Michael Cohen has written an eloquent but ultimately unsatisfying article on what's wrong with these United States. The gist of it is that Republicans are nihilistic sociopaths, Democrats are timid and unreliable and corrupt, and Americans across the political spectrum are spoiled brats who demand contradictory things and won't make any personal sacrifices to achieve them.
On health care, polls indicate that Americans want Congress to extend access, cut costs, and tame the insurance industry. But they don't want their own benefits affected, or government's role in the health-care system to increase, or be mandated to buy insurance. In short, they want change, but they reject the most commonsense means of bringing that change about and generally refuse to sacrifice for the greater good of society as a whole.As for the media, they'd rather flatter the public's vanity than deliver unwelcome news:
Making the situation worse is that political news coverage, rather than explaining the gulf between voter expectations and political reality, often panders to the electorate's misguided notions....Voters complain that Washington must do more to help the economy but in the same breath decry government's expanding role or misstate basic facts about their government and are given a virtual free pass by reporters who take "customer is always right" attitude toward the electorate.Well, sort of. Except that the media don't really take this attitude. Generally, the customers who are always right are the ones who agree with the center-right outlook on government and economics, which by an odd coincidence comprises the very same incoherent notions that Cohen decries. These voters get a "free pass" — whatever the fuck that means — not because they're customers, but because their self-defeating embrace of corporatist dogma makes them the authentic voice of Teh American People. As such, their opinions are the standard against which other viewpoints can be counted, weighed, and found wanting (which is one reason I cringe every time someone on "my" side pays pious lip service to this silly abstraction).
Despite everything, Cohen maintains a touching faith in our misguided population's willingness to embrace the truth when they hear it, and so he suggests this essentially homeopathic remedy:
Instead of feel-good rhetoric about everyday heroes or salesmanship about microtargeted proposals, which are the mainstays of the State of the Union, the president should speak unpleasant truths. That means condemning Republicans for their crude obstructionism and excoriating his fellow Democrats for their fecklessness. But, above all, he must explain to Americans that what they want from Washington cannot be accomplished if they are unwilling to countenance a larger role for the federal government—and remind them that the change they say they want is not possible without actual change and real sacrifice.So if I've got this straight, Americans don't want to hear unpleasant truths, let alone believe them, let alone act on them. And Republicans tirelessly obstruct any honest attempt to define our problems, let alone solve them. And Democrats are weak or traitorous or both.
Meanwhile, the media can be counted on to inform us that real Americans don't nohow cotton to all this girly-man gum-flappin' about "limits to growth" or "shared sacrifice" or "realism," on account of they know what they know. (Remember, though: it's not because the media have any financial or ideological interest in maintaining an anti-collectivist and anti-regulatory status quo. They just don't want to upset their customers by correcting them. Opinions are personal property, after all, and property rights are sacred, if anything is.)
But what does all this evil and ignorance and bad faith matter, next to the pretty vision of America as Sleeping Beauty, and Obama as the prince who'll wake her from her spell?
The president should take his own advice and be honest with the American people about the challenges the country is facing.Sure. And while he's at it, he should telekinetically levitate the Washington Monument, and hang it like the sword of Damocles over the Competitive Enterprise Institute. At this point, it seems like it'd be easier than taking advantage of a Democratic majority, high approval ratings, and the power of his office in order to make good on the campaign promises that got him elected.
Which is not to say that Obama shouldn't make an effort to acknowledge our root problems, assuming for the sake of argument that he actually shares Cohen's concerns, and is actually capable of being honest. If Obama comes out and says, "I don't think our system works. I think we've achieved a point of perfectly pointless hubristic stasis, and we're all going to die," no one will cheer his grasp of realpolitik more lustily than yours truly (except maybe for Thers). But I don't see how Cohen can seriously demand that Obama be honest about our troubles, when he himself refuses to acknowledge the economic logic behind the forces that make America "ungovernable" according to his worldview, and all too governable according to mine.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and fret officiously over the endemic corruption in Haiti.
(Link via Cheryl Rofer.)
UPDATE: You can find the text of the SOTU here. A mixed bag, overall, but I think the part where he said "Democrats will have to be the grown-ups and freeze spending long enough to get voted out of office, where Republicans will blow the budget all over again" should slake Cohen's thirst for unpleasant truths.