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SOTU 2022

A reasonable speech calling for good legislation that won’t pass muster with a Republican party hellbent on the way of stupidity.

Biden’s speech had four main sections, by my count. The opening necessarily focused on the Russian Federation’s inhumane and inexcusable war in Ukraine. Biden, and most everyone (especially Ukraine itself) have done a good job in the face of a stupid and malicious Putin-patented war of conquest. Exceptions need not be mentioned. They know who and what they are.

Biden spoke of solidarity, and of attacking Putin’s regime with all measures short of violence. Heavy sanctions to drag on the Russian economy. Arms and aid to the victims. He reiterated the commitments to our NATO allies. But while the war in Europe took priority, it wasn’t the focus of the speech as Biden will have plenty more to say about it.

(The sanctions will quickly devastate the Russian Federation’s economy. When Americans urge the GOP to quit their insanity, both the atrocities of Russian aggression and the reaction of the world are what Americans fear the GOP will bring. The propaganda tactics, the calls for revoking media licenses or cracking down on social media that seeks to filter out malicious disinformation, the banning of books and harassment of librarians and school teachers, are all things that the GOP has emulated and supported in recent years. Americans must reject the Putin model.)

The bulk of the speech was a domestic one with three parts: patching the economy, the state of the pandemic, and building a healthier nation. It wasn’t big and bold. It was common sense. Addressing the problems we face, from climate to child care to cancer. It certainly wasn’t a laundry list of leftist wanna-ponies.

And the critics’ responses bear that out. They each focus on what they want done, while lying about Biden’s agenda. They want more defense spending, or Biden’s to blame for the border issues. Skip it. Biden mentioned those things and more. If the Republicans want to pass bills, the White House is open to doing business. Republicans only have to negotiate in good faith, if they’re so able. (They would prefer to take back control of either or both chambers of Congress first, so that what little gets by them will better enrich their donors. The fact that their party is scatterbrained on most issues doesn’t help make their case.)

America is a country in transition. We are moving away from the worst days of the pandemic, and the president’s agenda and popularity remain in question. The opponents only seek to block any solutions, while lying about damn near everything. The media continues to plague us with bad narratives, pointless fact checks, and appeasement for the GOP that has protected and has worshiped Donald John Trump. But if none of that changes, America will get nowhere.

Biden’s agenda can’t fix the broken record of the Republican party. He didn’t speak to that key issue at all. The Republicans sure as shit don’t acknowledge it outside of a few marginalized (nearly-cancelled) members. If we cannot have a Republican party that works with Democrats on things like drug pricing or climate change, and if a Brand New Party doesn’t come along to displace the GOP, then America will surely end up going down the same ruinous road that Putin has taken the Russian Federation on for a couple decades. And that’s scary.

The Marshmallows-in-the-Tea Effect.

If you don’t have marshmallows in your tea today, tomorrow you may have none.

In politics, much of the discourse and legal wrangling arises from alternate realities of what could happen. Slippery slopes are one form among many, where the claustrophobia of the many possible futures leads otherwise reasonable (if conniving) people and organizations to make bad law and bad claims.

There is probably a better term for this, but being ignorant I made my own. Call it the marshmallows-in-the-tea effect. Your sister and you, feeling the cold of winter, decide to make some warm beverages. You elect for cocoa and she’s having tea. But when serving time comes around, she demands half of the marshmallows. “In tea?!” you ask her. But she insists, and even though it ruins the tea, she plops her marshmallows in there.

Your sister, bless her heart, doesn’t want marshmallows in her tea, but she fears that if she willingly gives up her ration of marshmallows today, she might not be able to claim them in the future.

It seems that about half the stupid positions taken by organizations can be traced back to this FOMO-related reaction. It’s better to take a tax cut and not need it than need one and not be able to take it, the agent for the rich person believes. The Office of Legal Counsel readily argues for executive supremacy even when it weakens the design of the Constitution. Business lobbies and Republicans alike fearmonger over the slightest and most reasonable changes to law, to policy, and to regulation, by playing up fears that it’s not just a slippery slope, but an express elevator to hell.

The underlying problem that gives rise to the practice is insecurity. If an organization feels like they will get a fair shake in the long run, they won’t need to raise bad-faith defenses to protect their turf, because they know if a change overreaches, it will be swiftly corrected. It is only when the systems at play become so unwieldy and strangled by factions that these actors feel they must resort to protecting even the tiniest authorities or theoretical powers they hold.

For example: CNN: Erica Orden: 8 June 2021: “Why the Biden Justice Department wants to help Donald Trump fight a defamation lawsuit”. It’s obvious that the presidency does not empower defamation. But the Justice Department and the executive want to burn no bridge, even a bridge to nowhere. The idea is that at some future battle for Middle Earth, this supposed authority could be all that stops Sauron’s push to reconquer the lands of men. Yawn.

There is another side of the marshmallows-in-the-tea, which is in our own lives. What small changes or different ways of thinking or acting do we resist out of fear it will change you too much? We all have insecurities in our lives and in our minds, the things that bug us. And our minds have the marshmallow-in-the-tea defense mechanism in place to keep us from moving too quickly in any direction, only to find our lives completely destabilized.

But we, like the institutions and politicians, must be careful not to drink tea with marshmallows when we could simply choose not to.

The Republican Party is Too Big and Failed

Businesses and governments are relying on a failed institution: the Republican Party.

It’s been reported that the corporations (including big law) that had sworn off donations to politicians who fed the attack on the government have gone back to donating. Why? Do they hate America? Wait, that should be one question: Why do they hate America? Corporations that give money to scoundrels, why do you hate America?

The truth is, the Republican party is too big and failed. Remember “Too Big to Fail?” During the last financial crisis? The idea was that certain banks and financial institutions couldn’t be allowed to go bust. If they did, it would blow up everything on the planet and everyone would be ska-rewed.

Same song, different verse: the wealth centers pay politicians to draft and to block laws they believe will help or hinder their wealth. The ambitions of a minority of Republican politicians to turn the country into a dictatorship can’t change the basic math of corporate accountants: buying politicians (via campaign contributions) is cheaper than paying more in taxes or regulation. Buying new lines of business by legislative capture is cheaper than competing for it in the market. (Here cheaper refers to the limited-scope costs of particular firms, not to the costs and benefits of society. It’s a blinders-on measure used by businesses to avoid the obvious: being assholes is almost always the wrong move.)

Their calculations do not include the cost of American democracy folding. Most of them do plenty of business in dictatorships around the world, and they’re comfortable working within those circles, despite the fact that they’ve only been able operate in those countries because they could rely on the United States to keep the international order stable enough.

The attack on the government in January had the makings of a wake-up call for corporations, for mainstream Republicans, and for the media. But the Siren’s song of business-as-usual overpowered the alarm noise. They’ve quickly reverted to fighting good governance in favor of their own bottom lines.

The media, of course, made similar analyses for different reasons. They typically want to focus on the party in power, they benefit from pitting politicians against one another, and they have advertisers with business interests of exactly the kind that require donations to Republicans. The media tends to serve advertisers first, if only because they need the revenue.

I recently wrote about the media being the real opponent for Democrats in 2022 ( 20 November 2021: “The Democrats Face the Media in the 2022 Midterms”), and that’s in-line with the mainstream media being something more of a printing press for the powerful than anything resembling a fourth estate. Same as it ever was, but it still feels like between the pandemic and the Capitol attack, more soul-searching would have happened.

And I’ve also written in the past months about the idea of a BNP—Brand New Party ( 6 February 2021: “How Moderate Conservatives Can Ditch the GOP”), including the need for it and how it could work. There was also a piece about how it will require a sympathetic media to help it get the word out ( 2 October 2021: “The Need for Good Right-Wing Media”). The too-bigness is part of the reason. That once you’ve built up a certain market for policy-wielders, you can’t retire the old one without having a new one to replace it. And all the logistics that entails.

Think about it: it’s not just the politicians, but the campaign businesses, the pollsters, the media, the lobbyists, the law firms, the carbon fuel industry, all tied together because they have interests to pursue. There are also state Republicans and local Republicans who have depended on the brand, and in at least some cases are closer to what Republicans used to be. They aren’t as many as we’d like, they don’t like the baggage their party has to carry, but they can’t all go independent and be without a mascot.

Even outside of the politics, there is business development, there’s networking, caterers, event spaces, all sorts of businesses that need some kind of second party to function. To use the Republican trope, the party has provided them welfare, and they are now dependent on it for survival or at least to thrive.

For platform reasons, the Democrats cannot take up the mantle of pro-pollution, of anti-taxation, and so on. Their own voters would revolt. While blocs of Democrats do champion tax cuts for the wealthy, rent-protection for Pharma, and so on, the overall caucus believes in good governance. They aren’t about to turn into a bunch of hucksters to appease the Koch brats.

And neither should a BNP, but it would provide enough of a counterpoint, a difference, an alternative to the Democrats. On many issues, they should represent a compromise position that the current Republican party cannot. On a select number, they should represent the same as the Democrats: the same as the American people minus the ridiculous Republicans. Those issues, the BNP abandon an untenable position and only seeks to improve on the Democrats’ policy. But they would also offer stability, agreeing with Democrats on the basic structure of government, agreeing to free and fair elections, campaign reforms.

And more importantly, it could provide a safe sink for at least some of these big businesses to show their investors they aren’t ceding the precious profits to Democrats, aren’t leaving the gates of their wealth unguarded. Where the Republicans simply seek to obstruct, the BNP could actually negotiate better bills that would still fulfill some of what the donors want while delivering a better government.

The Republican party is a failed party, but they will remain and will not reform until there is real pressure to do so. The businesses that rely on them won’t do the right thing here. It’s not who they are as businesses. The need for a BNP remains clearer than ever.