Three Cheers for Gridlock

That little smoke-filled room where our despair and paranoia incline us to imagine a small number of evil people run the world clearly forgot to keep an eye on the Republican Party.

A popular movement has struggled to stop such looming disasters as the NAFTA-on-steroids Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but the ouster of John Boehner as Speaker of the House puts stopping anything into play. While scholarly studies deem the U.S. government to be an oligarchy, based on whom it actually serves, petty partisan squabbling just might come riding to the rescue of democracy — accidentally of course.

Boehner wasn’t insufficiently right-wing for the other Republicans in the House of Representatives, he was just insufficiently obstinate and insufficiently anti-Obama. The new Speaker’s mandate will be to oppose to the death anything Obama supports. Obama could publicly throw himself behind keeping Guantanamo open, and the place would be shut by Thursday.

See, from way out yonder beyond the Beltway we sometimes have to squint to see the difference between the two parties. But from their perspective, one party is on a holy mission while the other is evil incarnate. And the minority of Americans who still bother to vote tend to be disproportionately those who also manage to see a big difference between the two parties. So, candidates get elected with the rather stupid mission of first and foremost opposing anything the other party does.

The little-known-fact that usually makes this look like a silly charade but which, if it’s taken far enough, could just be our salvation, is that the two parties agree on most of the big stuff. They both want major job-and-environment-destroying corporate trade agreements, for example. They’ll scream at each other about abortion but ram those plutocratic deals right through, against any amount of public opposition. Unless, perhaps, they’ve sworn an oath on what passes for their honor to oppose anything the other party supports.

Now here’s where this could get really really good. The majority of what Congress spends money on each year (some 54% of discretionary spending now) is a single item in multiple departments: the military. The global celebration if a U.S. military spending bill were ever blocked would top probably all past human festivals. But how to stop one? A speech by the Pope clearly won’t do it. Protesters getting thrown out of committee hearings hasn’t done it. Public opinion polls barely register. After 14 years of a particularly disastrous military campaign, Congress seems perfectly content to roll right along. Unless, perhaps, a partisan disagreement can be introduced into the debate. (I’m thinking a Democratic commitment to passing no military spending without full rights for trans-gender soldiers.)

Gridlock is generally lamented by the U.S. media, but when most of what’s being done is damaging, we really ought to work to facilitate gridlock. Bailout a bank? No thanks. Subsidize a coal company? I’ll pass. Cut taxes on a billionaire? Maybe later.

Of course, this gets us only so far. You can’t fantasize about passing good and necessary legislation under gridlock. Congress won’t be able to invest in a radical emergency project to save the earth’s climate, for example. But if you think that was about to happen, you may want to roll over and stop snoring. Once in a blue moon some smaller piece of desirable legislation comes to a vote. Those would suffer under Congressional gridlock or shutdown. We’d have to work at the state, local, and global levels instead.

But wouldn’t it be worth it to be rid of Congress? C-Span could then switch over to live video feeds of police brutality 24-7.

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