In the budget debate, government amateurs took on government professionals. And the professionals won. This is only to be expected. Professionals usually have the inside track in whatever field they're in. Not only do they hold the higher ground, but they know all the loopholes and how to shape the dialogue.
In the budget debate, the amateurs offered government for less. And the professionals warned that cutting the price of government would lead to catastrophic results. Global defaults, loss of credit rating, human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together and the usual mass hysteria. This is how professionals defend against amateurs competing on cost. By warning that going cheaper will lead to disaster.
Open elections were supposed to be an obstacle to the creation of a professional class of politicians. But the guild still exists. Professional politicians go through law school, become interns for other politicians, and then move up the ladder. Favors are traded with other guild members. Then the favors are cashed in. The whole system runs on money. Taxpayer money.
It's possible to get elected from outside the system. But then you get a quick course on how things really work around here. And no matter what principles you start out with, sooner or later you come around. Or you don't advance.
The Tea Party proved that amateurs could undercut professional politicians, raise money and get elected. But the real challenge has never been winning elections. Anyone can win an election and often has. Morons, lunatics and idiots have sat in congress. And are still sitting there. The real challenge is what do you do once you've won.
The United States government of professional politicians has set prices. Not just for their own salaries, but for how much money they can spend. They will agree to cut taxes or to borrow less money-- but they won't agree to do both at the same time, and cut actual spending.
Gorbachev didn't volunteer to dismantle the Soviet Union. The Bourbon kings didn't behead themselves. And the professional politicians are not about to cut up their own credit cards. This isn't only about money. It's about power.
Congress' fundamental power is to spend money. Everything of substance that it does costs money. Politicians get elected by promising to spend less on the things their constituents don't want, and more on the things they do want. Especially their more influential constituents. What this actually means in a two party system, with a variety of viewpoints represented and every special interest on board, almost everything gets funded.
The professional politician's basic interest is in the system. The system that lets him spend money. Taxpayer money is his bread and butter. It's his currency of power. If the taxpayers kick up too much of a fuss, he'll borrow it. If they kick up a fuss over that, he'll ask them if they want higher taxes instead. If they protest loudly enough, he will announce tax cuts and spending cuts, and use a loophole to raise taxes and spend more money anyway.
The amateur politician has no interest in the system. As a citizen, he is at odds with a system that farms citizens, taking their money and promising them shiny things. And so the system reeducates him, shows him the compromises that he has to make to get things done. Once he has learned that, then he becomes a professional member of the North American Guild of Leeches and Parasites. Despite this he may go on being a vocal critic of the "establishment". He may go home to his district wearing working clothes and denounce "those folks in Washington D.C. who don't know what it's like for ordinary people." But underneath all that camouflage he knows how the system really works. And his part in it.
That's the difference between government and most other fields. In most fields, the amateur can set up shop and offer his services for less-- or even for nothing. But how do you compete against government from the outside? And how do you reform government, without becoming the government?
The goal of a grass roots citizens' movement has to be to not only enter the system, but to change it from the inside. And that means an ugly showdown with the professional class that lives off the system. Not just with them, but their allies in the business world, in local communities and allied media outlets.
The professionals fight back, the way they do in all fields, lambasting the amateurs as untrained and unskilled. Dangerously ignorant and incompetent. A pack of troglodytes who will destroy everything as soon as they get their hands on it. They do their best to warn off and frighten away potential customers. And then they cheat.
The system is too big to gradually reform. It's interconnected with too many expectations. And a major expectation is that it will keep on going this way. Government is an industry. And numerous industries have grown up around it. You can cut a hundred million, a billion, here and there, and that will just spur on competition among special interests. But you can't dramatically cut spending. If you do an entire supra-economy that has grown up over the regular economy collapses.
Of course that's exactly what has to be done. The professional politician represents the supra-economy. The one that's based on regulation, subsidies and grants. That employs everyone from union organizers to sensitivity trainers, consultants, administrators, suppliers, lawyers, managers and anyone whose job in the private or public sector is tied into the government.
The left knew that Reagan was right about trickle down economics all along. It's what they practice. But their trickle down economics comes from the government down. That's their political water empire. And the professional politicians are the ones with their hands on the dike.
That is what's at stake here. It's why the Tea Party lost the budget debate. It's not just Obama and Reid. It's not Pelosi cackling dementedly from the sidelines. They took on an entire industry. A meta-industry from a supra-economy. Neither of which can survive any real reforms.
There was once a healthy balance between government spending and the economy. Corruption was still common, but it was sensible. Even the monstrous appetites of politicians couldn't consume all of it. But as the supra-economy grew, it embedded itself into every aspect of life. It became a ball rolling and gathering momentum. Now it's flying off the cliff tethered only by a string of obligations, its only net a global economy based on sham numbers and wink-wink deceptions.
The professional politicians have crossed their Rubicon and they are not interested in finding a way back. What they want to do is keep the system running, put on a good show during their term in office, and count on everything to work out somehow in the end. And if it doesn't, it's not their problem anymore. They've got the disposable income and the investments to ride out the storm.
From the professional's point of view, what he does and what the audience sees are two different things. The doctor, the police officer and the restaurant manager want you to see what's out front. They are putting on a show and playing their parts. Among their own class, they can talk honestly about what they do and about what they don't do. Which rules apply and which don't. That is where you will find the truth of their profession.
In this way they are like stage magicians. Their act is an illusion, but it works because you want to be fooled.
The professional politician is no different. The legislation is an illusion. And like all illusions, it has multiple levels of deception. The first level is intended for the casual observer. The second for the devotee who is more observant. And the third level is for themselves, because even liars need to believe in something.
The professional politician knows that most of what he does is meaningless. That government is a charade acted out for the benefit of the public and the people who stand to benefit from it. And that none of it is real. The money is illusory. The wars are futile. The bills are about power. Everyone is out for themselves and ego is the only thing that matters.
Cynicism is the stage before apathy. And apathy is the stage before despair. Despair is the stage that precedes complete amorality.
These qualities characterize the professional politician. The rot beneath the facade of idealism and good government. The man who looks back at him in the mirror is loathsome. A liar living as a fraud. This is why so many of them crack up, in obvious ways and less obvious ones. It is also why they are incapable of reform as a group. Occasionally individuals will arise and rise above the tide. But the cynicism always sweeps back in.
This is the real threat that the amateur poses to the professional politician. The amateur still believes that change is possible. And underneath his layers of cynicism, for a dreadful moment, the professional politician believes that it is.