When you fall off a cliff, you hit the ground and you're dead, game over. But what awaits us with the coming of the new year is nothing of the sort, but merely a change in some rules: taxpayers will begin paying more, while various government departments will start spending less. There's nothing permanent about these rules, nothing stopping Congress and the President from changing them again after a day, a month, or a year. There's no ground looming below, and the pilots of the airplane will at all times have the power to pull out of the dive and soar to new heights.
The problem is with the pilots. The constitutional system as it has evolved today gives the party out of power a perverse incentive to sabotage peace and prosperity, to promote popular discontent, and create a coalition of unhappy voters that can propel the party to victory in the next election. This is what the Republicans did during President Obama's first term, opposing his attempts to stimulate the economy, blocking his nominees, refusing to cooperate on health insurance reform or regulation of the financial sector, and hindering the President's efforts to help homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure. These were not merely honest differences of opinion; Senator McConnell stated in no uncertain terms that his first priority was to prevent President Obama's reelection. The Republicans deliberately obstructed everything the President proposed, even essentially Republican ideas like Mitt Romney's individual health insurance mandate.
No episode of the past four years more clearly highlights the malign intentions of the Republicans in Congress than the debt ceiling crisis of 2011. Deliberately calling into question the faith and credit of the United States Government, Republicans sought to sow uncertainty in the markets, drive up the price of gold, and undermine confidence in the recovery, all to make Barack Obama and the Democrats look bad in the eyes of investors, consumers, and voters. In a just world, this should have cost these treacherous cowards their political careers and put a black mark on their names for a hundred years; but in the world we live in, they were reelected along with their intended victim, President Obama. It is hard to imagine they will behave any differently during the next four years than in the last four, for they still have an incentive to sabotage the general welfare for their political ends.
I must ask in what other country this sort of thing could happen. In Commonwealth countries such as Canada or Australia, the head of government is the person commanding a majority in parliament, and while the minority opposition may have an incentive to undermine the government it lacks the power to do so effectively. When the opposition becomes a majority, the government falls and the leader of the new majority becomes head of government. I daresay it is much the same in most of Europe, where people still scratch their heads about George W. Bush becoming president after losing to Al Gore by half a million votes. Our Constitution of 1787, so beloved of Americans across the political spectrum, has become a dysfunctional relic. If it once inspired millions of French citizens to rise up against the ancien regime, and more millions of Latin Americans to fight for freedom from Spain, it is today an anachronism unable to cope with the rising power of global capital, the depletion of global resources, the declining fortunes of the working class (in which I include the so-called "middle class"), and the alienation of the wealthy, whose interests are more and more diverging from those of the nation. We have a government that cannot govern, no matter how many Democrats win seats in Congress.
The inevitable social entropy that afflicts all human institutions has taken its toll as well; the media no longer facilitate intelligent political discourse but promote lies and distortions and encourage the rise of extremism. There is too much money in politics, much of it coming from special interests who put their private profits before the interests of the nation.
We need a new New Deal, starting with a new political order. It's time to call a constitutional convention.