Cross-posted at Blue Virginia
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the pigs on Mr. Jones’ farm lead an animal revolt against him – a revolution based on high principles, which one by one the pigs violate as they begin to act like the men they replaced. As the pigs start walking on two legs, they replace their slogan “Four legs good, two legs bad” with the new, improved “Four legs good, two legs better.”
I thought of Orwell as I listened to Dave Brat’s latest speech celebrating his victory over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA House District 8)– and announcing his choice of Cantor’s former political director to be his new campaign manager. Well, that revolution didn’t last long, did it?
The media, of course, has been full of commentary about the Tea Party “revolt” against the “Republican establishment”. But we’ve heard too few good explanations of what this “revolt” is really about.
If you were to search for the core of modern conservatism – the driving force and principle at the heart of it – you will find that it is not fundamentally driven by religion, by prejudice, by support for the military, by love of guns or rural values. All of these perspectives are certainly important, particularly to the GOP grassroots. But what drives this party – more than ever before – is the money, support and agenda of the most enormous corporations on Earth. This is the party of the Koch Brothers, the party of ALEC, the party of Exxon-Mobil and Wall Street.
The proof is in the toxic pudding of today’s GOP agenda, which is all about shrinking government to a size where – to use Grover Norquist’s psycho phrase – “we can drown it in the bathtub.” Government must be tamed because it’s the only institution left with the power to challenge multinational corporations.
Of course, since poor white rural voters may not feel warm and cuddly about CEOs and stockbrokers downing caviar in their Fifth Avenue corporate suites, you can only gain their support by diverting their attention. Hence pretty much the whole Republican agenda has become consumed by conspiracy theories to justify pro-corporate policies.
Why do we need to protect Big Oil, Gas and Coal from regulation? Because of that climate change hoax that Al Gore concocted with a bunch of evil scientists!
Why do we need to protect insurance companies and rich doctors from a more rational health care system? Because that Kenyan in the White House is trying to impose socialism and death panels!
Why do we need to keep feeding the military-industrial complex with three-quarters of a trillion dollars every year? Because we must counter the Democrats’ plot to destroy America by making us weak!
The best description of how Republicans get lower class white voters to vote against their own economic interests – by appealing to their cultural predilections – is still Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas. But what has changed since that 2004 book is the Koch Brothers’ consolidation of power over the GOP with the network of organizations they’ve built to amplify a massive propaganda echo chamber – endlessly reinforcing the same messages to motivate their nationwide grassroots army, the Tea Party.
This centralization of conservative message and power in the hands of two billionaires raised on the philosophy and tactics of their dad’s John Birch Society presents great risks to the country. With ever-increasing stridency and skill, the Kochtopus appeals to the fears of the uneducated solely to promote the interests of corporate America.
Which brings me back to Dave Brat and his so-called populist revolt against Eric Cantor. Are the two men really that different ideologically? Brat spouts almost every anti-government, pro-corporate line that you would ever hear from Cantor.
The only difference, perhaps, is Brat’s focus on fighting “crony capitalism” – where government specifically favors a particular corporate interest over others, “picking winners” as opposed to allowing “a level playing field”. Yes, it would be nice to see Republicans joining Democrats to clear out the thicket of corporate welfare and favoritism programs. But is there any reason whatsoever to expect this to happen?
The truth is, the Tea Party has been talking about crony capitalism for a while now, but despite their lock on the House and (through the filibuster) the Senate, they have not used their considerable power to advance any single measure to challenge corporate control of our government.
To the contrary, they have opposed every effort by the Obama Administration to reduce benefits to or increase oversight of corporate America. When Obama tried to tighten regulations on Wall Street they fought him. When Obama tried to reduce the billions in subsidies going to Big Oil or Big Ag, they fought him.
So will Dave Brat’s victory over Eric Cantor change this one iota? Don’t be naïve.
The party of corporate America will not trade away its core principles, its reason for being, just because one conservative white dude is replacing another. Republicans may have to work harder at fooling their base, which means weeding out people like Cantor who just can’t hide their contempt for the little people. But the voice of these little people will never be heeded by a GOP that exists to listen to those who are too big to fail.
As the pigs in Animal Farm ultimately teach their subjects: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”