Conclusions of yesterday's Congress Drama

The House of Representatives eventually got around to passing the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.  According to Wikipedia, as of right now it's not been signed:

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8) was passed by the United States Congress on January 1, 2013, and is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Late last night, I remembered hearing somewhere (regrettably I can't remember the source) that it was reasonable to expect that congress would pass the bill at the last second.  The reason is that while no congressperson had anything to gain by passing it (a recession isn't good for anyone, and everyone agreed that's what would happen), it was also true that no congressperson had anything to gain by compromising in advance.

In the video I posted by John Green yesterday, he points out that, due to gerrymandering, the only real competition most congresspeople face is from other members of their own party, who present themselves as more extreme, and therefore more loyal, in their adherence to party dogma.  So congresspeople who hope to keep their careers need to seem as uncooperative as possible, and congresspeople who also want to do their jobs have to walk a fine line, avoiding ever appearing to compromise while actually compromising as much as possible (compromise being the essential function of a smooth-running democratic process).

This all reminds me of the second paragraph of George Orwell's essay, Politics and the English Language:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.

I quote it, even though it's not quite as much about politics as it is about language, because Orwell expresses very clearly the point: that the American people have become polarized and unsophisticated, and the United States government has become polarized and unsophisticated.  The reason this has happened is complicated, and it can't be pinned down to one or the other group failing in their responsibility -- and there are other players, as well, including the failure of the media, of the courts, of academics, and so on.

But a polarized populace elects a polarized government, and a polarized government encourages a polarized populace.

But, as Orwell says, the point is that the process is reversible.  It really, honestly, comes down to a number of bad habits, which, when applied every day by every citizen and every politician to every decision, creates and perpetuates a failing state.

I encourage you to read Politics and the English Language, because lazy and ambiguous use of language is one of the bad habits that politicians, journalists, and people are particularly prone.  Read it, and think about words like terrorism, socialism, liberal, conservative, corrupt, and so on.  Here's the link again

Some of the other bad habits:  binary thinking, over-simplified economics, failure to engage with local politics, and  a fatalistic attitude towards large problems.  The biggest bad habit, though, is the attitude that politeness and compromise are forms of hypocrisy, which leads us to choose, frequently, worst-case scenarios over bad-but-not-awful scenarios.  I often see people argue in against any given system because they call it inefficient, or insufficient, or impractical.  Those criticisms are usually true.  But when the alternative is something even more inefficient, insufficient, and impractical, those criticisms are also entirely missing the point.

Hopefully, the next batch of congress we get will be a lot better at doing their goddamn jobs, but we can help by making an effort to be more reasonable and less extremist.

It would also really help if we could redraw the district borders for non-political divisions.