Outside the usual celebrity circuit of marriage, divorce, betrayal, indecent exposure, and over-exposure, this years big stories centered on politics. But in all these political stories was a consistent tendency for major media voices (which must now include mocker Jon Stewart and ultra-ironist Stephen Colbert) to miss the real story that should run under the headline, or at least after paragraph one.
1. Health care reform. Big win for the Democrats. Yes? No. Media folks tend to think Americans should have supported this. Most Americans dont. So we witnessed lots of rumination on why Americans are letting politicians down. The fact that Democrats didnt listen to Americans, but instead to their own narrow band of policy pushers, was the story that screamed for the most attention. The health care victory cost Democrats control over the House of Representatives — arguably, an outcome worthy of attention.
2. The Bush Tax Cuts extension. Did the President cave in to Republicans, or . . . does it really matter? The inability to think rationally about tax rate adjustments comes in several forms. Its great to witness a few Republicans insist that Americans wealth is theirs, not the governments, and that Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. But Rs never get around to the spending problem — not significantly. Meanwhile, Democrats put on their fiscal conservative cap only on the matter of marginal tax rates, saying that the Rs favored cuts scuttle any chance to balance budgets. But when the Rs remind the Ds that the government actually collects more revenue with lower marginal rates (Laffer Curve and all), the Ds either go into denial or give a Clintonian shrug. This would be a crucial issue to resolve, youd think, if the Ds really wanted to increase revenue. But with the Rs stressing revenue, they look a less coherent on the spending issue. Besides, maximizing the governments take — is that really such a good thing?
3. Dont Ask/Dont Tell was struck down by the Senate, as if to prove that lame duck no longer holds meaning in todays politics. Not talked about is the seemingly never-ending sessions of Congress, these days, on the one hand, and the current sexual misconduct in our co-ed armed forces. The narrowness of the discussion seemed strange to me, and once again I got the feeling that the differences between Rs and Ds on these issues are not over principles so much as reflexive Were not the Other Guys positioning that makes up so much of contemporary partisanship.
This years issues not covered as Big were, perhaps, truly bigger:
1. State finances imploding. Multiple states, with California and New York making the biggest headlines, have proven themselves in financial ruins, and appear on the brink of bankruptcy . . . or whatever limbo is reserved for governments that cant pay their bills. Hidden beneath this undercovered story was the bigger story, of
2. Public-sector employee pensions. Underfunded, sometimes not funded at all. A number of news outlets have mentioned this — Reason magazine (and the Reason Foundation) has done heroic work putting it on multiple covers for several years now — but too few investigative reporters investigate, too few unearth how pervasive the problem is. Instead, media folks pretend that the big story is
3. Excessively tight budgets in state and local governments due (solely!) to drops in revenue, leading to impossible and scary cuts to essential government services. Were journalists to look behind budget categories and look to see how often current budgets are merely devoted to paying workers for their amazing benefits packages, it might spark a revolution . . . against public employee unions in general, and unfunded pensions and medical insurance in particular.
The big take from these stories? Politicians promise the moon while delaying discussion of funding their lunacies, and, in the end, deliver (at best) cheese.
There is some cause for hope, though. Citizens in the initiative states are increasingly active in gaining some purchase on their politicians wayward ways.
At the national level, the move away from Obamas too-much-more-of-the-same non-change and towards real change — in the form of less spending, responsibly balanced budgets, and against the giveaway, bailout, earmark mentality still pervasive in Washington — has been noticed as a big story, a pleasantly surprising victory for the Tea Party movement.
The recent crushing of Harry Reids over-porked omnibus bill shows that this movement has begun to have effect on even the lame duck Congress — who knows how far it can go, once the newly elected finally take their seats?
But this next Congress will simply stall — like previous ones — if they accept the lingo and mindset of todays simplistic partisan idea spectrum. They must break out of bad old habits, of more than one kind. They need to realize the real state of tension in the United States: Between normal Americans and the Overlord Class in the nations capital. Its not between Republicans and Democrats, red and blue America. Its between the bulk of the citizenry that pays the bills and the too-big-of-bulk factions that are running the tab sky high — and the country into the ground.
In 2010, the American people made history, while their politicians merely made the news.
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