Which makes it a warning about what could happen anywhere.
Fortunately, I think there is some way to go in the UK before anything as vicious and smugly cruel as the Republican Party gains a significant foothold (as has been noted before, the closest we have is the BNP, who I'm far from unconcerned about, but at least don't need millions of dollars spent against them just to hopefully push them into second place maybe). For all that I loathe the Conservative Party - and am aware that a difference in tone can often just be a mask for similarities in policy - I wouldn't want to argue they're anywhere near as bad as the rabid money-grubbing bigots stinking up the New World.
Except one day, they might be. All it takes is for enough people to stop pointing out those things that should make decent people sick. That's all it takes.
So let's point this out., as they did in the Guardian (which is how I got hold of it).
Most commentators agree that Mitt Romney has committed political suicide by pointing out that 46pc of Americans pay no income tax.
Actually, the mistake wasn't in pointing this out, but in getting the number wrong, getting the definition of income tax wrong (the vast majority of people paying no federal income tax still pay state income tax, and since was not having to pay tax something the Republicans hated?), and arguing this 47% of people weren't worth his effort to reach out too because they're entirely addicted to suckling from the federal government's teat. You might as well argue Gerald Ratner's big mistake was admitting that he sold jewellery -
but he may have done us all a favour by raising a fundamental weakness in many developed economies – including Britain’s – which is also one of the causes of the credit crisis.
- which of course is nowhere near as stupid as implying poor people are to blame for the credit crisis, though it's always nice to be reminded that the Telegraph really is as gobshite-awful as its reputation would suggest. I'm not going to claim total authority on the credit crisis - I'm still a near-amateur on any economic issue more complicated than present values - but the argument that things might not have gone quite so tits-up if the marks shamelessly fleeced by the great and the good had less money lying around can be most simply expressed as "if the poor had no cash then con-men wouldn't have any reason to target them", which, whilst plausible, is roughly the same logic as suggesting we end shark attacks by removing the legs of anyone expressing an interest in swimming.
Whether or not his candour costs the Republican candidate any hope of winning the Presidential Election in November, he has certainly demonstrated the modern meaning of the word ‘gaffe’ – that is, a statement of the bleedin’ obvious by someone in the public eye.
For those keeping score, the "Consumer Affairs Journalist of the Year" defines "bleedin' obvious" as a statement inaccurate both quantitatively and qualitatively. Somewhere in the realm of rhetoric, parody coughs up another wad of bloody lung, and his doctor shakes his head sadly.
Many people are understandably eager to stifle this debate – as demonstrated by the furore caused when I last asked in this space whether votes should be restricted to people who actually pay something into the system...
Ian - may I call you Ian? - no-one wants to stifle this debate, any more than they want to stifle the 1986 World Cup. Because it's over, it's been over for a while, and you lost and need to fucking stop whining about it. You might as well complain you'd be stifled for suggesting the British Empire should make a comeback.
I am not suggesting a return to property-based eligibility; although that system worked quite well when Parliament administered not just Britain but most of the world.
Oh. Well, carry on then.
I'd admit that it takes some balls to come out and suggest things were just tickety-boo back when the Cabinet would squirt brandy from their nose at the very suggestion we take seriously the political opinions of anyone with skin darker than heavily-milked tea, except that this goober is writing in the pages of the Telegraph, which means he could say the worst thing about Hitler was that he died too soon to impregnate Margaret Thatcher, and he'd be more likely to receive a pay-rise than a whipping through the streets.
Today, income would be a much better test, setting the bar as low as possible; perhaps including everyone who pays at least £100 or even just $100 of income tax each year. That minimal requirement would include everyone who gets out of bed in the morning to go to work and could easily be extended to include, on grounds of fairness, several other groups.
Anyone want to guess if he mentions those too unwell or disabled for stable, long-term employment at this point? Or those unemployed through no fault of their own?
For example, all pensioners... all mothers.
"I think I'm going to have a heart attack and die of not surprise!"
This, of course, where things get really ugly, and for so many reasons. It's not just the idea that the government should be in the business of constructing voting tests (which, aside from anything else, would cost us more money in any case, something the right tends to really dislike in principle right up to the point it's being spent on cudgels for the "less-deserving") , or even the idea that the best way to construct such a test would be to look at people's income slips, though both those ideas are very, very bad indeed. It's this line here, which Cowie would doubtless call "bleedin' obvious", others would label a gaffe, but for my money is best described as projectile-vomited half-digested cow diarrhea:
This modest proposal would... exclude large numbers of people who have no ‘skin in the game’...
I keep reading this bit and trying to work out if this whole piece is an attempt to troll Telegraph readers - and if it is, it's a remarkable achievement. "Modest proposal"? It's not that Cowie wants people to eat their babies, you understand. It's just that if someone has babies and isn't working, he doesn't think they should get a say when the rest of us are deciding if baby flambe should be on tonight's menu.
Some idiot over in the States used this "skin in the game" formulation, and Charlie Pierce took him down as only he can. Anyone who goes for more than a year without receiving enough money to pay income tax has nothing but skin in the game. There is no-one else for whom the slightest tremors in the social structure can be more catastrophic. These are the people with their bodies stretched across the cracks in the country, praying to anyone who'll listen that they might be able to hang on for another year. Cowie's solution to this is to argue we shouldn't have to hear those prayers at all, because they haven't paid us to listen to them. Christ, Ian. At least when Marie Antoinette chose to utterly ignore the plight of her country-people, she had the decency to offer up a slice or two of gateau.
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury... From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy.”
And if anything can stop this hideous tyranny of the majority, surely it's preventing a minority the population from having a vote.
This, of course, is the shell game here. Cowie is so terrified that a majority of people will start voting to fill their own troughs that he's desperate to stop a minority - a minority far smaller than Romney or Cowie has any intention of admitting - from getting in on the action. Because everyone else, including those people who pay as little as £100 in income tax a year, apparently have no vested interest in where the money goes. There is nothing in a democracy more common or more worthy of scorn than those arguing it's those other people who are biased. That if only those women/blacks/gays/Muslims/poor people weren't stinking up the place with their opinions, everything would be fine, because the white/white/white/man/man/man could finally start debating with themselves over what to do about all the weirdos and losers.
That if only we could all be as unswayed by personal preference and illogical impulses as a man who thinks benefit rates caused the financial crisis and that Mitt Romney is "acutely aware" of anything beyond whether his unfavorablity ratings have gotten higher than the sum of his bank account numbers, everything would turn out for the best.
If only no-one questioned his ideas, then we could really get somewhere.