A default of reality
To return to high school for a moment, basic mathematical principles imply that if money equals speech, then speech also must equal money. That in turn would suggest that you should be able to walk into a mall and buy a sweater or a sandwich just by talking for a while. The equivalence, as you're surely aware if you've ever tried, breaks down at that point. It's the sort of fact that could prompt a lesser thinker to question the whole premise in the first place.
But a new day appears to require new thought patterns, and they're on proud display in our country these days. Because if money is speech, that means money talks, and it's damn sure been talking in Washington lately. Nowhere has that been clearer than in this year's talks over legislation to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt.
The negotiating positions were established early, when congressional Republicans demanded huge budget cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. President Obama and congressional Democrats started from the imminently reasonable position that we should take a two-fold approach to the long-term debt problem by both cutting things we can live without and raising more money to keep paying for things we can't afford to cut. Even some Republicans, mere months ago, acknowledged the need for some tax increases as part of the deal.
Amid debate over the mix of spending cuts and new revenues, Obama went so far as to offer the GOP a package with 83 percent spending cuts and just 17 percent new taxes, aimed primarily at the super-rich who are doing quite well even in a sluggish economy. The Republicans told him, in so many words, to go to hell, refusing to consider any new taxes or loophole closures at all. One senator even had the gall to seek out the media today and say a president with ice water in his veins needs to "take a Valium and come on up here and talk to us."
Yes, it seems tax breaks for corporate jets and hedge fund managers must be protected at all costs, even if they mean cuts to food aid for poor women and their babies. The only acceptable compromise is total surrender for the sake of those with plenty of money to fund campaigns, who will be so grateful that they'll surely create tens of millions of new jobs with all that spare cash. Or, if history can be of any assistance, maybe not.
Today's prevailing American political discourse is an upside-down place where the underpants gnome strategy is offered as fact, and gravity is posited to be just a theory. It helps explain Colbert's appeal to millions of people who are tired of the decades-long petty shouting match that tries to pass itself off as governance. In a world where money talks more loudly than it has in a long time and where parody struggles to keep up with the ever-shifting sands of proffered reality, what more soothing option is there than to have a good laugh at the whole maddening state of affairs?
If we can't have sanity, at least we can haz super PAC.