Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Commentary on New Year's Fiscal Cliff Deal: Entering New Year with Eyes Wide Open

The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman's sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; the hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh (Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall [NY: Picador, 2009], p. 566).

Noam Scheiber at The New Republic on the fiscal cliff deal pushed through Congress yesterday:

Instead, the emerging deal will reinforce the convictions that have made the GOP such a toxic presence in Washington. If Obama will cave even when he’s got all the leverage, when won’t he cave? Never, the Republicans will assume. 

Paul Krugman in The New York Times:

Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama’s previous behavior, can’t help but reach one main conclusion: whenever the president says that there’s an issue on which he absolutely, positively won’t give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way — and soon, too. The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn’t seem to be one that this particular president can grasp.

And also:

And his evident desire to have a deal before hitting the essentially innocuous fiscal cliff bodes very badly for the confrontation looming in a few weeks over the debt ceiling. 
If Obama stands his ground in that confrontation, this deal won’t look bad in retrospect. If he doesn’t, yesterday will be seen as the day he began throwing away his presidency and the hopes of everyone who supported him.

Alex Pareene at Salon:

It’s coming. Congress will obsess over crafting a long-term deficit deal no matter what happens with the tax rates and the sequester. In all likelihood, we’ll get regressive budget cuts at all levels of government, plus, for good measure, tax hikes not just on the rich but on working people. The well-funded “Fix the Debt” monsters will still demand massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Republicans are justifiably confident that they can use the debt ceiling to force more spending cuts less than a month from now. 

And so my opening quote from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (with a note of gratitude to TheraP for recommending this book at her Nothingness blog back in November): this is how deals are made. By two men in small rooms.

Forget the fanfare of elections and crownings. Our fate depends--it depends ultimately--on two men in small rooms. 

Our fate, the fate of whole peoples, depends ultimately on two men in small rooms. Cutting deals. Signing papers. Signing away the fates of nations and of planets.

Two men. In small rooms. Two men with shared interests. With the same fundamental perspectives on the world even when they disagree on the details of how to slice and dice power and privilege. Oblivious to the thoughts, interests, hopes, aspirations, dreams, insights of anyone but other men like themselves. 

Other men like themselves who sign away the fate of whole nations and whole planets in small rooms.

These are thoughts eminently to keep in mind if we wish to enter 2013 with eyes wide open, it seems to me. Via a popular mandate that extended to the House of Representatives, which is held by the GOP now only because huge infusions of big money from men signing papers in small rooms funded the gerrymandering of boundaries to keep the House Republican though a majority of voters elected Democratic House candidates, the nation's voters have asked for the wheeling and dealing of certain men in small rooms to be discontinued.

And yet it continues: Democratic men in small rooms, who purportedly represent the will of the majority in a democratic nation, continue to deal with the minority party as if holds majority veto power in that nation.

A president elected by a wide popular majority continues to negotiate with men who have created a bogus "fiscal cliff" crisis to keep the nation's feet to the fire for one reason and one reason alone: to preserve unprecedented tax cuts for the super-rich. So that the nation is held hostage to the whims of a very tiny economic elite, men in small rooms signing papers who determine the fates of nations and planets.

The president's willingness to bargain with a disempowered minority that holds no cards in its hands except that it is a tool of that all-powerful economic elite tells us that, when push comes to shove, he himself is one of those men most comfortable cutting deals in small rooms, signing away the fates of whole peoples, whole nations, of planets.

This is not a comfortable recognition for the rest of us to have as we enter a new year. And yet it is a sober one that those of us who care about our own fates, those of others (especially the old, infirm, weak, marginal, and poor), and of the planet itself must absolutely keep in mind as the new year begins, if we expect to have any future at all.

Our future, if it's to be viable, clearly depends on raising all the hell we have in our hands to raise as men in small rooms continue to reserve to themselves the right to sign away the fate of peoples and planets, even when they do not represent the will of the majority of the citizens of the nation whom they ostensibly serve as elected leaders.

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