Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Magic of Politics

The Magic of Politics

“Senate Democrats said Monday that they would try for the fifth time in two months to raise taxes on top earners to pay for legislation that would reduce Social Security payroll taxes, as President Obama sought to keep Congressional Republicans on the defensive, asserting that their intransigence could cause a tax increase for tens of millions of American workers.

“With Republican and Democratic leaders deadlocked over the issue in both chambers, two senators offered a bipartisan compromise that they said could help break the impasse before Congress adjourns for the year.

“The proposal, devised by Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, would extend the current payroll tax cut for employees and reduce the employer’s share of the payroll tax as well. It would also provide additional money for highways, bridges and other job-creating transportation projects.

“It would offset the cost with a 2 percent surtax on income in excess of $1 million a year, but would carve out protection for many small-business owners who report business income on their personal tax returns.

“One of the primary objections to a surtax on very wealthy people has been its impact on small business,” said Ms. Collins, the only Republican who crossed the aisle and voted to take up the Democrats’ payroll tax bill last week. “That concern resonated with me. The fact that we have been able, in a bipartisan way, to come up with a means of protecting small businesses is potentially a breakthrough.” [If no one thought of this previously, it is because they did not want to think of it! “Breakthrough?” Yes, if you are a mental midget!]

“Mrs. McCaskill said the fact of a bipartisan agreement on the explosive issue of taxes was remarkable — “a huge part of the battle right now.” From the New York Times, December 5, 2011

You know, it is always hard to understand just what is happening in D.C. and this is not, for me, unintentional. While our politicians like to look like they are incompetent, they are not. In fact, they are very competent, only they are competent at hiding what it is they are actually doing. They are like magicians and for anyone interested there is a wonderful novel by Tim O’Brien entitled In The Lake of the Woods that enlightened me to this dimension of politics and politicians. The protagonist is a man named John Wade, who has taught himself magic and, when he goes to Vietnam, his fellow soldiers nickname “the Sorcerer.” And indeed he is as he can even make whole villages disappear! And this got me thinking: Isn’t this what politicians sell us all of the time, “magic?” “Hey, elect me and I will make poverty, drug use, left behind children, crime, illiteracy, racism, sexism…..disappear! I am a magician; I am the Sorcerer!”

Of course, this is not what our politicians are really doing. For O’Brien, they are playing out their “private issues” in the public arena, searching for love and affection, perhaps even redemption. I suspect that while this is true, it is not the whole story. They are also preserving the status quo, which means preserving above all else their own power and privileges, and the power and privileges of those who share them and, hence, understand them. Incompetence is more forgivable than manipulation for self-interested reasons and for the well-off and, as a result, our politicians don’t mind looking incompetent. [Ronald Reagan was a master at this magic show. “Golly gee, I did not suspect those Marines would get attacked!” Even Bobby Kennedy played at this game: “Gee, why did my brother, Jack, get killed? I didn’t realize that if you try to kill others they might try to kill you. I am so sorry!”]

The problematic phenomenon in D.C. is not incompetence; it is oligarchy, a carefully nurtured and concealed oligarchy. And one that treats us as if we were mushrooms: We are kept in the dark and fed shit!

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