Politics

04.07.14

Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush & the Politics of Exhaustion

For partisan and media elites, ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past,’ which means with these two candidates likely to lead the race in 2016, the future doesn’t look so different.

As if we need it, here’s extra proof that contemporary politics is more thoroughly exhausted than adult actress Lisa Sparkxxx must have been at the end of her record-setting roll in the hay at the 2004 “Eroticon” in Warsaw, Poland.

The Washington Post reports, “Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.” For once, I found myself agreeing with Jesse Jackson. Can’t we just “stay out the Bushes” this one time at least?

On the other side of the aisle, it’s a given that Hillary Clinton is not only the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the only possible Democratic nominee anyone can name with a straight face (sorry, Joe Biden, but this just ain’t your century any more than the 20th was). “There was a Bush or a Clinton in the White House and cabinet for 32 years straight,” notes Maureen Dowd at The New York Times, whose headline writer adds, “Brace Yourself for Hillary and Jeb.” As it was, it shall always be. About the only cause for optimism is that there’s no Kennedy in the mix.

At least Lisa Sparkxxx participated voluntarily in her own screwing. For the large and growing plurality of Americans who identify as independent, there’s seemingly no way to opt out of the compulsive-repetitive disorder among legacy media types and partisan string-pullers. What is it that Faulkner said in Requiem for a Nun (1950)? “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Who knew that he was talking about politics in the goddamned 21st century, not Yoknapatawpha County after the Civil War?

It’s not a mystery why elites would totally dig a retro contest between two of the nation’s least-appealing families. It would mean that zombified pundits such as David Gergen, whose lack of cogency is directly proportional to the number of administrations in which he served, could push off retirement a few more years and writers such as Dowd, who peaked in terms of what passes for wit and originality during the Clinton era, could recycle old columns as unashamedly as Cate Blanchet recycles plastic bags at the local Safeway. GOP and Democratic apparatchiks and their big-money enablers wouldn’t have to struggle with the grim and unavoidable fact that fewer and fewer of us are willing to identify with either party - even to strangers on the phone.

But for the large and growing plurality of us who are independents, there’s simply no advantage in putting up with this politics of exhaustion, of the elite’s fixation on characters and policies from the past. We need a reboot that’s not simply the same-old, same-old.

What we need is a politics that is willing to look forward and navigate looming dangers, rather than relitigate and settle old scores. What we need is a politics that is willing to discuss openly and honestly the absolute unsustainability of our entitlement state. Medicare, for example, is unfixable, with the number of enrollees expected to double by 2040 and the annual cost per enrollee to double as well, to around $21,000 per beneficiary. As it stands, payroll taxes, co-pays, and fees already cover less than half the program’s costs. Yet from virtually all Republicans and Democrats, all we get is either denial, avoidance, or demagoguing when it comes to entitlements.

What we need is a politics that is willing to look forward and navigate looming dangers, rather than relitigate and settle old scores.

Or worse yet, expansion of same. George W. Bush created the Medicare Part D, a prescription drug benefit that was as expensive as it was unneeded (when it passed, seniors were spending a whopping 3 percent of their income on prescription drugs). And Barack Obama created his signature health-care plan, which recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) research suggests will add more than $6 trillion to long-term debt (recall that the president promised not only that if you liked your plan you could keep your plan but that The Affordable Care Act wouldn’t add “one dime” to the federal deficit).

We need to discuss openly and honestly the failed foreign policy of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Does anyone seriously think that the Middle East is more stable than it was pre-9/11? Or that the government under either 21st-century president is safeguarding American civil liberties in a way about which we can feel confident? Immigration and tax policy are just as beggared and threadbare and awful. In the areas in which the country is actually breaking with the dead hand of the past—when it comes to pot legalization, say, or marriage equality—the change is coming at the state level and typically from outside traditional party politics.

It’s safe to say that discussion of these and other issues will not come from well-ensconced party favorites. As Democratic consultant Joe Trippi put it, “I don’t see Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton having a big fight over the NSA.” Or much of anything else that really matters. If they were willing to stage those sorts of debates, they wouldn’t be the establishment favorites.

No, change is going to come—if at all—from politicians who don’t fit neatly into their party’s establishments, or perhaps not even into a given party. I don’t share many of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) convictions, but he at least is talking about a presidential run for the right reasons. “I don’t wake up every morning, as some people here in Washington do and say, “You know, I really have to be president of the United States. I was born to be president of the United States,” he told The Nation recently. “What I do wake up every morning feeling is that this country faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression, and there is a horrendous lack of serious political discourse or ideas out there that can address these crises.”

On a very different part of the political spectrum, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was originally elected to office over the protests of Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is shaking up the settled dogmas of deficit spending, government surveillance of innocent people, and bipartisan willingness to deport immigrants who not only travel to America but dare to work for a living. Rand Paul—to the immense displeasure of major GOP funders and leaders—is doing extremely well in his early bid for the 2016 nomination.

More power to him. And to Sanders, and to all the other escapees from the Island of Misfit Politicians who dare to look to the future at the problems that are right in front of us rather than scour the past for one more retread who is literally and figuratively related to 14 of the worst years that our country has lived through. Characters such as Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul represent the future because they are actually looking in the right direction and they are following the rest of us who have evacuated exhausted partisan identities that keep us from moving forward as a country.