On the sage advice of my older brother, the topic at hand is The Triumph of Reactionary Politics. One small issue is I have only a small idea in mind as to what that means… but maybe that is not too big of a problem. One emendation is to add The Decline of Reasoned Policy to the first bit, in order to give the thing some measure of context. Let’s start with the first idea: What are the politics of reaction?
Two examples come to mind immediately, the debate on “gun control” and this madness about a “fiscal cliff” looming, promising Doom for all.
Beginning with the first controversy… Our country seems to follow an unwritten script whenever some hideous tragedy befalls the land. We have no idea we are going through the motions of recriminations, finger-pointing, laying blame around, or whatever else you want to call this kabuki theater where Dramatis Personae of the political culture land down their shaking fists, “Dammit! Something must be done! This is time for action!” and so forth.
Nowadays, We the People simply react to events like Newtown, Aurora, and other grisly incidents too numerous to recount. The waves of horror and revulsion and fear are completely understandable and warranted. Yet, driven by anxiety and limited information, we rush forward without a moment’s hesitation, in which to pause and reflect, to self-righteous Judgement. This appears to now happen every single time a deranged soul armed with military-style weapons massacres a group of innocents for no damned reason.
There is no time to think — after all, there are killers on the loose, stocking up guns and obscene high-capacity magazines in preparation for the final showdown — and, therefore, no time to realize that the Answers we demand are not going to be simple. During times of crisis, naturally people are going to want simple answers to the big Why? uttered by genuinely plaintive, justifiably trembling denizens of a non-stop Infotainment Superhighway that has no exit ramps for deliberation.
“We want action now,” we hear. In fact, there is nothing inherently wrong with that attitude. Surely we cannot do nothing about this problem, one in which the violent and crazed have such ludicrously easy access to the firepower of a small brigade strike force.
The dichotomy is presented as one of rights versus control, as if guns were the only part of the picture that really matter. The larger issue is our violent culture, how mental illness is treated, and the fact that our country has been at war against Terror for more than a decade, a salient factor that has profoundly influenced the culture of violence in which the previously unthinkable has been utterly normalized. Witness, for example, the still ongoing debate over the efficacy of torture, or the near-total acceptance of extrajudicial killing by remote control.
Maybe the spokesman for the National Rifle Association, during the course of his insane ramblings, had a point about video games — although, to be sure, that discussion is a slippery slope toward another unthinkable prospect: government censorship of popular entertainment. Along with the delusion of bureaucrats confiscating guns, the idea is a total non-starter.
In any case, a strong majority (54 percent) of the public says they support the N.R.A., which augurs well for the perennial pseudo-debate over the place of firearms in public life. Joe Biden, the quintessential American uncle, is heading up a “task force” that that organization has already dismissed out of hand because as far as they are concerned Biden is an “ideologue.” Of course, the representatives of gun manufacturers are not beholden to ideology.
Speaking of firepower, the powers that be are prepared to blast a hole in the economy for the sake of politics. On the evening of Dec. 28, the president ordered the Senators to their upper chamber to get their homework done. The House is expected to take some action on Sunday. Breaking with the strictures of Journalistic Objectivity, the New York Times reported that the Senate had come back, cutting short their family vacations, “to begin the business of doing nothing in particular.” The House is expected to make some motions toward making a deal today, right down to the wire.
Eventually, operating out of the instinct of self-preservation, Congress has to get its act together, at the last possible moment, to avert this self-imposed and utterly unnecessary damage to the economy, and is racing toward any solution to make their own deadline, according to the latest developments.
In an atmosphere of constant crisis, it is increasingly difficult for anything constructive to get done in an amount of time that allows anyone to think things through. Soundbites and posturing rule the day, and old things like reasoned discussion and patience are bystanders caught in a drive-by of partisan rhetoric.