I have to admit, I was one of those who at the end of the Bush Catastrophe thought that a new consciousness had seeped in. Now would be the time to tell the Voodoo economists: “OK zip it, go to your corner, and let me clean up the mess you made”. The kind of budget talks we are having these days is so antithetical to this sentiment however, that we need to dig a little deeper to see whats going on.
The political plates grinding against each other in American politics are the competition between the visions of FDR and Reagan. One vision sees the Government as having an important role in providing an even playing field, while the other wants to suffocate it. But the framework within which these two ideologies historically offered their solutions was within the background of a competing economic system as exemplified by the Soviet Union. And to understand what drives today’s Republican ideology, one only need to look at what lessons the Right drew from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
When the Berlin Wall fell, the Right saw itself as single-handedly responsible for the collapse of Communism. I was never a Reagan fan to put it mildly, and the implosion of the Soviet Union was caused by many internal contradictions, but I am willing to give Reagan some but not all credit for hastening its demise.
Now there are two very general conclusions that one could draw. The first is one that I, and I suspect many readers on this site, would draw. Communism fell not because it was totally and absolutely evil with no redeeming values, but because its redeeming values came with too high a price in terms of personal choice and freedom. Thus, in the sliding scale of unfettered theoretical “freedom” with no social security, and cradle to grave security with little freedom and invasive state surveillance and gulags for the un-cowed, Communism as practiced in the Soviet Union could not survive for much longer unless it reverted to becoming North Korea. But this does not mean that any form of providing security from the vagaries of the market is unwarranted.
The second conclusion is the all-or-nothing total victory claim of today’s Right. It sees any New Deal legislation, and in fact any previous regulation of laissez-faire economics as a tactical retreat at best, at a time when the United States was engaged in a mortal conflict with the Soviet Union, and not as something that is good in and of itself. In their view, “winning the Cold War” means one and only one thing: Free Enterprise in its purest form won, and with no Soviet Union around, it is time to do away with the tactical concessions that had to be made. Progressives, in this view, were just do-nothing never-happy critics who they had to bravely carry on their shoulders while fighting evil in the world.
Which brings us to the Victory Lap Syndrome. The Right feels slighted that there were no ticker tape parades thanking them for being on the vanguard for all humanity. They wanted a victory lap and applause, but most importantly they wanted all other ideologies to cry uncle faced with their epic single handed victory. Having failed to elicit this acknowledgment, Republicans see any, and I mean any Democratic President as illegitimate, one way or another, because as Democrats our realization of the underbelly of unfettered Capitalism is anathema to their false historical conclusions. How else to explain their total obsessive antipathy first to Clinton and now to Obama. There are many things I disagree with both of these Democratic presidents, but I do not see them as illegitimate. The Right does. And not just these two, but any Democrat. It actually irks them that exactly when they were in the middle of their Victory Lap, the country dared to elect those who did not share their delusional all-or-nothing ruminations. So they will come up with anything from politicizing personal indiscretions and impeaching Clinton, to claiming Obama as a Kenya born secret Muslim bent on turning America Socialist. It really does not matter, because at this stage, The Right’s ideology has become a religion unencumbered by any relation to reality or results.
The Great Experiment failed. For eight long years during W’s presidency, the Right had its foot on the throttle. They cut taxes, they cut regulations, they stuck the middle finger to the world, and they came closer than ever to vindicating their Victory Lap. Or so they thought. The epic collapse of our and much of the world’s economy might have persuaded at least some reasonable conservatives, that at a minimum, their ideology needed some tweaking. (As every ideology does from time to time). But not with these folks. They see any positives as vindication of their ideology, and any failure, no matter how great (and while they were in control), as being caused by the fact that because of Democrats, they were not able to exercise Capitalism the way it really should be practiced. So lets attack unions, and New Deal laws and we promise, we will once again be that shining city on the hill.
It is a religion totally unprepared to guide this country in a very challenging century with China rising and up and coming countries like Brazil an India playing ever more important roles. It is incapable of acknowledging any weaknesses or false premises in its ideology, but like a petulant child, it lashes out at those who try to sully its purity with “defeated” choruses of regulation and fairness, the looming catastrophe of climate change, or diminishing oil reserves. It just wants its victory parade, and it wants it now.