August is the month when most people take a break. Here in the exceptional US of A, where the average Jack and Jill have only a fraction of the paid vacation of their counterparts living European Socialist hellholes, (and are told to be proud of it), the working class isn’t packed up and idle on a beach so much as it is making the appearance of productivity while mouldering in their cubicles not really doing much of anything worthwhile.
August is the time of year when adult-level critical synapses are so muted that the annual ritual of a bratty pop tart running nearly naked around the stage at a video award show is not regarded as the time-honored rite of passage it is. It is not seen as the moment when the flirtatious rebel tweener singer/stripper formally morphs into contender for hot mess vixen of the year. Rather it is embraced as a cultural scandal.
A regularly scheduled cultural scandal for which the tart’s publicists and manager will all receive high fives and bonuses for getting cultural watchdogs like … Matt Lauer and every “Good Morning, Dubuque” chat show in the country … to express shock and paternal outrage … again this August, just like last August. (Meet the new boss … .)
Likewise, August is also a good month for trend pieces on cultural inertia, like the one Daniel Gross, a business columnist, wrote for the Daily Beast the other day. Catchily titled, “Is America Out of Ideas?”, the gist was that the country’s sexiest tech companies are in a stall. Apple, he points out, is hyping a gold-colored iPhone as “the next big thing” and Microsoft … well, what was the last time anyone mistook Microsoft for an “ideas leader”?
The meaty part of his piece is when he gets into the disparity between the sluggish flow of investment money into tech IPOs compared to 2012. This may be the second worst year for such investment since the early, pre-Internet ’90s. (Meanwhile, giant banks, having successfully invented collateralized debt obligations, continue to perform remarkably well.)
By way of explaining what’s causing the stall, Gross notes the near complete collapse of constructive, equity-producing ideas from half the country’s political spectrum.
Yes, contemporary Republicans have contributed the valuable ideas of frenzied opposition to Obamacare, (after first suggesting the idea), then frenzied opposition to routine financial management (the debt ceiling), which led to sequestration, which has their intellectual leaders, like Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, berating the Obama administration for weakening national defense through reckless budget cutting. And let’s not forget … frenzied opposition to immigration reform, frenzied opposition to climate change and frenzied opposition to gun control.
And all that was before not a single member of the current Republican leadership could find time in their busy August idea-producing schedule to appear at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. If only to show that, you know, that as Republicans they’re OK with black folks having rights. (Although that would be a pretty courageous thing to suggest considering who they need to get reelected.)
In fairness to Republicans, they have since come up with the idea of … blaming liberals for their absence. Liberal organizers you see didn’t invite Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black in the Senate … except that it turns out they did invite Scott when they sent him the same invitation the other 99 senators received. But Scott, like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor and John Boehner all had what Dick Cheney back at the time of the Vietnam draft described as, “other priorities”.
Point being, as silly as gold iPhones are presented as “new ideas”, (although I still have hopes for a bona fide Apple television set, and maybe even that Apple watch), the basic machine still provides a quantitative service. Whether black, white or gold, you can use the thing to enhance your life.
By contrast, the modern Republican “idea factory” — all opposition and nothing fresh or inventive — is about as productive and economically enhancing as a pipe in the spokes of the other guy’s bicycle.
The connection between incessant, ideas-free opposition and sluggish recovery seems to be getting through to American businesses. Recently the National Small Business Association polled members and found that Congress actually doing something had risen to the group’s highest priority.
As the National Journal reported, “… lawmakers—described by one business lobbyist as ‘economic fundamentalists’ for their aversion to compromise—are a chief reason for holdups and breakdowns on bills that traditionally are bipartisan, as well as on big issues where deals may be within reach. All of which puts the business sector in an interesting squeeze: fighting many Obama policies tooth and nail, but also bemused and in some cases frustrated by the way some presumed congressional allies are handling their jobs. ‘You don’t really know what they’re going to do or why’, says NSBA President Todd McCracken, a 20-year Washington veteran. ‘It used to be there were not many rewards for obstruction. Now there are no consequences’.”
Rather than play credulous chump again for the latest tarty pop star going slut and ruining the world as we know it, our pundit class might be more productive focusing on who exactly is keeping the emergency brake on the wheels of timely ideas.