And it comes from a conservative commenter on conservative David Frum’s site, in response to his excellent, I shit you not, Waterloo article:
" …If the plan the Democrats are passing has such a good Republican pedigree (Romney, Heritage Foundation, etc.), then how is this such an “abject and irreversible defeat” for Republicans? Seems like you could just as well argue that it’s a delayed victory for moderate conservative governance: What were once Republican proposals have become the new doctrine of the Democratic Party, shoving aside most of what the left wing of that party actually wants (single-payer etc.). Big win for the Heritage Foundation! All they had to do was be patient, and eventually a Democratic president and Congress did their dirty work for them…"
– Jefferson Smith, comment 21
One of my philosophy professors was on the debate team with Frum at Yale as an undergrad. In an office hours meeting once he told me a story about how, in a van on the way to a debate competition, Frum made a passionate argument in favor of closing voting to only property owners. The guy is noxious, of course, but on the point of the Republicans going off the deep end he is absolutely right – but we knew that.
The comment in response is much more insightful and reveals a much less discussed truth – we still live in the era of Reagan, and any real change from favoring corporate power (private, unaccountable to the public) over government power (democratic, in the public interest – in the right elected hands, of course). Reagan, the guy who told us that government was the problem and that we were going to "turn the bull loose". As a nation, our public policy time and again is favoring the corporate over the public. We are allowing the two to become intertwined in a public/private partnership where the real power lies with the private wing. This Democratic government is creating public policy explicitly tailored to funnel customers to an under-regulated and reprehensible acting cartel, enforcing it with the power of the IRS and calling it a grand progressive victory. It’s pathetic – Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Truman – they would all be spinning in their graves. It taints the entire progressive "brand", and further reinforces the social meme that corporate power over your personal life is natural and inescapable. This is scary to me.
What can we learn from this? Well, we have learned that the absolute farthest left, the most progressive, the Democratic trifecta in Washington will go is public policy that Reagan would love:
The entire financial system collapses under the weight of it’s own bad bets in a completely unregulated environment? Throw $700 billion at them in a continuation of the policy the last guy followed, don’t keep track of where it goes and don’t set down any new rules; promote the guy from the NY Fed that failed to see it coming to Treasury Secretary; be exactly where you started two years later.
Historic job losses and unemployment because of financial collapse? Don’t create any jobs yourself, or else the Republicans might call you socialists; pass a weak stimulus bill that’s 2/3 the size it needs to be and is 1/3 wasteful tax cuts; brag about how 90% of the jobs created will be in the private sector but don’t mention that the number of jobs created won’t keep up with population growth let alone replace the lost jobs; reap the benefits of all the Republican support for your future initiatives because you were so bipartisany.
Eight years of war in a historically unconquerable country where our enemy no longer resides is ongoing? Onward to "victory!!!", with more American lives and borrowed dollars down the toilet fighting an invisible enemy when the real enemy is everywhere but there. Only pussies don’t escalate wars. Again, reap broad Republican support for your policy.
Crushing debt and budget deficits? Don’t even think about taxing the rich; talk about "tough choices" and "entitlement reform"; whatever you do, don’t acknowledge that the size of the economy relative to tax receipts has the highest spread in the developed world and instead pretend we’re broke; keep borrowing; allow people to think that our biggest creditor is China when it is really ourselves in the form of IOU’s in the Social Security trust fund (guess who started this practice? if you guessed Saint Ronnie, you’re right). Never, never admit that a return to Reagan era tax rates for only the richest 10% and an elimination or increase in the Social Security income cap would easily solve all our problems with cash to spare – and that is without even taking corporate tax increases into account. Pretend that all solutions are tough and don’t let anything become law without taking a pound of flesh or twenty million from the poorest.
Health care costs twice what it does anywhere else and a permanent underclass priced out of the system? See above, and by all means don’t offer a public alternative. If you had told Reagan that you could find a way to funnel a trillion dollars to the health insurance industry over ten years with no cost controls and federal regulatory enforcement, and that Democrats would not only go along en masse, but celebrate it, he’d have pissed himself with joy. He’d have been buying Tip O’Neill lap dances…
I guess the grand point here is that we have not experienced the political realignment that the 2008 election could have signaled. Our leaders still subscribe to the same bankrupt ideas and are owned by corporate interests. They continue to subscribe to the "Third Way" philosophy of Clinton and Blair – use private means for public good, only it doesn’t work that way. The only difference between the worldview of a Reagan/Bush and a Clinton/Obama is that for Reagan corporate power and profit is the end all, be all – while Obama, he accepts that premise, but then invites them to the White House to beg them to do a little something good. When you dance with the devil, you don’t change the devil…
Until another cataclysmic economic event happens, at least, we will see no change in the corporate domination of this country. It’s entirely possible we could face repeated cataclysms, depressions and panics, and still not learn. We could allow Japanification to take over and have decades of stagnation interspersed with speculative bubbles blowing up and popping. Ultimately, nothing is going to fundamentally change until the social, economic and political center of this country moves drastically towards democratic solutions untainted by corporate interests.
Unfortunately, the American political system has taught people that when things aren’t good you just vote for the other guys. The other guys in this case are a right with that is approximately 30% of the population – highly religious, uneducated in the rank and file, and openly neo-fascist. Their leaders value democracy only when it confers political advantage, and to hell with it when it doesn’t. And they are still enormously powerful, if only because most Americans do not yet realize how extreme they are. I fear their power once Democrats start losing elections.
We need a broad shift in public consciousness towards questioning hierarchical, private institutions. And we need the answer most people find to be democratic institutions, taken to logical extremes at scales never tried before in this country. I’m not even sure what that would look like, as I like all of us am a creature of the present era. But I can ask the question and start thinking about it when I’m young; when and if the time comes I’ll know. People need to realize that if we want to take action, we can – institutions are human creations, and they can be replaced just as they were created. Maybe now, in the wake of a failure of imagination by our leaders, we can start asking each other how.
cross posted at Open Left