Last week, my newspaper column looked at how our media and political elites limit the scope of policy debates to very narrow, very ideologically driven parameters. In this Brave New World, the propaganda is somewhat subtle, in that there's no Big Brother overtly saying certain things can or cannot be discussed. Instead, it's propaganda and extreme ideology via omission and euphemism -- certain things get talked about in very vague platitudes, other things don't get talked about at all.
Case in point is the resurrected proposal to deal with the budget deficit by taking power away from our elected government, and giving it to an unaccountable "nonpartisan" commission empowered to slash expenditures as it sees fit, all under the veneer of pragmatic empiricism. This is a demand being made alternately by Sens. Joe Lieberman and George Voinovich, and by the loudest vote auctioneers in Congress, the "Blue Dog" Democrats. Here's how the Wall Street Journal's slavish D.C. bumlicker Gerald Seib describes it:
[The proposal] would establish a national commission to examine the nation's tax system and the mammoth entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare, and come up with a coherent way to pay all the bills coming due.
The commission would have 20 members from both parties, from both the executive and legislative branches, and would be charged with drafting a proposal to fix the long-term fiscal mess...
This may be the only way to cut through the parochial considerations that are causing fiscal problems to fester.
First, notice how the commission would be limited to balancing the budget only through tax "reform" and Social Security and Medicare spending "reform." This, of course, is far from empiricism -- it is extremist ideology unto itself. Somehow, a budget poised to spend $7 trillion on the Pentagon, $23 trillion on handouts to Wall Street, and billions more on ongoing corporate welfare subsidies must be balanced only through "reforms" to taxes and the two programs that care for the old and the sick.
We can thank Seib for putting it so plainly. Evidently, Congress isn't giving into "parochial considerations" when it hands Goldman Sachs billions of dollars to fund the company's executive bonuses. Apparently, there's no "parochial considerations" at work when a Vice President directs massive defense contracts to a company that still pays him. Clearly, there's no "parochial considerations" at work when defense contractors line lawmakers pockets in exchange for military pork projects. However, the two programs that undergird the basic health, welfare and retirement security of the general population of the United States? Sorry, that's a "parochial consideration" that must be dealt with harshly.
Of course, this absurd logic is precisely why the Washington Establishment knows it needs an authoritarian commission to do its dirty work.
You see, elected officials can't be expected to be able to go back home to voters and explain a plan to simultaneously slash Social Security and Medicare while preserving Pentagon waste and corporate welfare. Indeed, with polls already showing that the public thinks we're wasting way too much cash on bailouts and defense, if lawmakers come home with such a proposal, they'll get booted from office.
Put another way, basic democracy -- yes, the lumpen proles implicitly promising electoral retribution for those who prioritize corporate welfare over their retirement and health care -- is getting in the way of the Establishment's drive to divert cash from Social Security and Medicare into corporate welfare. And so the only way to make such an extremist plan possible is to empower a czarist commission to supercede Congress and completely circumvent democracy -- all in the name of noble, disinterested nonpartisan empiricists benevolently helping America "cut through parochial considerations."
The question is how much any of this will fool the country? It's hard to say, and I wish I was confident that the populace will pick up on the sleight of hand. But I'm not. The Political-Media-Industrial Complex is so fucking powerful these days, and Americans are so understandably busy just trying to survive the recession, that even the shoddiest and least convincing schemes could work. I sure hope they don't.