The State of the Union is…

bad. I had intended to post this before reading today’s Paul Krugman column. I agree with Krugman that America is facing a crisis of governance. It has serious long-term budgetary problems with which Congress seems either unable or unwilling to cope. For me, the fabled US Constitution lies at the heart of the crisis, because the Senate gives far too much power to small and unrepresentative parts of the US citizenry and because the constitution has been interpreted to mean that it is impossible to limit “special interest” spending in political campaigns. So there are two institutional factors which are tending to make it very difficult to raise federal taxes. In the meantime, it is very difficult to cut federal spending, with the exception of discretionary spending that is most dear to Democrats. In particular, the defense budget is now virtually sacrosanct, which is a terrible thing for the country. But of course we also are confronted with a situation in which the same people, Republicans, who say they are for individual responsibility and against irresponsible government spending, use scare tactics about death panels to prevent the country from rationing government-financed health care for the elderly, which everyone knows to be absolutely necessary if the country is to avoid bankruptcy.

I watched Obama’s speech and close to three hours of pre- and post-speech “commentary” on CNN International. Few things have ever depressed me as much as those CNN broadcasts. The nonstop instant analysis, the disingenuousness (Mary Matalin is so unremittingly partisan, I just don’t understand that marriage, it’s revolting to me), but mostly the “feel” of the broadcast, which is akin to that of a gameshow, with garish high-tech screens on which now can be read Twitter posts, all these things combine to create a sense of last days and utter degeneracy. There is also nothing worse than listening to participants in a network-sponsored focus group be interviewed. Democracy seems utterly pointless if we have to inspect the entrails in that way. Maybe things work out in the great marketplace of ideas, maybe the American people possess some collective wisdom in the aggregate, but the individual cases tend to leave me in a state of despair.

Having stayed up virtually all night to watch the speech and some commentary, I finally went to sleep feeling very depressed. I think I perhaps need to spend less time following politics, just for the sake of my psychological well-being.

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