Sunday, November 28, 2010


First of all, a round of applause for Zandar, for excellent blogging while I was gone. Thank you, Zandar.

And now I see we're back to discussing the fact that everything is an unqualified disaster and no one seems to have an inkling of a possible way out, or even an accurate diagnosis of the problem. At the Mahablog, Barbara O'Brien is right to disagree with Frank Rich's insistence that there's widespread awareness of the harm caused by

the big money that dominates our political system, regardless of who's in power. Two years after the economic meltdown, most Americans now recognize that that money has inexorably institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains (at best) mired in economic stasis except the very wealthiest sliver.

Barbara says:

He's right that big money has inexorably institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains (at best) mired in economic stasis except the very wealthiest sliver. But I think he's wrong that "most Americans now recognize" that. I'm not sure they do. Or, if they suspect something, too many don't suspect the big money supporting their end of the political spectrum and pulling their strings; they just suspect the other side's big money.

In the center, where low-information and not-so-low-information swing voters reside, I think people have been so conditioned to ignore class issues that, yes, when a pollster asks them about big, unaccountable money in politics they say it's a bad thing, but they don't see any real way of fighting the plutocracy and they don't really even recognize tht the central thing they need to do is fight the plutocracy. On the left, some of us embrace Democrats, in the hope that they'll be on the side of people, or at least less on the side of the special interests, enough of the time, which kinda works when we're in a relatively comfortable period economically, but doesn't work when we have one of our periodic crashes, because ordinary people are always expected to pay whenever that happens. Alternately, some of us on the left rail against "the two-party duopoly," though no one who talks that way has a plan for how to construct an entire government that would institute progressive change -- the best we get is that a Ralph Nader or Nader-like substitute would become president and somehow magically push progressivity past the same old Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the media, and the business community, or that some voting innovation (instant runoff voting!) would magically flood the system with lefties.

And meanwhile, Jeffrey Rosen notes in The New York Times Magazine reminds us yet again of a peculiar but widespread belief system on the right that, preposterously, channels anti-plutocrat anger in a theocratic but economically libertarian direction. I'm talking, of course, about our old pals the Cleon Skousen fans. Skousen, of course, is the now-deceased nutjob whose rantings have been popularized by Glenn Beck. Rosen notes that the newly elected Senator from Utah, Mike Lee, is a hardcore Skousenite:

Many of the positions Lee outlined on the campaign trail appear to be inspired by the constitutional guru of the Tea Party movement, W. Cleon Skousen, whose 1981 book, "The 5,000-Year Leap," argued that the founding fathers rejected collectivist "European" philosophies and instead derived their divinely inspired principles of limited government from fifth-century Anglo-Saxon chieftains, who in turn modeled themselves on the Biblical tribes of ancient Israel.... Skousen argued that a dynastic cabal, including international bankers like the Rockefellers and J. P. Morgan, conspired to manipulate both Communism and Fascism to promote a one-world government.

Regular readers know I write about this all the time, but there it is again: the absurd notion that plutocrats are bad because they're commies. This serves to acknowledge whatever anger there is in the heartland against fat cats who've gotten away with murder while letting those fat cats off the hook for, y'know, the capitalism. See, they're not our enemies because they make buttloads of money while we get the crumbs; they're our enemies because -- only because -- they're in bed with government.

The argument is that there's a theoretical capitalism that would some leave more of the pie to the rest of us if business were regulated less. (I believe we tested this notion in the Gilded Age and the rest was a lot of starving waifs sleeping under bridges, but many of the 'baggers believe in it.)

As liberals, we believe that the legislation of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society helped ordinary citizens and made the rich a little less able to grab all the pie; to the Skousenites, all that legislation just helped "the elites." And "the elites" are both the fat cats and the liberals who've tried to put some curbs on the fat cats' economic power. We think we're in conflict with the fat cats. The Skousenites think we're two peas in a pod. And right now, there are a hell of a lot more Skousenites in America than liberals.

I present all this, but I don't have any idea what to do about it, except my usual answer: somehow we need to make more liberals. Somehow we need more ordinary citizens who understand why citizen outrage backing effective, progressive government regulation and tax policy is the only way we can be a counterweight to the plutocrats. And no, I still have no bloody idea how that can happen.

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