Visitors to Japan are often urged to attend a kabuki theater. There they see a very revered, if bizarre, form of entertainment, known as “the art of song and dance,” in which actors in heavy makeup and elaborate costumes engage in a highly stylized dance-drama.
Here in America we have our own brand of kabuki. It’s called a Congressional Hearing. Over the past many months we’ve been subjected to Congress’ responses to various crises, from the economic meltdown to the current Gulf oil spill. Such hearings are hardly pointless; they accomplish several things while accomplishing nothing. First, they give the impression to the average American that our elected officials are on the job, defending our freedom and the Constitution. Second, they act as a safety valve when public outrage reaches a certain pressure. Third, they provide an elaborate entertainment for the media, full of delicious sound bites of senators scolding billionaire CEOs and showing the voters back home that their representatives are earning their congressional salaries, making America safe for democracy (Hi Mom!). Who cares that it’s all a song and dance, paid for by the US taxpayer. It’s great theater.
This week Congress has been holding hearings to investigate exactly who is to blame for the worst environmental disaster in US history. But we know the answer to that one, don’t we? Just as we know who was really to blame for the economic meltdown that cost tens of millions of Americans their jobs and homes, not to mention the billions of people in other countries who are vulnerable to our policies. Sure we can blame it on corporate greed run amok. Michael Moore has mounted a campaign to “deport Wall Street,” noting that at least undocumented immigrants add to the economy instead of sucking it dry.
But in a sense it’s unfair to berate the wolves because they devour the sheep. That’s what wolves do. They have no conscience. The question is, where were the shepherds? Where were the ones charged with guarding the sheep? Didn’t you know? They’ve changed teams. Tired of the exhausting work of keeping the wolves at bay, all three branches of our government have joined the wolves, giving free passes to any wolf who can make it worth their while. That is why we had and still have no meaningful regulation and oversight of the banking industry. That is why anyone who wants to drill-baby-drill off our shores, destroy wildlife and pollute our waters, only has to pump enough of the green stuff into the campaign war chest of any elected official, including the President (who received millions in soft money from both Goldman Sachs and BP). As we speak other offshore drilling companies are having their projects similarly rubber stamped without review.
Is it any surprise that these congressional hearings make good theater but achieve little else? He who pays the piper calls the tune. It’s as American as Pop-Tarts.