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Wanted: Wartime Consiglieri

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I've been cured of my persistent fantasy that Americans can find common political ground if we try. Based on the evidence, I now believe the Right Wing's only happy to cooperate if we do everything their way and like it. So we're just going to have to slug it out. And to win, we need a wartime leader.

I have no idea who that will be; but that's what America needs.

I have J. to thank for this. J. is a retired real estate developer and paleo-conservative who started emailing me about a month ago. He gave me real insight into the problem, and proved to me that the Right is living in an alternate universe and can't compromise, because even when we agree on facts, their ideas produce completely different solutions

Our exchange began with real promise. We were seeking common ground and found it. Among other things, we agreed about where this country is headed and why. But when I asked him how to fix it he got brain freeze.

America's future is grim, we said, because modern medicine, the microchip, and satellite communications are creating a world in which retirees live for decades consuming expensive medical treatments, the microchip means most jobs can or will be done by robots, and satellite communications means production can be anywhere, so that decisions about where work is done in the future will be based on the cost of electricity and the cheapest, most intelligent workforce. Some people call the last two the Third Industrial Revolution.

Over time this Third Industrial Revolution may do what the previous two have done, and create more jobs than it destroys. But we don't know that, because today, so much work doesn't need human hands -- as you read this, there are robots designing other robots.

And not everyone is creative, a quality expected to be the backbone of America's future workforce. In any event, the first two Industrial Revolutions brought in their wake massive unemployment and social disruption.

If history is any guide, that could easily happen again. And if it does, here's what it could mean.

There are roughly 77 million people 55 and over in this country, roughly half the 320 million-strong population works, and the United States makes about half its living taxing salaries.

Let's say that until those new jobs are created, this process means 15 percent of the workforce is more or less permanently out of work -- not from some moral weakness but because the jobs don't exist. That's about 25 million people. Add those 77 million, retired or about to be, and all in, you have about a third of the population not paying taxes but needing services -- and a government being forced to shrink thanks to 30 years of Republican policies.

J. and I agreed that looked at that way, America's future challenge won't be how to maximize individual liberty. It'll be how to keep the lid on, because you simply can't have 25 million people running around the country with nothing to lose, and 77 million who can't necessarily defend themselves. At $22,000 a year, putting all 25 million Americans in jail would cost $550 billion.

This is where J.'s brain freeze came in. My own take here is that in dealing with this, America will become some sort of a Total State in which the Right's ideas about individual liberty, and respecting the Constitution, will have some real value. But J. wanted to leave it all to the free market.

It was his only idea; the possibility government has any legitimate role in this didn't seem to be in his mind. And he confessed he didn't really think the free market could do much about it, either -- he said he was willing to throw up his hands and move to New Zealand.

Unsurprisingly, the whole exchange collapsed in predictable slogans, and I'm as guilty of that as he was; slogans begat slogans. Some of his emails were just entertaining; at least one was too racist to show anyone. Together, they showed me what he's made of, which boils down to a bumper sticker that says, "I've Got Mine."

Now, J. built million square foot buildings in a big city. I covered that business for years, and let me tell, you -- those folks are intelligent and capable. They know the world and know how to be practical.

So when somebody like that can agree on the facts and either can't bring himself to step outside his political assumptions, or feels obliged to stick to the party line, I know the prospects of this country solving its problems are disappearing.

It's not enough to observe that the sides have different ideas about how to solve our problems. The Right insists that its facts -- tangentially tethered to reality or not--are the only true facts, while all others are mere lies. So any attempt to bridge the gap crumbles into "I know you are, but what am I?"

I can come up with explanations based on the human need for certainty in a changing world, and the attractiveness of a closed system that explains everything. And I can observe that most Right-Wingers are sincere patriots who want the best for their country. They are.

But I'm beginning to believe that simply doesn't matter; the Right will not budge and won't accept facts that don't suit its story line. They correctly point out that the federal debt is strangling our economy and unfairly burdening our grandchildren, but deny said debt was created by 30 years of Republican policies, or that doubling down on those policies will likely double the damage.

They may honestly believe their agenda is what's best to create a stronger, more vibrant economy, with more opportunity for all, and better able to maintain our global pre-eminence; but since the proof is in the pudding, and based on my correspondence with J., I'm coming to believe what they really want is what many on the Left have been claiming; a corporate state, no government services, and devil take the hindmost.

Behind all this, of course, is the fact that Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley threw the John Birch Society out of the Conservative Movement in the 1960s because it was crazy, but that it simply dug in and kept fighting, until it, or its extreme ideas, eventually took over the GOP.

This is a group that believes -- today -- that the Soviet Union's strongest and most reliable ally during the Cold War was the United States; in the minds of the Republican leadership, in other words, what most people consider reality is a canard; they think they know better.

The thing is, anything less than a Democratic sweep this November is unlikely to rid the body politic of this parasite. So we have to resign ourselves to years of more deadlock while the nation's problems fester.

All the country can do is work hard to minimize them, and hope they give up. But we can't just throw up our hands. It may be true this is their last hurrah, they know it, and that's why their recent memes have become so weird. But it doesn't matter; they've been telling us for decades that they're fighting a war for the soul of America, and it's time to take them seriously.

That's what my correspondence with J. taught me.

Visit me at my website, www.reinbachsobsserver.com.

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