According to Ben Bernake of the Federal Reserve, the current economic crisis is "a matter for psychology" because the essence of the crisis is a failure of confidence. If confidence in the competence of the federal government were restored, his reasoning goes, investors would once again be eager to park their money in an American economy that, under intelligent management, would still offer realistic hope of greater returns and security than any other economy on earth. Problem is, there's little reason to expect competent government from Washington.
Starting with the election of 1980, American political culture has devolved into the equivalent of professional wrestling: scripted conflict where the winner is predetermined and (with a few exceptions) the combatants are participants in a charade meant to distract the public from the unreality of the entire enterprise.
Even David Stockman, the architect of Reaganomics, later wrote that nobody believed the money the top 1% saved on tax cuts would "trickle down" to the rest -- it was just a handy way to package the redistribution of wealth upwards. Just as the wrestlers know their combat is pure theater, most politicians in both parties are play-acting. Republicans pretending to be outraged by abortion, teen sex, and gay marriage compete for attention with Democrats pretending to care deeply for Joe Sixpack.
Republicans, Democrats, and their enablers in the press are all the same people -- went to the same schools, shop in the same boutiques, play golf together, marry each other's cousins, and trade jobs when it suits their agendas. They put on a show for the rest of us, but then all go home to the same gated communities at night. Politics is professional sport now. Do you think Kobe really gives a damn about Los Angeles? Did David Beckham have an emotional allegance to Madrid? Come on, he doesn't even speak Spanish!
National identity is a farse used to distract people from the real issues. Being "American" means as much these days as being "a Yankees fan." To the real players, it's just a job, and they're more than happy to take their million-dollar contracts wherever their agent finds them. The fans still care, but the players know better.
Where we live, in Spain, things are marginally better, but only because parliamentary government actually works better than American democracy. You may laugh, given the unrelenting chaos in the Italian parliament over the past fifty years, but the process undeniably brings more voices into the national conversation. That often results in a lot of shouting and political paralysis. But the words all doctors know, "First, do no harm" is often the best advice. For example, the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. act would never have become law in a parliamentary system
In this system, parties have proportional representation. Imagine how different the past eight years would have been if Ralph Nader's party had a few seats in Congress, in proportion to the votes they won in 2000. Then think of how many more people would have voted for third or fourth party candidates if they knew their votes would count, even if they amounted to only a few percentage points. In many close congressional decisions, just a few votes make the margin of difference, thus giving serious power to minor parties.
Most importantly, parliamentary government provides for a motion of no confidence. This vote is called for when the opposition feels the current leadership has lost the confidence of the public. It's absurd that the United States is still being ruled by an administration that is held in contempt by the vast majority of the public. This is the crisis in confidence that has triggered economic collapse. Just as Bernake said, we need an injection of confidence immediately. But there is nothing George Bush can do, short of an immediate resignation of his entire administration, that will increase public confidence in Washington's leadership.
Unfortunately, our system has no feasible means of sending a failed administration packing and putting someone who isn't a national embarassment in charge of running the country. If any nation has needed a motion of no confidence, it's the United States at this moment.