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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Earthquake Comes to Washington

It took an earthquake to interrupt Obama's golf game. Nothing else until now has. But while the rumbling of tectonic plates comes and goes, the deeper rumbling of millions of voters will not. The rumbling is larger than this election. It is bigger than Obama and larger than his feckless party. It is an earthquake of self-definition.

There are two types of earthquake events in the last hundred years. Shocks that made Americans rethink their society, the government and the world around them. Economic depressions and unexpected wars.  The Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and September 11 were all shocks to the system that changed the country. That changed how Americans saw themselves. And we may now be in the midst of a fourth such event.

Obama's backers expected that a second depression would lead to a second New Deal. His victory seemed to bear out their predictions. The crisis was here, now was the time to exploit it. But instead of another New Deal, the crisis has led to an Anti-New Deal, a revolt against government regulation.

The left's dogmatic rigidity, its adherence to theories of history in which capitalism leads to socialism blinded it to the obvious. A major national economic crisis had come again, but the context of it had changed.

There was a world of difference between 1933 and 2010 in the level of government involvement in the economy. Today we are living in a New Deal world, reformed, moderated and elaborated on. Massive government intervention in the economy is not a radical new idea, it's business as usual. The architects of the New Deal could claim that they were addressing the failures of capitalism-- but today there is no longer any sector of the economy that legally takes place outside the sphere of government. The buck stops in DC.

The anti-capitalist rhetoric of the left has been unconvincing for that reason. When the two richest men in America hold fundraisers for the Democratic Party, does that mean the capitalists have taken over the party, or that the socialists have taken over capitalism? Most people intuitively know the answer to that. The modern economic reality is an oligarchy where public officials and private lobbies intersect.

The dirty handshakes between the public sector and the private led to this disaster. It's easy to call for more regulation in response-- but who regulates the regulators?

Obama rose to power on wheelbarrows of money from the rich, the super-rich and from unknown sources that have never been accounted for. He raised twice as much money as McCain, and while the media disinformation machine insists that it was the power of social media at work, it was actually the power of socialism.

Socialism is just crony capitalism misspelled, and everyone knows it. Everyone who has ever competed for a government contract, been forced to join a union by government mandate or been squeezed out of an industry by agreements negotiated between corporate lobbyists and their congressional allies that is. The more you regulate, the more you control.

New York Times columnists may kvell over Warren Buffett's eagerness to be taxed at a higher rate, but most people suspect that it isn't saintliness at work, but personal economic interest. The same interest that led Buffett, Bill Gates and other top billionaires to support Obama. There is nothing strange about the phenomenon of anti-capitalist capitalists. Capitalism is one way to make money. Socialism is another. The modern monopoly is as likely to rest on government regulation as on the naked marketplace. And the modern trust operates out of the White House and Capitol Hill.

But it is not just personal corruption that leaves the left a less than credible force of economic reform. The entire national context has changed.

There is no use denouncing the capitalists, as if it were 1929 outside the window instead of 2011. That old form of economic hegemony no longer exists except under government patronage. And there is also no use in pretending that the complex relationship between government and business can be untangled with only one of the parties getting the blame, while the other party gets the power.

The old FDR way of offering progressive government as the antidote to free market recklessness no longer works. It no longer comforts anyone or makes them feel secure. There is a long history of government recklessness that makes it impossible for more than a limited portion of the population to be that naive again.

The public is more accepting of government intervention today than it was then, but it is also more distrustful of it. And that distrust easily comes to the surface in a time of crisis which is why the movement to hold government accountable is gathering steam.

The Great Depression paved the way for a change in the relationship between the public and the government. And the Ought Depression may be doing the same thing. But while the New Deal made it a close relationship, the political wars of the last two years are leading instead to a breakup between the public and the government.

Progressive government has not only failed to avert several economic crises, it has also completely mismanaged the social safety net and become so hideously expensive that it can no longer be kept up. Those are all dangerously compelling answers and the left has come up with no response to them except to throw out conspiracy theories and cry racism. Such intellectual desperation reminiscent of a dictator ranting hysterically on a televised broadcast as the noose tightens around his regime.

This is the larger earthquake shaking Washington. And it's not just the ivory towers of the left that are trembling. The Republican Party has not built up the same type of political machine that its opposite numbers on the left have, but it's still the party of big government. Not for philosophical reasons, but for practical ones. Few people take a job only to make themselves redundant. And few politicians give up power once they have it.

The Republican Party is less likely to have a radical social agenda or to construct an empire of activists integrated into every level of the public and private sector to carry it through, but it isn't the party of freedom either. After the wild days of Teddy, it has been content to be the reasonable party. The party of moderates who come in to clean up the mess that the radical lunatics leave behind. To be the ones that the nation turn to when the FDRs and Jimmy Carters and Obamas make too great a mess. And then a very presidential figure sweeps in, fixes some things, throws out some others, raises taxes and does all the things that even his liberal predecessor couldn't get away with, and leaves to the cheers of a grateful nation with his 'Dime Store New Deal' clutched tightly in hand.

That's why the Tea Party is the real earthquake in Washington DC. A political movement dedicated to the political disarmament of government power. It's an attack on the centralization consensus, the cornerstone of progressive politics that says bigger is better and more central oversight is what gets the job done.

In a decade where a digital marketplace was created by allowing the natural self-organization of people to shape their own decision-- the decentralization proposed by the Tea Party is on the right side of history. The Federal government white elephant that seemed so impressive in 1955 looks like a hopeless antique in an age of freelance workers, reputation management and the self-ecosystem.

The evolution of technology has also led to a quantum leap in personal empowerment. Whether it's the Army of One or the Army of Davids-- the individual is the center of his own organization. And this conflicts with an ever more intrusive government which insists on telling people what to eat. With the family and the corporation collapsing-- the state is still trying to present itself as the one enduring thing in everyone's life. The cradle to grave state that can't take care of its finances, but promises to take care of you.

Obama was supposed to put a fresh technicolor coat of paint on the old outmoded systems, but his technocracy amounted to little more than incompetence disguised as self-promotion. A quality that is ubiquitous in social media, but also nakedly obvious after enough exposure to it. Not only did he fail to convince the country that government should be expanded, but his mismanagement gave rise to a populist opposition movement that is threatening to bring down the entire chain of assumptions of progressive government.

The exploitation of the economic disaster to create a 21st century New Deal failed because it was the ragged ends of the New Deal that had brought about the economic disaster, and the New New Deal that created an even bigger disaster with its uncontrolled spending.

The American public has lost faith in big government and in the messiah of big government. And a nation of people who feel out of control in the midst of a whirling economic crisis want to regain some control by taking it back from the bureaucrats, the lobbyists and the politicians. This is the real earthquake and when it strikes, then the golf game will be called on account of a hard electoral rain.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of people who are not members of the Tea Party, who strongly oppose the Tea Party, who still support Obama, or at the very least, would vote for him because they would want to vote against the Tea Party and conservative ideas. I see an awful lot of what I view as overly confident assessments of what's going on in America right now. Yes, the Tea Party is real and has not gone away. But that's a long way from feeling confident about an "electoral rain." You simply cannot say "the American public has lost faith...." The American public is an enomrous swath of humanity and while some of that group have lost faith, there are plenty who are still loyal Democrats, liberals, progressives, socialists, communists, what have you. We cannot afford to feel too confident. But that's just me. Pessimism Central. I hope the conservative writers I'm reading of late who seem to feel a major tide is shifting prove to be correct on election day. And even then, given the GOP field at the moment, there will be little reason to feel too inspired, except to be able to say, at the very least, that we defeated Obama.

Anonymous said...

This post is ideological dross smacking of propaganda. One of your weakest. You have totally missed the root of the problem.
I am in complete agreement with the previous comment - it's just not that simple. Unfortunately, the Tea Party has no long term, graduated program of well-reasoned reform and will most likely fall prey to the fixed political system, as you eloquently described in one of you previous posts (can't remember the title). Our Muslim "friends" have plans going out for a hundred years. Our politicians, including the Tea Party, are operating on 2/4 year soundbite driven election cycles. Catchy slogans are not enough. Elections to get rid of someone, whether its Obama or Bush, will not get it done. The "earthquakes" amount to nothing - we are just alternating between different flavors of feces. US problems and those around the world are much, much deeper than that.

srdem65 said...

There is no "Tea Party", no organizational program, no headquarters, no phone banks or place on the ballot.
The tea party was a spontenous uprising of like-minded voters from every part of America whose original objection was the passage of the federal mess known now as Obamacare.
While some politicians have wrapped a 'tea party' banner over their shoulders, it is still a grass roots movement.

Yes, the established politicos and their minions underestimated the scope of this movement to undermine their big-government programs and to un-elect(?) some of the worst office holders.
Today, the Left has started an unprecedented attack on the very ciitizens it hopes to convince to vote their way. The accusations of terrorists, racists, and enemies of America are directed, not at a nefarious person or entity, but at the wishes of the people for a smaller, less intrusive government.

civil westman said...

This analysis is spot on as to the rise and fall of progressivism and the growing recognition of its failure. I only hope the cleansing rain falls in the form of an electoral rout. I fear, however, that - as Madison feared when he successfully argued against the federal power to tax income - the less productive majority will continue to vote for an ongoing raid on the "public fisc" (Madison's term), funded by a heretofore very productive and now deeply-resented, minority. The progressive educational system has seen to it that the difference between wealth creation (economics) and paper claims against value created by economic activity (finance) is not at all understood by the resentful, entitled public.

The alternative to the hoped-for electoral remedy, and I believe this is already underway, is a refusal of the productive to continue creating wealth when government taxation at all levels redistributes 60% or so of that wealth to the oh-so-entitled. In short, an economic collapse may well precede any meaningful electoral accountability. I am sorry to say that I firmly believe this is imminent.

Anonymous said...

This is the first "annonymous" posted again: One more comment: The Tea Party has one enormous weakness in that it doesn't address national security at all. We've got conservative upon conservative talking the usual talking points (lower taxes, smaller government) without taking about the biggest issue that is threatening our nation. It's pathetic. End of rant.

Charming Richard said...

It must make you laugh when commenters use "old way think" that you convincingly debunk in your essay.

Maybe they don't understand earthquakes. Dynamic tectonic shifts that forever change the landscape.

The pathetic obama saga is the first rumbling of the coming storm. The scattered splattering raindrops signaling a frightful downpour fell in November, 2010.

JimK said...

The Election of 2010 was just a warm up for the Tea Party. I don't think the Dems really comprehend that they have awoken a sleeping giant. And a freshly awoken giant does not appreciate the buzzing flies that call them terrorists and hostage takers. It's gonna be ugly. For Them.

Mark Tucci said...

You need a program to tell one anonymous from another.
Its probably all the same person playing games.

Anonymous said...

I have observed that Americans are very proud of their
system of government. American history provides the
reasons. But it has and has always had grave problems,
as was understood by John Adams and, later, by
Henry Adams. These problems have now come to the
fore, and the government which made America a
great country now threatens to bring it to ruin.

A complete rethink is necessary, in my view. It will
be very difficult; but I think that Americans are up to
it.

I use "Anonymous" because the other options sometimes fail. My name is John Lewis and I
live in Newfoundland, Canada.

Anonymous said...

Mark, I agree that once there's more than one annonymous poster it gets confusing and can seem suspicious, as well.

sigh

From,
Annonymous posts 1 and 5
(Happy to have another person, albeit someone annonymous - oy - championing part of my original point/s)

Jewel said...

Well, nothing is written in stone, and we can only sense what's coming down the pike. We do live in interesting times. What remains to be seen is whether the American people will stand up to all those nameless and faceless bureaucrats who will be enforcing the new and draconian regulations, or will they grab pipes, rakes, guns and pitchforks and make paste of those who come to issue citations and collect the fines?

Will48 said...

All the current politicking is besides the point. And you've touched on that point: it's the change brought in by digital technology. Empowerment of the individual is the true goal and highest value. Not "capitalism" which is nothing but a meaningless label.

Capitalism has its own poison in it: it is the enlargement process. Success brings growth brings monopolies and cartelization of markets. Not to mention coalescence with the state.

Here's the fixer: vote every day. We have computers now, we can do it. Vote on every issue; or if you rather don't, delegate your vote: entrust others to use your vote as per their understanding. That's what we do now, with no recompense for the misuse of our votes by cheaters politicians. Why wait 4 years to put them out of office? Do it right away.

Anti-oscillation dampening is very simple: you need 85% majority to overturn a gov't (or a certain decision) in its first 3 months; 65% after 1st year; normal 50%+1 after four.

Simple. Just. At any point in time true will of the population is known and is exactly represented. No more cheats in office. No more broken trust.

Earmark your taxes. Let every taxpayer decide how their money gets spent.

Simple. Just.

No coercion (freedom of the choice)
Freedom to Think (to reason, hence to know, speak, etc.)
Do No Harm (except to guard the first two, and in (self-)defense)

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