Friday, 30 May 2008

Smash And Grab

I thought I might take a little time today to expand on the aside I made yesterday about certain aspects of the Republican party bearing a startling resemblance to ram raiders. Not because the analogy is unfair (or if it is, it's unfair to all the money-grabbing petty criminals out there who don't start wars over the course of a job), but because I realised I'd hit upon a potential long-term strategy for ultra-rich libertarians that I hadn't completely understood until now.

Bush and his ilk (by which I don't necessarily mean neoconservatives, which I think is a term much misused at the moment) are potentially unique in the annals of democracy, because they have managed to cobble together a government predominantly made up of people who think government is an obviously dumb idea. Every political party has its own ideas on what is and isn't a government's business, of course (one of several reasons why the sooner people start identifying themselves on the political compass rather than a scale from left to right, the better); much of the flak directed at our own Labour government is due to the surfacing of a far stronger authoritarian streak than most people realised they possessed. But the Bush administration has taken this to new depths. Once you cite moral objections when vetoing bills aimed at keeping sick children alive, you've passed the point at which you're an outlier; you may even be an outlier to the outliers.

The reasons why libertarians in general are so suspicious about government poking its nose in are many and varied. What's crucial to note, though, is the people we're talking about, Bush and his cronies and more importantly those who hold his purse-strings, are not just libertarians, they're libertarians and they're rich as all Hell. Whether or not they have deeper and more complex political philosophies as to the degree of control over the citizenry the federal government should be awarded, there is an inescapably simple equation that each and every one of them is entirely well aware of, keeping the Man in check = more fucking loot for those as has it.

These people might not necessarily be completely selfish with their vast hordes of wealth. Better political commentators than I have pointed out that the Americans frequently prefer the idea of giving their money to charity to having it taken from them in the form of taxes which then fund welfare projects, even if the exact same people end up getting helped in the long run. Maybe it comes back to the hoary old chestnut of "freedom" again (as a country the US seems to have a borderline bat-shit definition of the concept of freedom that I might get round to tackling someday). The point is even the altruistic millionaires frequently want their altruism to be on their terms, and not mandated by the suits inside the Beltway.

What this has inevitably led to is a branch of the Republican party (which is made up of at least three branches, and countless sub-branches, all clumsily soldered together into one coalition in the Reagan era, a coalition now increasingly showing signs of fracturing) for which the goal of their chosen president is just to scale down the government as much as possible, as quickly as possible, with particular attention given to taxes.

So that, I argue, is the motivation. Here's the strategy. Because Bush's fundamental axiom is that big government is a bad idea, the vast majority of blunders (if indeed they are such) made by his administration go towards proving his point. It might not work on those with a sufficient degree of political nous, but for a lot of people, each time the government fucks up, the suggestion that government should just butt out becomes more attractive, not less [1]. The war in Iraq or the destruction of New Orleans is something big enough to make everyone sit up and notice, but in general the media is happy to avoid pointing fingers at those specifically to blame for what's gone wrong, and meanwhile the Republicans can keep banging on about how they always said it shouldn't have been the government's responsibility anyhow.

So if the Bush manages to scale something back, he wins. If he fails to adequately wield what power he has (at least domestically), he wins. The deficit explodes, the rich/poor divide gets ever more ludicrously chasm-esque, more and more millionaires build themselves their Scrooge McDuck style money-bins and breast stroke their way through the horde of treasure. It's all gravy.

Eventually, of course, people begin to smell a rat, and, much as is happening at the moment, the mood of the country begins to turn (note though that it took catastrophes both at home and abroad to potentially oust the GOP, and last time round it happened at least in part because H.W. Bush broke his pledge to not raise taxes, which pissed off the very people I'm describing here). At that point, as described yesterday, the Republicans can just cut and run. If the Democrats do get in, they face the potentially insurmountable challenge of clearing everything up whilst being constantly hammered from the other side of the aisle (and again, I'd point out that this was to some extent what happened to Clinton). If the Republicans do manage to get another term (how this is even being considered as an option is depressing beyond belief), apparently by pretending McCain is totally different to Bush (who himself pretended to be totally different to his father, and by the exact same metrics; enthusiasm for bipartisanship and an increased level of "compassion" for those less fortunate) even when his voting record makes that so transparently false I might use the data in the first question on a Statistics GCSE paper, then that's four more years of grabbing more money, inflicting more damage for the Democrats to patch up, and continuing to poison public opinion against the very concept of government itself.

It is, frankly, a brilliant strategy. The poor, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the unions and so forth, all flat-out need the Democrats in power in order to have any chance of advancing their agenda (whether it be the right to belong to a union without getting fired, marrying another man, or reducing the number of young black men getting a) addicted to drugs and b) shot); it is a necessary condition (although to the party's eternal shame, a far from sufficient one). The wealthy, on the other hand, don't need any given party in government. They prefer the Republicans, sure, but with the Democratic Party in power, they still have a metric fuck-ton of cash squirreled away, and they still hold a disproportionate amount of sway over the government because of it.

Viewed from this angle, you begin to ask yourself how much of the terrible, terrible mismanagement of the last eight years was short-sighted partisan idiocy, and how much of it was mine-laying designed to hobble a Democratic administration right out of the gate. This may all have the appearance of a governmental conspiracy theory, but such theories almost always require the idea that the government is far, far more efficient and cohesive than we generally take it to be. This theory simply works on the basis that the very inefficiency and lack of cohesion so many believe is there may be partially intentional.

The only real way I can see out of this cycle, short of some of the other tribes within the Reagan coalition wresting control from the Bushoids, is to be more successful at getting the message out to the people regarding Republican screw-ups, and just as importantly, make it abundantly clear that these screw-ups are born from a particular political philosophy, not because the federal government is de facto a bad idea. This won't really help when it comes to conservatives sniping from the sidelines, but we need to frame the debate in terms of Democratic policy vs Republican policy, not governing vs no governing.

Yeah, I know. I'm not holding my breath.

[1] Some may say that I'm being somewhat smug and elitist here (more so than usual), but it's a fairly rare occurrence for anyone to lose money on betting the electorate are idiots. Christ, if they can swallow "lowering taxes increases revenue", and not notice that every time taxes are lowered, not only does it inflate the deficit, but it isn't their taxes that are lower, then there's no hope for them.


Morose_Midget said...

I know that no-one who has ever even stood next to me at a bus-stop, let alone spoken to me will believe me but I was positioned at
(engage Geek)
(-6.25, -2.26)
futile attempt to (/Geek)
...which puts me not that far from Gandhi.

I laughed so much I almost had an accident...

SpaceSquid said...

Well, you know, if he was really pissed off.

We miss you, by the way.