People have always been saying America ain’t what it used to be, even though it never was, because it satisfies some mopey instinct we have to pine for a lost America rather than try to create a country that we can all thrive in. The S&P downgrade and the poorly handled debt limit crisis are sparking a new round of this chorus. Understandable, because it is shocking to think that even our most jaundiced view of American politics is still too naive to perceive its inherent dysfunction.

But it’s still myopic to believe in a past glory of responsibility and shared interest motivating policy makers at the highest levels of government. Yes, they were certainly more competent in the old days; they had ways of balancing elite interests with the popular that did the poor and middle classes much more good than was we experience now. Yet our dire straits did not happen overnight. Wage stagnation, job insecurity, the debt-incurring costs of higher education, the terrible state of the rest of public education, attacks on the social safety net — all of these and so much more have been in the works since I was in elementary school in the 70s.

Blame the teabaggers all you want — they surely deserve much of it for accelerating our trip on the road to ruin — but they wouldn’t be so effective were not their rhetoric and policy preferences enabled by the elite business classes, the consensus ideology of corporate-funded centrists, and the pundits who routinely fellate them.

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