You know things have once again reached a pretty pass when you start recalling Seinfeld episodes in the midst of the morning newspaper read. By the end of this past week, it seemed to me that a goodly part of America had become Seinfeld’s Bizarro World, a place where down was up, left was right, and the violation of common sense a comic premise.
What’s funny on Seinfeld is very unfunny as a description of a country’s politics. Many nations slip in and out of Bizarro World. Cults of personality can create laugh riots, if you are not murdered or left to die tortured in a cell because you laughed out loud. Italy’s Berlusconi lives in a world so bizarre that he took to button-holing his G-8 colleagues last week in Deauville, France to complain about how “Communist” judges were persecuting him, as if being prosecuted for sleeping with 17-year olds were somehow nothing more a political setup.
If only America’s descent into Bizarro World were simply a Seinfeld episode, a story about nothing that like cotton candy melts in your mouth and disappears leaving nothing more than the disagreeable sensation of acute indigestion. But of course, it’s not. We need suffer those who don’t get the joke, and their insistent upside-down vision of the world sends the national gyroscope into a tizzy.
So, if you thought that Bizarro World was receding every so slightly, the birther matter having been laid in the crib and Barack Obama having been declared white by Cornel West, let’s review the past week and some days shall we?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacks American foreign policy in a joint session of the U.S. Congress and gets more standing ovations than most Presidents receive when either declaring war or presenting the state of the union.
The majority of members of Congress find defaulting on the country’s debt an appropriate political tactic even though the world only just avoided financial collapse less than three years ago.
A majority of the House of Representatives wants to abolish Medicare, one of two government programs, the other being Social Security which they would like to abolish too, that unlike everything else they and their historic brethren have done has indisputably changed people’s lives for the better.
Last but not least, and to show that living in Bizarro World is a bipartisan experience, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad became for a time one of “our sons of bitches.”
Well, where to start?
Let’s start with the utter fecklessness of Congress – unmatched perhaps since they gave a rousing cheer to that “old soldier,” Douglas MacArthur, who had just been cashiered by Harry Truman because the Generalissimo wanted to take the Korean War to China and ultimately become Emperor of the Free World to boot. Set aside Netanyahu, a political rightist who for a generation has tried to lead his country into the abyss of endless war. Here is the U.S. Congress cheering madly for a foreign leader directly interfering in the making of American foreign policy, opposing an expressed policy direction from the President of the United States uttered just four days before Netanyahu’s “bloody shirt” speech. Does this mindless majority really want to follow Israel cascade into the underworld? Only in Bizarro World can a sitting Congress disregard the national interest, the separation of powers, and for Democrats their own President, and urge Israel on a suicide mission that a majority of its citizens have no wish to join.
Once more Bizarro World Congress’ other concurrent death wish was on display in the fight over whether to default on the national debt. It would be kind to attribute the cupidity of Congress to something like post-traumatic stress stemming from our great depression near-miss, except that PTSD would have made them more sensitive to new traumas such as creating another credit crisis, this time a national credit crisis with world-stopping possibilities. These lean, mean young men (and Ms. Bachmann) portray themselves as fathers protecting their children from a mountain of debt, when in fact they act like spiteful, angry sons wanting to annihilate their fathers, or at least Dad’s debts. Threatening a national default is the neurotic peevishness of people who refuse adult responsibility.
They must hate not only Dad, but Mom too, for the Congress wants to take away the only welfare programs that really work – Social Security and Medicare – and the two programs that actually help their Moms and Dads. Despite our abusive American lifestyle with its obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment and under-employment, seniors’ life expectancy is high and their poverty rates very low. In terms of human outcomes, these programs ain’t broke.
But the notion of giving seniors vouchers to purchase their own medical insurance in lieu of Medicare only makes sense in Bizarro World. Medicare is expensive because seniors use more medical care than any other age group. The cost of senior care would be higher if the Medicare administration were not constantly resisting price hikes, and often pushing hospital and doctor bills downward. If Congress had given the Medicare administration the power to negotiate drug prices (because Congress has been bribed by big pharma, that hasn’t happened), Medicare would be even more effective in holding medical costs down.
Senior “vouchers” for medical insurance really is an idea that probably doesn’t even make sense in Bizarro World, unless living in Bizarro World constrains you not only to avoid common sense at all costs, but also commits you to spread misery rather than happiness where ever you go. Currently, unlike most Americans, Medicare patients can seek treatment almost anywhere they like, though some doctors in the exercise of their ill-used liberties can refuse to treat them. In every world except Bizarro World, they are exercising consumer choice, something libertarians who have been able to keep their heads out of Bizarro World can appreciate. Private insurance, of course, can make no such guarantees, at least at any cost feasible for most seniors. People with private insurance see physicians and visit hospitals they are told to see by their freedom-loving insurance plans.
As to cost, no one seriously believes that vouchers will cover seniors’ insurance costs. No plan but a national plan with universal contributions could support health care for the sickest segment of the population. More’s the point, vouchers will simply establish a floor for private insurance premiums not a ceiling. Seniors as individuals will have no less chance of escaping escalating insurance and medical costs than those of us enjoying the poison fruits of the present private system. And absent a big player like Medicare pushing back against higher health costs, our incurable medical inflation rate is bound to worsen.
Lest it be thought that only Republicans live in Bizarro World, consider why Ryan and Cantor, the Bizarro Brothers, pushed insurance vouchers in the first place. Their Bizarro World Democratic brethren, having enshrined the concept of private and unequal health insurance for all instead of a national program of universal health care, so enraged the Bizarro Brothers that for spite, they want to gut Medicare, a truly social insurance program, and turn it into the individual private insurance program so that now once more the elderly must fight for their care with companies like the rest of us. In Bizarro World, this passes as equal opportunity.
Finally, how did Bashar al-Assad end up becoming “our son of a bitch,” as Franklin Roosevelt once called Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo? This is surely something that can only be true in Bizarro World. Yet, there is our bizarro President, surely no stranger to sanctimony, with lips sealed until this past week, even as the death toll of Syrians protesting the regime passes the number killed during the recent Egyptian revolution. Remind me: what great plank of American hegemony is al-Assad holding down? His own hegemony over Lebanon? His alliance with Iran? His border with Israel? Did the Syrian people join up too late and missed our quota for the amount of political and social change that the United States can tolerate in one season?
Or is it just too difficult to imagine other people acting on their common sense and choosing better lives, given the vicissitudes of Bizarro World?
The problem with Bizarro World is that you have to be a native for it to make sense, even as getting to know it risks losing one’s common sense in the bargain. Yet, like body-snatchers, the Bizarro-Worlders have been so successful that the costs of not confronting them with their nonsense far outweigh the damage they do to our common sense.