At the core of the manifold paradoxes swirling around American governance is the harsh reality that we just can't keep running our shit the way it has evolved to run. Neither candidate for president is honest enough to spell this out and indeed both act as though easy work-arounds exist for sustaining the unsustainable.
In the case of Mr. Obama, it's paying limitless TBTF ransom money to overgrown banks to avoid the constant threats of collapse that they whisper in his ear - essentially a hostage racket. A policy of managed contraction is probably the only way to avoid unmanaged and uncontrollable collapse, and would include dismantling all the TBTF banks, but Mr. Obama won't acknowledge the imperative of contraction and the difficulties it represents. So he stands by hoping that Fed Chair Bernanke will keep shoveling ZIRP privileges, "twist' ops, bail-outs, and bond buying interventions to the "primary dealers" - a line-up of flimflams so abstruse that all the Paul Krugmen-type economists who ever lived might puzzle over them around the clock until the end of time and never unravel their inner workings.
Mr. Romney subscribes to a set of fantasies out of the Chamber of Commerce playbook that all the familiar activities of status quo wealth generation could easily continue via the marvelous invisible hands of unfettered corporatism, if only the deadweight of government restrictions and the squandering of borrowed public "money" were swept away. His choice of running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, is meant to embody all those notions -- but more than that appeal to the inchoate mob of Tea Partiers who want to get the gubment's hands off their goshdarn medicare. Anyway, the net effect of Mr. Romney's business fantasies are so inadequate to the contractive forces underway that they would amount to pissing up the massive rope of history in a hurricane of events.
So, as the election race sets up for its terminal lap, expect a completely incoherent debate over the fate of the nation from a couple of characters who personify all the hapless contradictions of the public they will be pandering to. Romney's story appeals to me a little more in its strange psychological dimensions; Obama's role as a living, breathing wish-fulfillment of the liberal imagination is too obvious in comparison.
First there is the issue of Mitt's family. His Dad, George Romney, was among many avatars of big business (it used to be called) in its post-WW2 heyday, as CEO of American Motors, the car company that was a clownish fourth to the "big three" of that day (GM, Ford, and Chrysler). American Motors produced joke cars for losers, foremost the Rambler, featuring seats that folded down flat with the implied use as a rolling bedroom. George Romney got himself elected governor of Michigan at a time when the state was so flush with revenue it would have been impossible to misgovern - though he set up the conditions for a later spectacular collapse into the ash-heap of broken dreams it represents today. He battled Richard Nixon for the Republican nomination in 1968 and became a laughingstock by claiming he had been "brainwashed" by US officials and generals into supporting the Vietnam War on a visit there in 1967. It was an unfortunate remark, coming only a few years after the release of a popular movie called The Manchurian Candidate, about a Red Chinese plot to use brainwashed Americans to subvert a US presidential election. Game over for George.
So, in this age of creeping dynastic ambition, of Kennedys, Bushes, Browns, here we have another case of a son reenacting the family ambition. You'd think the American public would be getting a little sick of this routine, that is, if we were really the independent and "exceptional" people we pretend to be. But, alas, here you just get the worst natural human tendencies to institutionalize social hierarchy amplified by the idiotic celebrity culture of mass-media, pointing to the conclusion that we supposed lovers of "freedom" and "liberty" crave domination by hereditary rulers. The cheekiness of it all by such "regular guy" phonies like Mitt would be enough to provoke a real political upheaval in a nation less medicated than ours.
Then there is the question of Mitt Romney's so-called faith, the preposterous fairy tale called Mormonism. Nobody in the news business today really wants to state plainly what a laughable package of childish incongruities this belief system is - though Adam Gopnik came close recently via a scholarly disquisition in a recent New Yorker that left out most of the comedy - because it is a cardinal rule of our anemic culture that any and all belief systems are equally valid. But the story of Mormon "prophet" Joseph Smith is so rich with inane occult hustling that the Coen Brothers would be hard pressed to satirize it. Of course, it is the perfect religion for a man who now vehemently denounces the very same health care reform policy that he championed a few years ago as governor of Massachusetts.
Anyway, bear in mind that, whatever else is going on out there right now in the three-ring circus of presidential politics, events are in the driver's seat, not personalities, and the seeming quiescence of things on the late summer scene is an illusion that will soon dissipate.
For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, click here.