Friday, December 30, 2011

DADDY, WHAT WAS GOVERNMENT?

While I was traveling earlier this week, I was disheartened to pick up Monday's print New York Times and find three front-page stories hinting at the zeitgeistiness of libertarianism. I'm counting the story about self-appointed crime-fighters in superhero costumes as libertarian, because that sort of Vigilantism Lite presupposes that government is hopelessly inadequate; I'm also counting the story about Asperger's kids in love because the young man featured in the story is an avowed libertarian. (The third of the front-page stories was about Ron Paul.)

Capitalism ran amok in the last decade, and we're still trying to bounce back from the mayhem -- and yet, for all the attention lavished on the Occupy movement in recent months, the hip ideology of our era is clearly the one that wants to take capitalism and remove as many restraints from it as possible, thus giving it far greater opportunities for rapaciousness. Frankly, this terrifies me. It terrifies me that the repulsiveness of Ron Paul's newsletters of the '80s and '90s is now widely known and yet the Paul Youth in Iowa clearly don't care. What if this really is to our time what '60s leftism was to that era? What if this is the spirit of the age?

Well, maybe Democrats and liberals have ourselves to blame. I saw that Charlie Pierce was attacking David Brooks a couple of days ago for writing this:

But, in the 1930s, people genuinely looked to government to ease their fears and restore their confidence. Today, Americans are more likely to fear government than be reassured by it.

Pierce's response was this:

Yes, because we have had 30 years of reckless vandalism by the political movement in which you cut your teeth. We have had three decades of anti-government rhetoric from people who then set out to prove themselves correct by cutting taxes, spending money on useless weaponry, conducting wars off the books, and hiring boobs and bunglers to staff the federal agencies. We have had Michael Brown. We have had James Watt. We have had Anne Gorsuch and Silent Sam Pierce. People don't trust government? You know what? I don't trust my car if I hire a blind drunk to drive it.

But you can't just blame Republican presidents and Republican appointees. Democrats come into office and simply fail to demonstrate to the public that government can work -- Barack Obama's administration didn't modify enough mortgages, didn't inject enough stimulus into the economy to get a significant number of people back to work, didn't throw any of the Wall Street bastards in jail. There wasn't even a single perp walk! If people don't see government working to help solve a new crisis, I guess it shouldn't surprise us when they think government doesn't do anything right, ever. But elected Democrats no longer think this matters -- they no longer think government has to work or the foundations of this society will crumble as we move inexorably to a Third World level of inequality.

Give people a reason to believe in government -- or wake up twenty years from now to find that America has only two widely held ideologies left, mainstream Republicanism and libertarianism, and the banana-republican economy to go with that arrangement.

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)

15 comments:

c u n d gulag said...

Steve,
Read this interview with Thomas Frank if you're not depressed enough already:
http://www.salon.com/2011/12/28/the_rise_of_utopian_market_populism/singleton/

Here’s the take-away from Frank’s interview, when asked if the Republicans win, they might deliberately ruin the economy:
“…They see the financial crisis as something we deserve, that we’ve spent beyond our means, and now we have to pay. In their minds, we need a recession to get back on track. They think we’re due for something like the 1930s, so why not make it happen?”

I'm going to make my New Year's morning after hangover cure a hari-mimosa-kari:
Some champagne, a little OJ, and a lot of cyanide.

Tom Hilton said...

But elected Democrats no longer think this matters -- they no longer think government has to work or the foundations of this society will crumble as we move inexorably to a Third World level of inequality.

Wrong. Democrats have been trying to govern; the problem is that the Republican strategy is to make impossible to govern.

Blaming the Democrats Does. Not. Help.

Matt jones said...

Seriously, what the FUCK are you talking about? Take a good hard look at the GOP's proposals over the years and imagine what the country would look like if they'd been allowed to pass:

Social Security? Gone - sold off to Wall Street.
Medicare? Gone - sold off to the insurance oligarchs.
National parks? Gone - sold off to lumber and oil megacorps.
Minimum wage? Gone - to "preserve competitiveness".
Workplace safety? Gone - see above.
Environmental protection? Gone.
Civil rights? Gone.

I'm not particularly happy with the Dems for failing to push things forward, but I recognize that it's difficult to do with literally half the country fervently hoping for the 1850s to return and their political allies sabotaging everything in sight to make that happen...

BH said...

Amen, Matt. And if & when the non-rich dimbulbs making up 99% (sorry, couldn't resist) of that nostalgic-for-the-1850's bloc finally get their wishes, they'll bleat the loudest about how tough things are. And they'll STILL support them what screwed them (and us).

willf said...

But the thing is that there's not enough evil conservative shit-heads to make it happen without democratic and even liberal acquiescence and compliance, if not complicity.

You can't tell people that blaming the democrats does not help if the democrats are in fact part of the problem.

c u n d gulag said...

Bh,
If it was the 1850's, we might be better off.
They want to take us back to Puritan Massachusetts.

willf,
Yes, the Democrats are have certainly been complicit and are part of the problem.

But blaming them when the car doesn't work because you've neglected it and didn't change the oil, or rotate the tires, or check you brake or transmission fluid, and have a 20 year-old battery, is like blaming the the idiot lights because the f'in car doesn't start.

Look at who has been responsible for most of that time.
The Democrats have, for the most time, told them the car needed maintenance, but the Republicans said, "Fuck it, WE'RE in the drivers seat, to sit down and STFU!"

Tom Hilton said...

You can't tell people that blaming the democrats does not help if the democrats are in fact part of the problem.

"The Democrats" aren't part of the problem. A few Democrats are part of the problem (the rest of which is every Republican). Big difference.

opit said...

Still swilling the Koolaid I See. What is so difficult to understand a bipartisan tyranny run by thieves for their own benefit ? Their rhetoric as they screw the public every which way but loose isn't that good...without shills.
Who is worse off ?
http://www.mathaba.net/news/?x=629707

c u n d gulag said...

opit,
I don't think any of us who read this site on a regular basis is naive enough to not understand that.

But, short of a US version of The French Revolution, what are we to do but try to change the system as best we can with whatever resource are available?
OWS seems to have been at least a half-way decent start in making Americans a teensy bit aware to what, for thinking people, you'd have to blind not to see, paid-off to continue, or bribed to ignore: which is that we have Kleptocrats not only in Congress, the courts, and the Executive branches, but throughout every aspect of American society - except of course for the bulk of us, who are the intended rubes and victims.

Unless I'm missing something, there has never in history been a system of governing people that has not been some form or other of Kleptocracy.
The best we can all hope for is that it is a manageable and regulated Kleptocracy, where at least the perpetual victims share in the Grifters profits, and have at least a chance to ascend to the Grifting class, or their support system. THAT has been what "The American Dream" has been all about for over 2 centuries.

Having said all that, I'm open to suggestions.
But what, besides pointing out the blindingly obvious, would you recommend?

Tom Hilton said...

Looks like somebody is still swilling the both-parties-are-the-same Flavor Aid. Me, I'll take Kool-Aid over Flavor Aid any fucking day of the week. It's that undisclosed extra ingredient that gets ya...

(And by the way? If you honestly believe we need a third (or fourth or whatever) party, you need to be directing 100% of your efforts to getting ranked-choice voting passed in every state so your precious 3rd or 4th or 5th party can be something other than irrelevant (at best) or damaging to your agenda (at worst).)

Steve M. said...

The point I was trying to make here -- and it looks as if I made it hastily and badly -- is that Democrats have failed to step up and make government work well at a moment when it really is vitally important to do a convincing demonstration of the necessity of government. Faith in the twentieth-century notion of a social safety net hangs in the balance, and Democrats haven't tried hard enough to sustain it.

I do think that Republicans simply don't believe in government anymore (except as a means of funneling money to the rich and starting bread-and-circuses wars to distract the non-rich) and that Democrats do believe in government -- but Dems' belief reminds me of the way parents in my Catholic childhood believed in God and the Catholic faith: they didn't keep the commandments, they didn't go to church, maybe they pestered their kids to go to church and maybe they didn't, but if you asked them they'd instantly and proudly acknowledge that they were Catholics. But it wasn't an active faith. It was a faith that had gone slack. And a lot of their kids, inevitably, drifted away, to evangelicalism or atheism (in my family there's one of each).

We need real believers in government. Putting government on life support isn't enough -- it's still better than smothering it in its bed, which is what the Republicans want to do, but it's not enough.

c u n d gulag said...

Steve,
Did you read Frank's interview?
I thought he made some great points which are very much in line with yours.
And you know how I feel about this subject!

Peter Friedman said...

I cannot emphasize enough how much I agree that libertarianism is the zeitgeist of the moment. I've taught university students for 15 years, and it's an entire generation that believes government screws up whatever it does, that taxation is theft, and that Al-Qaeda represents a greater threat to their safety than did nuclear holocaust back in the days of the Cold War. As a result, they look to people like Ron Paul and are utterly clueless what his stance on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 means. As far as they're concerned, 1964 was part of reconstruction. Ayn Rand and Ron Paul are cool. It's very sad.

opit said...

This certainly did not 'make my day' ; but I'd be lying to claim I was surprised. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/environment/la-me-gs-fbi-tracking-animal-videotapers-as-terrorists-20111229,0,5919114.story

As far as 'what to do' goes ; we're doing it.The technically aware have jumped ship years ago in some cases, knowing the technical expertise arrayed against them.

Steve M. said...

"Just to talk about Roosevelt would have been fantastic," Thomas Frank says, and that's absolutely right -- Democrats and liberals missed the opportunity just after the 2008 crash to talk about why liberalism would work (and then, obviously, didn't try hard enough to make it work). I think Frank is wrong that the problem is D.C.'s rich, incestuous culture -- the problem is how sold out you have to be to be anything but a marginal Democratic politician in D.C. You simply have to be in bed with the rich, who no longer accept the tossing of some wealth at the non-rich. The rich demand it all, and if you don't agree, there's a Republican who will agree, and who can be sent the next set of checks.