GOP Split Over the Debt … However the debt-ceiling standoff is ultimately resolved, the trench warfare between House Republicans and the Democratic president has shown the country that the GOP is caught between its antigovernment fervor and the need to keep the lights on. – Newsweek
Dominant Social Theme: The Republicans are always too radical for their own good.
Free-Market Analysis: This is a perfect Newsweek article by new editor Tina Brown – pitch perfect. The trouble is that the pitch is from decade ago. The sociopolitial and economic conversation has moved on, but it seems Tina Brown and Newsweek are stuck in the 1990s.
The writer of the article is the well-known Howard Kurtz. Kurtz has had a varied and high profile career as a media reporter. He has hosted CNN's Reliable Sources program, and is currently Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast and Newsweek. He's been labeled the country's "most influential media reporter."
But Kurtz, too, is stuck in the past. This has more to do with the Internet than with a specific economic or social issue. Let's take a look. Once we analyze it, we can understand it better. Bill Clinton was the first Internet president, and he nearly lost his job when Matt Drudge broke the story about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
The reason Drudge reported on the story was because Newsweek, armed with the same information, wouldn't write the article. The Drudge story set off a furor that hasn't stopped to this day. That was the moment that the US mainstream media ceased to be effective gatekeepers.
No longer would TIME Magazine send reporters around the world paired up with CIA agents to make sure that the reporting suited US interests. The CIA's Project Mockingbird still enmeshes the largest mainstream publications in its grip, but the Internet is far less controllable than print media, simply because any single individual with a compelling story can attract an audience. There are too many scribes and not enough handlers.
Soon it was George W. Bush's turn. He was fairly leery when it came to the press. After 9/11 his administration took to managing the news closely. It didn't matter though. Bit by bit, piece by piece, Internet "citizen journos" – the ones sitting in the basement in their pajamas – took his administration apart.
The 9/11 coverup, the faux-compassionate conservatism, the failing, murderous wars and big government approach to the economy – all were duly noted and reported on day-by-day, not by big mainstream publications, but on the Internet on a variety of websites and blogs.
Bush left office with a popularity rating in the high teens or low 20s. Even now he mostly restricts his speech making to military bases and highly partisan conservative gatherings. The larger electorate – both Republican and Democratic – had had enough.
Riding a wave of revulsion, Barack Obama was swept into office promising hope and change. A little more than two years later, Obama's presidency is already in tatters. His approval ratings are supposedly in the low 40s but in reality they are probably lower than that based on the absolutely vicious vituperation on the Internet surrounding any mention of his name.
Obama is the third Internet president, and with each cycle, the disaffected electorate – understanding the dysfunction of the larger political cycle – has grown more impatient with business as usual. The Tea Party movement should be seen in this context. It is a post-Internet development, born out of people's anger at the failure of the system and their ability, finally, to perceive just how dysfunctional it really is.
The Republican Party tried hard to take over the Tea Party and the mainstream media tried just as hard to anoint leaders that could be controlled. But they might as well try to catch quicksilver. The Tea Party cannot really be controlled because it is not a "movement" in the formal sense. It is an expression of what people are feeling during what is rapidly turning into an inflationary depression – a process we refer to as the Internet Reformation.
It is a broken system that has delivered America endless war and growing unemployment; taxes but no solutions; price inflation but no wage hikes. The foreclosures keep rising and fewer and fewer believe the bad times have ended, no matter what government statistics say and how many PR appearances Fed officials make.
Supposedly less than 10 percent of the workforce may be out of a job, but probably joblessness is double or even triple that. Whole families are sleeping in their cars; middle America's rust belt has continued to disintegrate and municipalities are beginning to run out of money. The bad times creep ahead.
Obama is the third Internet president. Two Democrats and one Republican have presented their case electronically as well as through the mainstream media and have been found wanting. The mainstream political system is out of chances. Out – as in not having the benefit of the doubt for one more cycle. Out – as in no more business as usual.
This has nothing to do with fashion, or with the necessity to find more attractive candidates. People are fed up with both parties. They don't want government to work better; they don't want government to pass more laws; they don't want congressmen to come together in a spirit of bipartisanship.
The rhetorical mythmaking of the mainstream media is missing the point. The Tea Party is not "proactive" within the context of the 20th century – no matter how the powers-that-be would like to make it so. Many in the Tea Party don't believe government is the solution to their problems. They believe it IS the problem.
This corrosive doubt about the political system is an Internet legacy. It is the result of traveling through electoral cycles with two parties and seeing that there are few differences between them. This is in fact why the GOP Congressional leaders are so desperate when it comes to raising taxes to address the national debt. Rhetoric doesn't make any difference these days. People saw the reality for eight years with Bush. The GOP doesn't have any more leeway.
According to polls, a majority in America now believe that only a third party can make a legitimate difference. Libertarian Conservative Ron Paul will be a major factor in the upcoming presidential race – even without any significant mainstream media coverage or mainstream funding. People are simply fed up.
Does Kurtz understand this? He seems disconnected. The tone he takes is moderate and slightly chiding. He mourns that Republicans have even turned on their own, hounding Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for coming up with a compromise proposal that would allow President Obama to raise the debt ceiling – and "own it."
He thinks this is probably the way out of the quandary. He is surprised that Tea Party "leaders" are so ungenerous about McConnel's proposal. "McConnell needs to be sent home," says Mark Meckler, cofounder of Tea Party Patriots. "It's an embarrassment. It's an abdication of governing responsibility."
Kurtz finds Meckler's attitude unsettling, writing with amazement and some disapproval that he is "just as dismissive of such House GOP leaders as Speaker John Boehner for their willingness to compromise." He quotes Meckler as saying that, "These guys are out of touch with reality."
For Kurtz, Meckler is a kind of rube who doesn't understand the game. Kurtz is more comfortable with McConnell, who does. The Senate Minority Leader first broached his plan with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Kurtz writes approvingly. Reid "promised not to trash it" and thus McConnell continued – as he should have.
Kurtz is apparently rooting for McConnell. He thinks things have gone too far – that extremism is out of control. He quotes Bruce Bartlett, a onetime aide to Ronald Reagan, as saying that "Reagan couldn't get elected dogcatcher these days. He raised taxes at least 11 times. Back then you had responsible adults in the Republican Party who put the country over partisanship." Here's the end of the article:
… Brinksmanship could undermine the party's electoral self-interest. It was precisely that concern that led McConnell to craft his fallback plan. Already under pressure from business groups to make a deal on the debt, McConnell privately concluded that every group – seniors, veterans, military families – would side with Obama if a default tanked the economy.
"Republicans would get reamed," a GOP official says. "The default crowd doesn't get that." The upshot is that Republicans will head into 2012 with their presidential candidates in the mold of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who has become the face of the negotiations by denouncing every plan with a whiff of revenue hikes, including one backed by Boehner, Cantor's ostensible boss. Obama, meanwhile, will portray the party as risking economic chaos to protect the rich.
The schism in the GOP is mirrored by divisions in the Tea Party movement. Matt Kibbe, president of Freedom Works, wonders why Republicans refuse to take "yes" for an answer. "When Obama is talking about trillions of dollars in spending cuts," Kibbe says, "we've changed the conversation." And that, says historian Richard Norton Smith, underlines the paradox of today's Republican Party: "When you think how far things have moved in the last six months, they won. Why can't they accept that fact?
"They" can't accept that fact because a compromise would mean that business-as-usual rolls on undisturbed. For many people radicalized by the Internet and the information on it, a default is preferable to "negotiated" solution when it comes to the debt ceiling.
This is something Kurtz doesn't understand and the GOP understands only dimly. But the freshman class, elected by Tea Party activism, does understand it. There is probably a sizeable electoral group that is actively rooting for a default – absent Draconian cuts in the federal budget.
Kurtz's article is a 1990s article. It is an article about the passion of the electorate to "make a change" and create a constructive solution. But this is a 2000s crowd. The cycle has move through constructive solutions. It has moved past hope into the territory of anger – and even despair.
For Kurtz, the well-meaning politicians on the Hill embody the best that America has to offer. For more and more in the electorate these are people who have brought the US endless war, a ruined currency, a tidal wave of job-destroying legislation and a money system that prints trillions for "fat cats" while leaving the average person struggling to cope with ever-shrinking resources.
The combination of the economic downturn and the truth-telling of the Internet has created an increasingly volatile situation in America and throughout the West. The debt-ceiling problem may be solved shortly but the radical sentiments of alienation and outrage that it has produced will remain. They will not go away – even as some US$200 trillion of unfunded US obligations (an impossible number) will not vanish either.
An empire that has been built around the American people while they slept, and it is beginning to become undone. People are seeing through it and past it. Kurtz looks at the American electorate – the disabused, angry part – and doesn't understand why it is not content with victorious compromise. He doesn't understand that for a growing number of American voters especially in the "Red States" it is not about the solutions that compromise can yield. It is about Answers. And the current system has none. He simply doesn't comprehend the expanding Internet Reformation. His articles will be as well written and thoughtful as ever, but they will continue to miss the point.