America Has Some Serious Problems

23:06 Thu 02 Aug 2007
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I think next year’s US presidential election is going to be simultaneously important and irrelevant. Important for the obvious reason—electing another Republican would simply be insane, and getting that party out of power is absolutely necessary. Sadly irrelevant in the longer term because I don’t think that any of the Democratic candidates are really willing to tackle the major problems this country has.

Inequality is growing at an extremely fast rate, and is not being matched by a rising tide for all Americans. The recent growth of the economy contributed almost nothing to most American households. While most of our wages are stagnant, the ultra-rich have become even more shockingly wealthy.

The Katrina debacle showed how little the current Administration cares about helping Americans who are struck down by catastrophe, and how incompetent their services are. The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that American infrastructure requires a one point six trillion dollar investment—something it’s hard to see happening while the occupation of Iraq continues. That occupation has already cost more than a trillion dollars.

Health care is a massive problem, and most of the Democratic candidates appear to be suggesting fixes aimed at papering over the cracks, while what really needs to happen is the elimination of the parasitic HMO structure.

American dependence on gasoline is increasing, not decreasing. I recently saw an ad in the Wall Street Journal by one of the big oil companies, lauding their ability to meet this growing demand and celebrating this increased demand as if it were a great thing for the country. As oil prices increase—and they’re not too likely to do otherwise—dependence on oil will become more and more harmful, and that’s without even counting the environmental effects. Strict fuel economy rules, a massive increase in hydro/wind/solar power technologies, and a focus on mass transport are clearly necessary. I don’t see any candidates standing on that platform—instead they mouth platitudes about “reducing dependence on foreign oil” without discussing details, or while indulging in the fantasy of ethanol fuel.

The really frightening thing is how fixes, or at least helpful approaches, to these problems aren’t hugely radical. It may or may not be true that a complete dismantling of corporate capitalism is necessary to avoid an onrushing environmental catastrophe, but it’s clear that a lot of good can be done without going to such lengths. Better progressive taxation, enforcement of the tax laws on the rich, better rules against media consolidation, better regulation of various markets, establishment of a rational health care system, more scrutiny of lending practices, investment in public infrastructure (including roads), redirecting at least some defense money towards useful public works… that’s not exactly a radical’s platform. But I don’t see any of the likely candidates pushing more than at most one or two of those things. And even then I suspect they’ll compromise, ending up with toothless programs. (And I’m not even really addressing foreign policy here, but that clearly needs a major overhaul as well.)

The eight years of the Bush Administration have been horrific, absolutely horrific, for America. The people who have been in charge have been trying hard to deliberately wreck many of the institutions of government, and all of that will be tough to fix. It’s imperative to get them out so things don’t get worse really quickly, which will happen if the Republicans get back in. But will the Democrats be anything but a facade of reasonableness laid over the continuing crumbling of the United States?

2 Responses to “America Has Some Serious Problems”

  1. Lev Says:

    The title of you post is a contender for Understatement of the Year. While I disagree with many of your prescriptions, you have identified some of the key problems that will challenge whoever inherits the White House after the disaster of the Bush Dynasty. I suggest that you have a look at the one Democratic candidate who gives an honest appraisal of the state of the nation and has some very sensible ideas about how to address its problems: Mike Gravel

  2. Tadhg Says:

    Lev: I’ve had a look at Gravel, and in some respects he’s a lot better than the others. However, his support for the “flat tax” makes me very hesitant about giving him my support. Still, on balance he might be the best of the lot. I’m undecided at this point whether or not to support Kucinich in the primaries (I’m suspicious that his candidacy is just a sop to the progressive wing of the party, designed to keep them from leaving), and will consider Gravel when the California primary rolls around.

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