Deathbed narrations of decadent men fascinate us. These haunted, semi-lucid ravings attract us for their reflective melancholy that dissolves the gaudy veils of wealth and power around rotten cores of misgivings and dejection. Orson Welles created the anguished Citizen Kane who can only call for his childhood sled in his last minutes, and Carlos Fuentes set an entire novel in the dying words of the megalomaniacal tycoon Artemio Cruz. Seeing the finality of our end, often rudely unannounced, brings our suppressed uncertainties to the fore.
The best of government and the worst of government showed last week. In the wake of terrorizing shootings and nightmarish bombings, Boston summoned heroism. In the wake of Newtown and avalanches of gun violence, Washington mustered histrionics.
That the consummately professional and tirelessly effective law enforcement agencies working in Boston are overseen by such a disenchanting, dysfunctional, and disastrous bunch like Congress is unsettlingly uncomfortable, even beyond the usual cognitive dissonance endemic to Washington.
Washington is awash with apocalyptic prophecies of the national deficit as some sort of looming catastrophe. Casting themselves as clairvoyant Cassandras, politicians like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell call debts and deficits “the transcendent issue of our era.”
Deficit hawks, bolstered by self-interested billionaires like Pete Peterson, campaign for severe entitlement reforms, including raising the age at which seniors receive Social Security benefits. The fiscally austere mistake the deficit as a result of runaway government spending instead of weak demand caused by the recession, where deficits actually improve overall demand.
It is troubling when what was once macabre metaphor leaps into reality. The Bard eerily foretold the drone debacle some four centuries ago, when, in King John, Phillip Falconbridge imagines that, “some airy devil hovers in the sky and pours down mischief.” And death.
President Obama, flagrantly trampling over campaign promises to “usher in a new era of open government,” is comfortable constructing a misinformation machine of Orwellian proportions. Any other country maintaining a policy of outright disavowal of hundreds of secret strikes, keeping a classified kill list that includes teenagers, and assassinating its own citizens without trial would have long ago been condemned by the U.S. as undemocratic and totalitarian. Hell, America might have even invaded it by now.
“We sound increasingly out of touch,” bemoaned a self-flagellating report released last week by the Republican National Committee, endearingly dubbed the election autopsy by the national media. Although it seeks to remedy the Republican Party’s alienating, self-destructive zeal for ideological purity and near religious commitment to obsolescence, the report proposes disappointingly few policy changes, faultily focusing on the electoral mechanics of fundraising and primaries.
The Republican Party, firmly fixed in an echo chamber where dissent is anathema, is content with blaming the messaging rather than the message.