The End Is Nigh!
from Peter Radford
The end, that is, of Reaganism.
The Republicans have shut down government because no one is taking their demand that health care reform is abandoned seriously.
In a nutshell the fight is over the part of reform that increases taxes on the top 1% of income earners, reduces subsidies to insurers within the Medicare system, and thus can afford to provide health care to tens of millions of previously uninsured people. That’s it. The Republicans failed to defeat these things during the law’s passage; the law stood up to challenge in the Supreme Court; and subsequently a presidential election was fought, with the winner being the advocate of the law. That’s pretty conclusive. The reform has been constitutionally and electorally approved.
But the extremists now running the Republican party think they can ignore all that. They abhor reform and so have taken to insurgency. Their defense of the wealthy to the detriment of the poor and the sick is open class warfare. It can be construed in no other way. Unless the extremists go through some radical change, their intransigence and defense of the privileged will lap over into a fight over the debt ceiling.
Which is odd, isn’t it? Because the privileged stand to lose the most when our credit worthiness is undermined. They are, after all, the holders of most of our collective wealth.
I see this in historical terms.
Our current plight is the natural, if chaotic, end point of the Reagan counter-revolution.
Reaganism – to which the current extremists pay only lip service – was a revolt against the post-war rise of the state as a major player in our lives. It was an attempt to undo that rise and to send us back to an era of smaller and simpler government. Ideologically this was cloaked as a great unlocking of the individual with all the supposed freedoms that such an unlocking engenders. In reality it was a naked grab for power by corporations and the wealthy. Deregulation was asymmetric. It was carried through only insofar as it freed big business and banking. The rest of us faced the same old mountains of incomprehensible red tape. It allowed business to undo the post-war social contract and to shift the burden of economic uncertainty onto workers. This shift in the risk/reward trade-off was also asymmetric: the risk was shifted, but the rewards were not.
So instead of unleashing the much romanticized old fashioned capitalism we read of in Hayek and Friedman, neither of whom related to the twentieth century in any case, we plunged into a newer and less well understood managerial and financial capitalism riven through with bureaucratic and legislative bias and technocratic oppression. The promised rewards: less government and more growth to lift us all, never turned up. On the contrary, growth was disproportionately siphoned off to the wealthy, and government kept on growing in response to the ever more complex requirements of modern life.
The seeds of our current predicament were sown by the revolutionaries supporting Reaganism. They modified the laws so they could rig legislation via lobbying and the flood of cash they commanded. They used this power to extract more cash. Some of which they plowed back into protecting their hold over governance. They fought off electoral reforms and they won, with the assistance of a right wing Supreme Court, the ability to pump even more cash into politics.
Part of the strategy was to push the Republican party away from its right/centrist roots towards an openly extreme and highly class protective right wing position. The last decade has seen the elimination of the old moderate wing of the party and the ascendancy of extremism as everyday within the party. Most Republicans in Washington now fear a Democratic challenger less than they do an extremist primary challenge.
One consequence of this has been the steady loss of control of the party by the managerial/financial contingent of the revolutionaries, and the rise of the outright plutocrats whose cash has enabled the emergence of all sorts of shady anti-social personalities and a plethora of extreme agendas far removed from the central issues facing most voters. In this sense the modern Republican party is highly representative of its core supporters. Which is why, within its own world, it feels empowered to threaten the rest of us.
All this alone would be sufficient to hurtle the Republicans into radical extremism, but there is another aspect of recent history that makes the whole shift both more probable and more intransigent. The nation has changed. It is more diverse. It is less traditional. Its issues are not those of the post-war era, but of the emerging twenty-first century. The problems facing the young are not those that faced the young fifty years ago. This has alienated a tranche of the more traditional white population, and they have provided sufficient numbers and energy to enable the extremists even further.
So Reaganism is solving the wrong problems. It is preventing an orderly change in society as diversity entrenches ever deeper into our way of life. It is protecting a smaller and more privileged group than the revolutionaries who launched it upon us envisaged. Their revolution, like all revolutions, was co-opted and subverted along the way. Whether it was ever going to deliver the misty eyed visions of Reagan is questionable. That it has delivered in spades for the wealthy is not. Nor is the opposite effect: the vast majority of Americans have suffered under the grip of the revolution. Inequality is unprecedented. Profits have boomed. We have lived through three asset bubbles. The economy is less stable and more risky. And all that extra risk has fallen on the less privileged. Wages have stagnated. Employment is less certain. Retirement more fragile. And our health care system fallen way behind those abroad.
The irony is that, by undermining the safety of the economy, the Reagan counter-revolution has put in place the foundation for the next wave of progressive politics. Almost every triumph of the Reagan era has within it a potential contrary aspect. By undoing the post-are social contract our plutocrats have highlighted its value. By trying to fend off statism they have shown how dependent we are on it. By trying to reverse history they have made the contrast with our future more sharp. By trying to turn back the tide they have shown how farcical that notion is. By being ever more greedy they have shown us that modesty and cooperation is the way forward. By unleashing the forces of corporatism they have produced a generation disengaged from business. By being extreme they have taught us the value of balance.
And that balance will be re-asserted once this crisis runs its course.
But, I doubt, by any of our current leaders, none of whom seems to have the desire or the vision to begin the rebalancing. I suspect that it will not be before 2020 that we will, retrospectively, realize that the debt and budget crises forced on us by the extremists this year were the moment that the pendulum began its long and slow swing to the left. We have to weather the storm first.
Then we reclaim the nation.