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Why Is a “Do Nothing” Congress a Bad Thing in 2013? (Or, Why is Joel Stein Such a Douchebag?)


I just read a recent editorial in Time magazine by Joel Stein (Bill Me Later, in the August 12, 2013 issue), a lavishly compensated idiot who has unfortunately conflated progress with passing laws for their own sake. He was writing about how hard it is to get anything done in Washington, and the gist of his piece was that because of partisan gridlock our current Congress is a “do nothing” Congress that has passed even fewer laws than the “do nothing” Congress in place during the Truman Administration. All of his drivel and doggerel was supposed to drive home the point that our Congresspeople are not doing their jobs.

But really? Congress is the legislative branch of our Government, which means they introduce bills and attempt to make them into laws. If Stein believes that our current Congress is doing a bad job merely because they aren’t making more laws, then he doesn’t understand the difference between real progress and just having more laws. A similarly asinine commentator on NPR today echoed Stein’s concerns that the Congress is passing very few laws and therefore aren’t doing their jobs.

We all saw in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 that no elected member of the Senate or Congress actually reads the bills they pass, and that no one in Washington had actually read the entirety of the Patriot Act. So if Stein is right, senators and congresspeople who are doing their jobs are just passing legislation that they haven’t even bothered to read. This legislation then becomes the law of the land: people will be incarcerated because of it. So, by Stein’s logic, Congress is not doing its job because it’s not passing enough laws and not enough people will eventually be incarcerated.

We already live in the jailingest nation on Earth. Any notions of “progress” that are dependent on more laws being passed will only increase the number of incarcerated individuals in this country. How is this progress? How is this constipated and backward notion of what liberalism is helpful to the American experiment in the slightest?

Moreover, how could more laws possibly be helpful, unless we’re talking about environmental protections or financial regulations that could prevent another 2008-style economic collapse? It’s not even clear that the America of the post-9/11 world is on the right side of history anymore. The actions of our own government meet the very definition of terrorism that our government uses to justify killing terrorists. In the last Iraq war, 10 times more civilians were killed than enemy combatants, amounting to something around 40 World Trade Center attacks in that country alone. And as if that weren’t enough, we went on to kill civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere in order to try to accomplish our political goals. We are 10 seconds away from the rest of the world realizing that the only thing that makes us “better” than Al Qaeda is the fact that we can kill far more people much faster than they can. After all, we can no longer claim having a superior morality to them.

We even killed al Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, an American citizen, while he was sitting outside at a cafe in Yemen two weeks after we killed his dad, both without trial, despite our Constitution saying that both of them had the right of habeas corpus. The only reason why we had to do that is because we violated his asshole father’s constitutional rights, we basically guaranteed that the son would become radicalized, and therefore would become a threat we’d later have to deal with.

But how naive does Joel Stein have to be to think that laws are actually still benevolent in this post-9/11 dystopia we’re racing at breakneck speed to create, and that therefore, more of them will necessarily always be better?

I’m sorry, but once we became the nation that started overtly torturing people, once we became the country that was willing to violate its own protections for its own citizens in its zeal to rid the world of “terrorists,” once we killed just as many civilians as Al Qaeda in the name of keeping them from killing civilians, once we bailed out AIG because it was “too big to fail,” and not once did a single architect of the 2008 financial collapse go to jail, we became a country in which a “do nothing” Congress was truly better than the alternative.

A “do something” Congress is one that kills innocents abroad, violates FISA court laws, creates loopholes for the richest multinational corporations and individuals to continue enriching themselves, broadens the income gap between the 1% and the rest, loosens environmental laws on rigs like the Deepwater Horizon, and pays private security firms billions to pay their mercenary employees hundreds of thousands of dollars a month while our “nothing better than blood and service” farm kids get sent to clear the area of IED’s for $25,000 a year (and get raped for the “opportunity” if they’re female).

And any ideations that would suggest that there somehow is merit in passing laws for their own sake when it’s not clear that we’re actually the good guys anymore are the nemeses of actual progress. Fuck you, Joel Stein, and fuck every other media darling that thinks that more is better when it comes to the instruments we use to incarcerate people in the jailingest nation on Earth.

I’m sorry, but when America has so truly and obviously lost its way, the only patriots in Congress are the obstructionists. If government is largely good, we want Congress to do stuff (but not necessarily pass laws for their own sake, because again, these will be used to incarcerate people). But if the very people running the government are no longer sure that it’s largely good, the best benevolence we can possibly hope for from our Government is…total inaction.

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