Survival of the suboptimal

This is a time when a lot comes together. And the United States simply cannot continue as it has. And yet it appears set to do so–or at least to try.

We have an apparent conflict between a dire need for additional stimulus to employ people and a diminishing ability to borrow the money cheaply for that stimulus. (UPDATE: Paul Krugman continues to dispute the latter but none of this even mentions what the Chinese may have told President Obama–and he was about to leave on a trip to, among other places, China, when he first appeared to cave to the deficit hawks.) I call it an apparent conflict because these two priorities are typically set against each other. We can either increase stimulus or we can reduce debt, but we can’t do both.

But the fact is that we cannot sustain our present military power. Our war in Afghanistan is deeply misguided. We have a ridiculous number of military bases around the world and are adding more in the Persian Gulf. We spend ridiculous amounts of money on the military.

And while President Obama drags out a decision almost certain to increase our involvement in Afghanistan, people are losing their homes, former vice presidential candidate and political bimbo of the decade Sarah Palin is looking like a presidential contender in 2012 in part because the White House has been far too cozy with the banks and far too slow to address unemployment, big corporations continue to export jobs and cut payrolls, and we apparently can’t even pass a decent health care plan that would put U.S. residents on par with the rest of the developed world.

It’s all rather suboptimal, according to Thomas Friedman, who worries that “a great power that can only produce suboptimal responses to its biggest challenges will, in time, fade from being a great power.”

I think it’s worse than that. Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the United States, points out that the U.S. has never really handled problems of class well, that the elite have consistently grudgingly conceded just enough to just enough people to avoid or contain insurrections. They don’t seem to be figuring this out this time. And the people who most believed in the mythology of the U.S. are the ones feeling most betrayed. The Republicans, always more hawkish than Democrats, and under whom budget deficits have skyrocketed while workers got progressively worse deals, are the ones best exploiting the rage. As one mother waiting with her children to see Palin put it, “This hope and change, hope and change, what hope? And if this is change, God help us.” And Republicans don’t even seem to be seeking election.

I don’t know how this is going to play out. Survival instincts should dictate a new course. I don’t see any sign that that’s on tap.

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