Tuesday, October 13 , 2015, 5:32 pm | Partly Cloudy 82º

David Sirota: The Truth Behind the Fiscal Cliff’s Reality TV Show

By David Sirota | @davidsirota |

During the halcyon 1990s, we labeled annual congressional temper tantrums for what they were: standard, if boring, budget impasses. Now, though, in a hilariously non-ironic flail for ratings, news outlets have taken Nigel Tufnel’s famous line from Spinal Tap seriously, turning the volume up to 11 by portraying the latest standoff as a harrowing “fiscal cliff,” replete with doomsday countdown clocks, gaudy NFL-quality graphics and endless Twitter hashtags.

If anyone outside the Beltway was paying attention (a big “if”), they probably thought the title referred to an old episode of Cheers in which the goofy mailman does his taxes. After all, replaying reruns would have been more compelling content than this latest installment of “Real World: U.S. Capitol.”

Reality TV, of course, is this moment’s perfect metaphor. That schlocky format’s foundational oxymoron — it is “real” but not real — also defines contemporary politics.

Think about it: We understand Keeping Up with the Kardashians as “real” only in the sense that the characters use their own names. But we also understand that most of Kim and Chloe’s strife is manufactured.

It’s the same for Washington — in the fiscal cliff melodrama, we heard that Speaker John Boehner dropped the f-bomb on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and we saw Democratic lawmakers perform maudlin to-camera testimonies about their supposed loyalty to the middle class. Yet, those few watching at home almost certainly sensed that it was all a scripted production — one whose outcome was predetermined.

To appreciate how the kabuki theater works, consider three big outcomes of the fiscal cliff legislation that the attendant reality TV show never highlighted:

» Bush defeats Clinton: President Bill Clinton’s tax rates delivered big budget surpluses and one of history’s strongest rates of economic growth. By contrast, President George W. Bush’s cuts to those tax rates birthed massive deficits and the slowest rate of economic growth in modern history. Yet, faced with the fiscal cliff’s choice between Clinton and Bush tax rates, both parties agreed to ratify almost all of the latter.

For Republicans, this victory was summed up by Bush’s former spokesman, Ari Fleischer, who said simply, “It’s fantastic.” For Democrats, their triumphant rhetoric about their one small win — restoring Clinton rates on income above $400,000 — obscures a humiliating truth. Essentially, the party that spent so much political capital to modestly raise taxes and restore fiscal sanity after the Reagan binge was bullied into undoing much of its own fiscal legacy.

» Nobody in Washington cares about deficits: During December’s “fiscal cliff” TV show, D.C.‘s reality stars told us that they were focused on reducing the budget deficit. But, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the final bill will increase the budget deficit by $4 trillion.

» Corporate welfare is sacrosanct: For all the effort to make wasteful spending the villain in the “fiscal cliff” TV show, Congress ultimately refused to touch that spending. Somehow, defense contractor largesse in the bloated Pentagon budget was off the table. Somehow, subsidies to corporate agribusiness were separated from the negotiations and then extended. Meanwhile, as the Roosevelt Institution’s Matt Stoller documented, the final “fiscal cliff” bill included taxpayer handouts for everything from NASCAR racetracks, to Hollywood studios, to a new Goldman Sachs headquarters.

If you find these facts more depressing than the fantasies that dominated the public version of the “fiscal cliff” drama, then you appreciate why so many Americans prefer reality TV over genuine documentaries. A shrink-wrapped “reality” hyped for maximum titillation is, indeed, more pleasant to watch than actual reality. Congress and the political media know this, so they give viewers what they think we want.

The problem is that the real story gets lost in translation, leaving us at once totally disgusted, occasionally entertained and permanently fleeced ... just as Washington wants.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now and blogs at OpenLeft.com. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow him on Twitter: @davidsirota, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

comments powered by Disqus

» on 01.05.13 @ 09:01 PM

Good grief, the moronic state of the left is just too much. What’s worse is our dopy nation actually believes this sop. To say our economy was robust because of high tax rates takes some doing. It means the person uttering such blatant nonsense is either too stupid to understand economics or thinks those reading this gigantic lie are.

David, only your Marxist brethren aspire to that stupid nonsense. Economies do good, i.e. produce more than they consume, because they are productive, not because a big fat obese government with a spending addiction is raping that economy of its capital. We had far higher tax rates in the 50’s and 60’s too, but we were a friggen net oil producer, an exporter of more goods and services than we consumed you gigantic idiot.

The fact that something that glaring has to be explained to dim wits today says it all. It explains why our pimp in chief is addicted to spending money he doesn’t have and sees no problem with it. It also explains why a large chunk of the right mistakenly believes Wall Street and banks are where wealth is made.

Because our ignorant media with its slavish devotion to the “black” president (and they call us racists?) hasn’t got a clue where wealth is actually made they honestly believe moving wealth around magically makes more. So they drool over the government’s avarice. No dim wits, redistribution of wealth, whether by coercion and confiscation by governments or by looting and pirating in our gambling casino financial markets actually consumes wealth.

It’s not friggen magic. Wealth growth comes from things of real intrinsic value, whether mined from the earth, grown or made with real human labor and intellect. The value of goods and services produced must exceed the cost of providing them and only when there is a net surplus do you get a growing economy. It has nothing to do with your stupid Clintonian tax rates you blithering idiot.

The last thing the economy that produces goods and services needs is some big fat resource wasting obese government with a spending addiction sucking every drop of value it can out of it. For the umpteenth time, you can have all your dopy idiotic dependency creating, ambition killing, nanny coddling feel good liberal progressive intellectual narcissism driven crap when and if you dim witting morons ever figure out how to pay for it without bankrupting every economy you try this pathetic crap in.

For the sake of your children, if any of you narcissist have had any inclination to attempt having any, get a damned clue!

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