Robert Gates is not exactly what I would call a flaming liberal. Registered member of the GOP, he headed the CIA for two different Republican presidents.
In a speech recently he commented on the threat to America that the current total dysfunction in Congress represents. He did not use the metaphor, but I am willing to suggest comparing it to the legend of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
“I do believe that we are now in uncharted waters when it comes to the dysfunction in our political system–and it is no longer a joking matter,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told an audience two weeks ago at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where he received the Liberty Medal for national service. “It appears that as a result of several long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country. Thus, I am more concerned than I have ever been about the state of American governance.”
The remarks were first flagged by The Atlantic’s Jim Fallows, who noted the importance not just of the sentiment, but of who said it.
“I specifically recognize how carefully he has always chosen his public words,” Fallows wrote. “For such a person to say plainly that the American government has lost its basic ability to function, and that he is more concerned than he has ever been about this issue is … well, it’s worth more notice than it’s received so far.”
Gates led the CIA and the Defense Department under different Republican presidents before Obama reappointed to the latter job. So he’s not some fiery partisan. And he’s also not alone.
I think clearly related to this is the underlying cause, namely the insane concentration of wealth in the hands of just 1% of American citizens, accompanied by the destruction of jobs and manufacturing base that is leading to the death of the American Middle Class. Couple that with the refusal of this same dysfunctional Congress to do the simple and obvious, that is restore taxes on the super wealthy back to levels of just 10 years ago, and stop the crony capitalist welfare system that supports rich American corporations with subsidies and loopholes that result in them often paying little or NO TAXES AT ALL.
Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, in a recent column, supports this view.
Nonetheless, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.” My favorite, however, is Senator Rand Paul, who for some reason worries that the protesters will start seizing iPads, because they believe rich people don’t deserve to have them.
The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.
They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.
What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.
So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.