger voters because beyond detached studies, it's not an issue they're informed about. And due to the impotence they've fed, it's not an issue they have to be informed about. Who, afterall, is going to react to a group of teenagers, young adults and college-age, inexperienced hippies complaining that someone was unfair to them?
And of course, there's this astute observation from an actual economist:

The answer, once you think about it, is obvious: sacrifice the future. Focus the cuts on programs whose benefits aren’t immediate; basically, eat America’s seed corn. There will be a huge price to pay, eventually — but for now, you can keep the base happy.

If you didn’t understand that logic, you might be puzzled by many items in the House G.O.P. proposal. Why cut a billion dollars from a highly successful program that provides supplemental nutrition to pregnant mothers, infants, and young children? Why cut $648 million from nuclear nonproliferation activities? (One terrorist nuke, assembled from stray ex-Soviet fissile material, can ruin your whole day.) Why cut $578 million from the I.R.S. enforcement budget? (Letting tax cheats run wild doesn’t exactly serve the cause of deficit reduction.)

Once you understand the imperatives Republicans face, however, it all makes sense. By slashing future-oriented programs, they can deliver the instant spending cuts Tea Partiers demand, without imposing too much immediate pain on voters. And as for the future costs — a population damaged by childhood malnutrition, an increased chance of terrorist attacks, a revenue system undermined by widespread tax evasion — well, tomorrow is another day.

Not to criticize Krugman since I wholly agree with this, but these debates - and the observations they produce - are really jarring in their omission of Millennials as active political entities. For us, "tomorrow" isn't some distant abstraction that takes place 10 years before or after we're dead. It's going to metastasize in the prime of our professional lives, and while it's not intentional, the fact that the actual people affected by that - who are alive and who vote - weren't so much as mentioned is a damning indictment to the generational imbalances in our press corps and political cultures. There are obvious details involved that are not at all obvious to these people, and that's because the debate rages by parties who are nominally deemed "adults". We're probably young enough to be the children of a vast majority of the figures talking right now, and it's with that misguided perspective that we're seen.

What they're doing to the poor and elderly potentially affected by these cuts has already been to us. We've been wiped from the conversation unless some rare soul seeks to mention us as a stray side note - and always from an angle that relates exclusively to boomers and their antecedents. "These cuts are for your children and grandchildren" etc, etc. I again emphasize that this is not Krugman's fault, but there's something pernicious about a blindspot that fails to mention us - as liberals often do, or that claims to speak for us and think about us without ever representing anything that we'd do or want - as conservatives often do. It's endemic to the beltway's political culture and not a single person in it - including what few prominent Millennials it has - seems to be saying anything.