At the core of conservative dogma about government is that if the national debt gets too big it will soak up all the capital in the world and thus drive up interest rates to some apocalyptic level. Catastrophically high interest rates will kill economic growth and multiply the debt burden through higher interest and falling tax revenues. This, of course, is 19th century nostalgia from a time when such a thing might actually have been possible. In the 21st century and for much of the 20th century, there has been more accumulated capital in the hands of the wealthy than the entire world could possibly use in its governments. It’s absurd, but whips on the Tea Party to prophesy the greatest of economic calamities if the deficit is not eliminated and the debt reduced. Granted if our debt payments begin to exceed our income then we might get a credit downgrade, but as we a re operating right now, that’s not within sight. It took the Tea Party to get our first downgrade ever in 2011, from AAA to AA+.
The bald faced irony of how the Tea Party wants to exorcise debt from government is that in the way they are choosing to do it they are causing the exact same economic carnage that they ostensibly fear. The Tea Party is deliberately attempting to cause the U.S. to default on its current debt. This, unlike continued growth in the debt, will actually cause an economic apocalypse, sooner rather than later. Their fear mongering over debt, of skyrocketing interest rates and the collapse of economic activity, will come to pass deliberately, at their hands, for no reason than that they fear it might happen if they don’t cause it to happen. In the future there will be a common expression: that’s not just crazy, it’s Tea Party crazy.
The GOP has never really cared about the debt. Reagan and Bush 43 both ran it up like a college kid with his first credit card. Clinton fixed Reagan’s mess and Obama is fixing Bush’s mess. Bush took Clintons surplus and gave it away rather than paying down the debt with it on the voodoo economic principle that the tax cuts would stimulate the economy. It didn’t. It takes Democrats to be fiscally responsible.
But the GOP campaigned on fiscal conservatism in 2010, arguing that only, although they never have, private sector tax breaks can create jobs. This emphasis created a philosophical opening for the fiscal hawks we now call the Tea Party. After all, if fiscal conservatism is good, then villainous conservatism must be better. How many jobs can we create through tax breaks per child allowed to starve? Villainous enough, but even that doesn’t plumb the venal depths of the Tea Party GOP. The facts is they don’t care if a job is created by any austerity measure they proffer. All they care about is the cash in their pocket and getting more of it in their pocket the easiest ways possible, through tax cuts, deregulation, environmental degradation, collapse of food safety and the starving of children. That’s not just self centered, that’s Tea Party self centered.
How long will it take the American people to figure out that the Tea Party philosophy is morally challenged, fiscally irresponsible and as useless for problem solving as committee of mental patients? After all, who in their right mind breaks a thing in order to keep it from breaking?
Conservative, by definition, is oppositional to change, moderate, cautious. A person can be conservative. The current political incarnation that we now call conservative is something other than a collection of people who exhibit the characteristics of a conservative person. In politics, conservatism as defined by Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism, is a living contradiction.
Burke’s conservatism equated property to liberty, a radical idea in his time. On the other hand, Burke asserts that people want to be led and that authority is to be respected, a conservative thought. Whatever authority there is has been created by those interested in what that authority does for them. They don’t want that authority changed. That is antithetical to democracy and personal liberty. Property is irrelevant to personal liberty unless your idea of liberty is the liberty to accumulate property.
So the political conservative wants liberty but also wants authority or the existence of authority to control something. That something they want controlled is, as it turns out, the liberty of other people. That is the political conservative’s mind and political instinct. Liberty is my birth right and denying you your liberty is as well.
This is all rooted in the false narrative of something called the tyranny of the masses. To my knowledge there never has been a protracted tyranny of any sort other than the tyranny of monarchs, autocrats, dictatorial political figures and robber barons. Stalin’s communist state was authoritarian, not democratic.
The tyranny of the masses is a night terror fashioned by political conservatives out of the true terror autocrats and would be autocrats have that they will be held to account for their own tyrannies. All that the masses want is a better life for themselves and everyone else. If accomplishing that requires exacting a certain amount of temporary tyranny on their former masters then history illustrates the forms and extent to which that tyranny of the masses has been executed. Burke considered, indeed most Americans consider, the tyranny of the masses in taking and keeping the tributes paid by the former English American colonies to the Crown of England a modest tyranny of the masses. It is from this American, and the later French, revolutions that Edmund Burke fashioned his theory of tyranny of the masses. Flatly, if you have to rise up against a tyranny in order to feed yourself, it’s tyranny of the masses, and the theory is bald faced mendacity.
Political conservatism is a philosophical dichotomy, at once extoling the virtues and rights of man to enjoy liberty and at the same time defending the authority that would define what liberties man might have in order that he not harm both himself and others in the prosecution of his life. If one were to say that political liberals extoled the virtues of personal liberty tempered by enough government authority to keep people from harming themselves or others you might not find much dissent. Both political philosophies are, in theory, capable of tyranny. Which of the two, when in charge, is to be considered a mob instead of lawful government is politically debatable but not an iron assumption.
The difference between conservatives and liberals is where they stand on issues. In terms of the the philosophy of governing, that the government exists to protect freedoms and to promote the wellbeing of the people, they are the same. Both believe government exists for a reason, even if that reason is a logical dichotomy and their social goal leanings work to different ends. The political conservative works to protect the personal property of the better off from being appropriated by the poorer majority. The political liberal works to assure the the poorer majority has the means to live in some comfort, if not now at least in some future. Somehow the conservatives do not see the logic in having the poor satisfied with their prospects, conservatives projecting their own greed onto the poor who just want enough to live with some hope of betterment. In that disparity of goals we have an eons long political diversion of political objectives in that the rich accumulate wealth at the expense of the poor and the poor must barter for wealth from the rich in order to live. It’s a simple enough concept, even rational and workable if you understand the fundamental tensions. At least it used to be that way, was understood and solved by FDR, but things have changed.
There have always been fringe elements in both conservative and liberal political cohorts. William F. Buckley famously drove the John Birchers out of a position of influence in the GOP. Bill Clinton had his “Sister Souljah” moment. Both parties have tended to tamp down the extremes if only so that they can get elected by an electorate that views itself, in numbers greater than are countable on either extreme, in the more political center.
But as of the 2010 elections the Birchers are back. They attended the CPAC convention for the first time in decades. Add the Bircher style communists under your bed craziness to the social conservatives brought on board by Reagan and the ongoing southern strategy of Nixon exploiting race animus and you get the Tea Party. So now the Tea Party is nothing but a torch bearing mob of white supremacist, self-righteous religious commie haters that took the campaign line of Reagan, that government is the problem, seriously. Government is the problem, but only if it is not promoting white supremacy, religious intolerance and laissez faire capitalism, all of which the world has had extensive experience with and has already rejected en masse a century ago. The Tea Party is not conservative, it is radical and recidivist, wanting to reconstitute as law the crimes against other people’s liberties they had the liberty and authority to commit in the distant past.
In it’s current form, led by the Tea Party donors such as the Koch brothers, the Tea Party controlled GOP is the most grave threat to global economic prosperity, and therefore global peace, that we have seen since full on authoritarian communism was launched in 1917 and fascism followed in 1933. The Pentagon is actually planning for the global recession and wars that will follow realization of the radical policies of the current instantiation of the GOP. The Pentagon may not assign political cause to the coming conflagration they expect, but they envision a world on the path to shortage and poverty and blight, all of which could be corrected by governments. But then government is the enemy of a GOP now bent on being in charge of government at any price, that price including ruining economies, environments and societies to cast doubt on liberal governments.
The irony of all this is that the political philosophy that most abhors the rule of the mob is the party that has put the mob in charge. The Tea Party, and thus now the GOP, is a mob that despises education, intellect, tolerance and sympathy. They are hell bent to destroy the socioeconomic success that was FDR’s democratic adaptation to socialism and replace it with some anarchy of religious straggle-hold on society, white male only franchise and war lord like monopolies in commerce.
In 2010 all this might have seemed alarmist. The track record of GOP governance in states and in federal government since then illustrates that it is not. GOP controlled States have passed voting restrictions obviously intended to disenfranchise minorities and the un-propertied. Those same states and the GOP controlled U.S. House of Representatives have passed rabidly restrictive laws curtailing reproductive rights. A phalanx of the GOP in government at all levels still resists federal regulation of the very banking excesses that caused you to lose your job in the Great Recession, all the while still rolling back regulation in the States. Unions, the “free market” solution for recognizing and rewarding the increasing productivity of employees in the work force, have been attacked wholesale. Tax loopholes enabling huge profits for the rich contrast with skyrocketing cost of education, healthcare and transportation. The poor and middle class continue to bleed out their life savings while the GOP fiddles watching America burn and the rich sup the life blood of middle class Americans.
Attributed to Thomas Jefferson are two instructive quotes, “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule.” and “I know of no safe depository for the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.” Jefferson’s democracy is the one I think we all want to live in. We may not know what we are doing today, but we should have learned from whence we acted yesterday. The only question is how to make the GOP realize it is now the mob it has always feared.
I suggest we start this way. The press and people with currency in the public dialogue should bear this in mind when speaking to or of the current denizens of the GOP – You are entitled to your opinion but you’re not entitled to have your opinion respected. The indolence of the press in not taking a stand on issues is not doing the country or the world any good. The press is the only feasible opposition to the rule of vested interest money and lobbies in politics. As far as the current GOP is concerned, if you are not in active opposition to them you are tacitly for them and the consequences are altogether too dire to let the public suppose the GOP may be right.
The twentieth century topped the previous two centuries in economic growth. These last three centuries produced virtually all the per capita economic growth the world has ever seen. That growth, driven by the dual liberations of democracy and innovation, is evident in and is a result of the spectacular betterment of the standards of living in the world industrialized nations. The most accurate definition of economic growth might in fact be increasing standards of living because all economic activity is ultimately consumption or funding producing things for consumption.
The growth spurt of the last 1/3rd millennium, a spurt in the collected economic history of mankind, is said by some to be coming to an end. Indeed, much of the economic growth of this latest century has been driven by easy credit making up for near zero growth in wages as a slice of the economic pie. The illusion of growth driven by that easy credit was substantially erased when consumer credit dried up and the markets for housing and jobs fell apart in 2008.
We built up the housing market bubble on a credit bubble and it burst. They always burst. The gravity of the underlying economy pulls us all back to economic reality. That reality is that in order for prices to be sustained consumers have to have the wherewithal to pay them or to pay the debts incurred to pay those prices.
For those that would blame consumers for taking on more debt than they should I would remind the critic that in no time since the New Deal era have Americans not enjoyed wage growth outpacing their debt burdens. In other words you could count on paying a marginally affordable debt more easily in the future due to your salary increasing. By the first decade of the 21st century, this was no longer a dependable American reality.
In our economic past, the longer you lived and worked, the higher was your standard of living. That came to an end with globalization. Exploitation of wage differentials between nations has made raises and even job security a thing of the past. In the bargain it has made economic growth a thing of the past.
Consumption is the sole driver of economies. If one consumer makes a dollar less per year the economy is, filtered through all the import/export, government expenditures and investment terms of the GDP, a dollar smaller per year. Export a job from a higher wage country to a lower wage country and the global economy shrinks by the net loss of the wages for the more highly paid worker.
Making and selling a product more cheaply is a good thing economically, but not when it comes from exploiting wage differentials. Exploitation of international wage differentials dilutes wage pricing power of domestic labor leading to lower domestic wages and so a shrinking real economy.
In our new borderless world economy, multinational corporations are overseeing the destruction of the global wage base. Multinationals think that’s a good thing. It is a good thing for them individually in the short term. In the long term, collectively, it’s a terminal illness. If one company does it, it’s a competitive advantage. If every company does it it’s no longer a competitive advantage and simply creates a self accelerating trajectory of global wage destruction. It’s almost as if the international community of CEOs has now come to think of global wage destruction is a good thing.
A boat rudder stuck in one position is not a rudder. Multinationals have, so far, shown zero concern over the fact that the ultimate outcome of the direction in which the global rudder is stuck is toward destruction of the global economy to the level at which no one will care about the profits of multinationals, capitalists or bankers. That destination has a name. It’s called communism.
Don’t think that since communism has been discredited for now that capitalism can’t bend the curve of history back on itself to the point where communism looks relatively attractive again. The “Y” generation is already showing the signs. After all, a share of a cooperative has only to be proved better than a share of nothing. So far, governments are either unable to understand the inevitable result of a rudderless global economy or are unable or unwilling to do anything about it. We may actually need a one world government, other than the WTO, to fashion a new working rudder for the world economy.
We are in the midst of a global economic experiment testing Aynn Rand’s hypothesis of rational self interest. The design of the experiment is whether the multinationals will realize the folly they have undertaken in time to redress the damage or they will go on using a subset of their reasoning power, the greed subset, and destroy the global economy.
Meanwhile the superset of reason has long acknowledged the fact that what benefits the working class benefits the capital class more than does their exploitation of the working class. It applies to main street as well as Wall Street.
Aynn Rand probably didn’t think any of this through, her rudder having been stuck on reliance on the reasoning power of humans as to their own best self interest. She might ought to have spent some time thinking about just how capable people are of identifying their best self interest. Her CEO heroes, in real life, seem to be lacking in the attribute her philosophy most relied on them to have.
A shadow box sits on my mantle. In it are the effects of my great uncle Homer who was killed in WW I serving as a U.S. volunteer in the Canadian forces deployment to Europe. Thereafter my family were pacifists. Pacifism, however, does not seem to shield you from danger anywhere on the scale from accident to terrorism to war.
My personal experience with guns started as a pre-teen. My father, drafted in WW II, managed to stay out of the fighting until the very end by teaching marksmanship at home until deployed as a company commander. He taught me marksmanship. Skill with a rifle did not serve me when, at age fourteen, I found myself looking at the muzzle of a loaded gun. A split second later I was shot in the throat, no time to react, to move, to speak, only to realize that in a split second I was going to be shot.
It was an accident. My best friend had picked up the rifle we had just been hunting with and thinking it was no longer loaded, pulled the trigger. He was smiling when he pointed it, a kids game, a toy gun like we played with for countless hours theretofore. This time there was real gun powder and lead and primer. This time the look on his face changed from play to terror as he heard the report and saw a hole appear in my larynx.
I was shot, knew it, felt it hit like the doctor would wrap your knee with his reflex testing hammer. The flesh didn’t much resist. If I’d not seen the muzzle, the grin, heard the blast and seen the flash I might not have known I’d been shot. The bullet, a .22, bored a path from larynx to spine in a classic curve from the rifling and came to rest short of severing the brachial nerve of my right arm. I noticed a dull pain when I moved my right arm. The bullet rested there until it was removed during a six hour surgery. My parents were distraught, but a little plastic surgery later the only ill effects were a weak voice and a lightning shaped scar from jawbone to clavicle.
I was lucky. I was lucky beyond the reasonable. My mother’s sister was lucky on August 1, 1966. That was the day that marks my first awareness of any mass shooting ever, when Charles Whitman began shooting people from the University of Texas Library tower. My aunt was on campus that day. But for the good old boys stopping their pickup trucks, grabbing their deer rifles out of their gun racks and shooting back, the toll might have been higher than 16 dead. She was lucky.
During the fall of 1970 I was at work in a gas station and got a call from my girlfriend, a nurse working for an obstetrician with addiction issues. She was at his home and implored me to come help her with him. He was intoxicated on some unknown substance. When I arrived she was calling the doctor’s psychiatrist. She asked me to go check on the doctor while she remained on the phone. He was in his bedroom. As I entered I was frozen by the sight of the man sitting on the floor beside the bed loading a revolver. What went through my mind is that harm could come to any one or all of us there if he were to finish loading that revolver. I walked over slowly, squatted down in front of him and gently but quickly slid my finger between the frame of the revolver and the ammo holding cylinder, knowing that if you couldn’t close the cylinder the gun couldn’t be fired. I asked him, “What are you going to do with that gun doc?”. He said, “I’m going to kill myself”. I said, “I can’t let you do that”. He tried to close the cylinder three or four times and then gave up. I took it from him just in time for the psychiatrist to be showing up. I gave the gun to the shrink and went back to work. The doctor, the psychiatrist and my girlfriend were all lucky. So might I have been.
No guns were involved in Oklahoma City on April 19 1995 when Tim McVeigh blew up the Federal Building there. Another aunt of mine was in that building on yet another fateful day in the sad history of Americans doing violence to Americans with no rational explanation. She was facing the blast when it came, talking to a woman standing in front of her desk. That woman shielded her from a torrent of glass, concrete and steel shards so violent it tore the woman to shreds. My aunt witnessed it, mourned as only a survivor can mourn the caprice of fate, and survived. She was lucky. She was lucky enough to live to bear the searing yoke of survivor guilt, but she lived. She died a few months later of cancer, but had time to resolve with and bid farewell to her family, a peace not afforded to the family of the shredded woman.
In 1995 along Coal Creek Parkway in Newcastle WA a King County deputy discovered a naked man in an intersection on Coal Creek Parkway. He stopped his patrol car and attempted to talk to the naked man who thereupon grabbed the officer’s gun and shot him to death. I passed through that intersection not five minutes before, carrying a gun as I’m licensed to do. Had I passed five minutes later I could have, and given my lackadaisical regard for personal safety probably would have, come to the officer’s aid, as a distraction for the naked assailant at least. Officer Herzog was not lucky.
There is no tabulation of the lucky. There are only long lists of the innocent unlucky, the in the wrong place at the wrong time, the reckless and the criminal. Having lived through much and survived so far myself, having witnessed random violence visited on my family, I find it irreconcilable that solutions for violence that respect both personal liberty and personal safety appear to be beyond the ability of our political system to find. My luck, of which I’ve had plenty, may run out some day, and as a rule I depend on it much less that I used to. Neither should your family and children have to depend on luck for the sole apparent purposes of salving the paranoia of the 10% extreme wing of the NRA or the making of electoral math of the GOP easier.
All debates are said and done. Nothing was resolved for the informed voter. Obama’s performance in the first debate was that of a man annoyed by the fact that he was debating an opportunistic shape shifting weasel. The movement in polls is just among a few low information voters who routinely couldn’t decide in which direction to hang their toilet paper, overhand or underhand.
Now comes the time when history is made or unmade. On November 6th, the nation will vote on its fate and the fate of humanity. At question is whether our 236 year old experiment in plebian democracy will succumb to the Siren song of a demonstrably anti-democratic conservative promising what he thinks we want to hear with every intention of delivering the opposite. Running against the conservative is an incumbent you may be disappointed in as it seems he did not deliver what you think he should have in terms of legislation or in terms of change in Washington gridlock. You may think the incumbent somehow lied about his intents and be suspicious that he has taken Wall Street money. Hardly any of that matters.
Lash yourself to the mast like Odysseus and hear the Siren song so that you may know it for your time. Promises are promises and can break hearts or break nations even when they sound at the time as if heaven had answered a prayer. Heaven is not in charge. Mankind is in charge.
What matters is the arc of history. For all of it – history – the mankind that runs things has been struggling to throw off its first and most regrettable political invention. That invention was despotism. The rule of one or a few over the many has been the heaviest yoke on mankind ever constructed. From our earliest history to our future histories in science fiction, the struggle of the people against tyranny is continuous theme.
In our current political climate, there are two distinct sides that fight for the sake of two opposite theories. One theory, the one the nation was founded on, is that the concentration of power – despotism – is bad for the people in general, even if you are in the 1%. The other theory is that true democracy is dangerous because it will rob from the rich and give to the poor. This is exactly the debate that was foremost in the Framing of the Constitution 236 years ago. The people fear despots and despots fear the people.
That debate was settled for 200 or so years. We designed a government with separation of powers and separation of church and state to deal with the potential of despotism and to assure that the ultimate power was held by the people, all the people. Beginning with Reagan and now a standard carried by Romney, there has been a resurgence of the argument that the people are more dangerous than despots. Yes the people are dangerous to despots, but not as dangerous to the people as are despots.
This election ultimately resolves along that ancient issue divide, whether power is wielded by those who fear despots or those who fear the people. The candidates are actually irrelevant to the question of what direction the country should take. The two political parties, and those who identify with them, demark the simplest yes or no question of the era of American democracy. Do you believe in an inclusive democracy or do you not?
Issue polls show the American people to be informed and nearly exact on what is best to do for the country now and in the future. Our problem is that the Republicans don’t like what the country wants to do and will do anything they can to stop us from doing it. There’s your motive to vote.
So don’t whimper about politicians not representing you if you don’t vote for the politicians who have advocated for your participation since the beginning of the constitutional process, the Democrats. It’s also the Democrats that have fought tooth and nail to overturn voter disenfranchisement measures adopted in all the states where Republicans won total control of government in 2010. Republicans won those states and the U.S. House exactly because you stayed home and did not vote. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter and the parties are both the same. That snide cynicism of highly presumptive sophistication just shows a distinct deficit of perspective. The parties are so different that they can’t agree on what color the sky is. Vote on November 6th or just shut the hell up and “enjoy” the experience like Odysseus, lashed to the mast and unable to do a thing but endure it.