The Rise of the Teavangelicals... It Wasn't as Sudden as You Think
Originally published at New Drug Policy.
Well it’s Friday, July 15th – Decision Day according to Pres. Obama – as the daily D.C. drama over the debt ceiling quickly reaches its denouement – the twists and turns and moments of high drama (D.C. style) are better than any prime-time soap opera. How do we know the drama is reaching its climax? Well, for one the media is starting to have the panicked tone that comes when they realize the calamity they’ve been hyping for so long might actually occur. Look at this week's op ed pieces decrying the intransigence of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party and asking how public officials can blithely choose to ignore facts in favor of discredited ideology? I think the current situation is neatly and accurately summarized by Paul Krugman writing today:
A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. "Has the G.O.P. gone insane?" they ask.
Why, yes, it has. But this isn't something that just happened, it's the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades. Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasn't been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.
And may I say to those suddenly agonizing over the mental health of one of our two major parties: People like you bear some responsibility for that party's current state.
Here's the point: those within the G.O.P. who had misgivings about the embrace of tax-cut fanaticism might have made a stronger stand if there had been any indication that such fanaticism came with a price, if outsiders had been willing to condemn those who took irresponsible positions.
But there has been no such price. Mr. Bush squandered the surplus of the late Clinton years, yet prominent pundits pretend that the two parties share equal blame for our debt problems. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed a supposed deficit-reduction plan that included huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, then received an award for fiscal responsibility.
So there has been no pressure on the G.O.P. to show any kind of responsibility, or even rationality — and sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If you're surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.
As a recent NYT article correctly pointed out, the current political fight is not really about the debt ceiling or even about deficit reduction and the federal budget – it’s about competing visions for U.S. society and the scope and role of government. For years conservatives have promoted the belief – first articulated by Ronald Reagan – that big government is the greatest problem facing the U.S. and the greatest threat to economic prosperity. The more you get government out of the way, the better off everyone will be and since government won’t just disappear on it’s own – you have to kill it by “starving the beast”. It was the “starve the beast” mentality that brought forth Proposition 13 in California, the antitax measure that ignited the Reagan Revolution and the fiscal conservative era. The ideology of tax cutting as a way to reign in government was inextricably wed to the ideology of deregulation as a means to unfetter business. Thirty years of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy accompanied by massive deregulation of every major industry – including the financial sector – have given us the current situation where the U.S. is now in the words of Citigroup financial advisors – a ‘plutonomy’, a term they coined to describe a nation/economy :
where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few, and the rest. Plutonomies have occurred before in sixteenth century Spain, in seventeenth century Holland, the Gilded Age andÂ the Roaring Twenties in the U.S. What are the common drivers of Plutonomy? Disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments, an international dimension of immigrants andÂ overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law, and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity, exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.
We project that the plutonomies (the U.S., UK, and Canada) will likely see even moreÂ income inequality, disproportionately feeding off a further rise in the profit share in their economies, capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity, and globalization.
With the exception of a group of die-hard activist organizations like ACORN (now discredited) and politicians like Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Dennis Kucinich of Ohio (both marginalized as too far to the left) there has been minimal push back against this prevailing ideology against government, taxes and any vestige of the welfare state. One of the so-called crowning achievements of the last Democratic president was the dismantling of “welfare as we know it” by basically eliminating the federal guarantee of basic income maintenance for the most vulnerable (poor women with young children) in favor of a program aptly named “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families” (TANF). The motivating factors behind welfare reform was not a crisis in state expenditures or the increase in a ‘culture of dependency’ as many pundits claimed, but rather the same ideology that is driving the current economic debate – the commitment of the right to shrink government at all costs regardless of its impact on real people. The ideology against big government was embraced by both major political parties as articulated by Bill Clinton when he said the “era of big government is over."
A similar sentiment was never espoused about big business – in fact just the opposite was true – the same voices that railed against ‘big government’ promoted the merits of big business. It’s not a coincidence that corporations were consolidating and getting larger at the same time deregulation removed government restraints. These increasingly large multinational corporations have been able to successfully lobby elected officials at all levels of government to enact policies that favor their economic interests. Contrary to the oft-repeated maxim – what’s good for corporate America is not always good for its workers. Decades of pro-business policies and tax cuts have produced mass exporting of jobs previously held by U.S. workers to developing countries with cheaper workers; the decimation of organized labor, decline in real earnings leading to an increase in debt and successive financial disasters beginning with the Savings & Loan financial debacle in the early 80s to the most recent financial disaster in 2008. Almost every major economic and political problem facing the U.S. today is directly related to deregulation and/or tax Â policy.
This particular cycle of the ‘gilded age’ has witnessed an unprecedented political alliance between the ideologies of fiscal conservativism and theocracy. Those who believe in limited government involvement in economic affairs have allied themselves with those who assert maximum government authority over personal conduct (reproduction, sexuality, substance use) in the name of God. One would think these positions were incompatible or inconsistent but what both groups have in common is an uncompromising belief in their rightness such that they believe they have the duty to ‘correct’ (punish for the purpose of improving or reforming) all who do not agree with them. The evangelical fervor of the free marketeers is matched by that of the social conservatives – both operate from a place of core belief that is immune to evidence or facts that don’t conform to those beliefs.
The willingness of the titans of business to ignore the consequences of their reckless financial speculation in service to the ideology of ‘deregulation’ despite evidence of the potential consequences – remember WorldCom and Enron? is on par with the refusal of right wing politicians to ignore the consequences of their slash and burn budget cutting in service of the ideology of limited government. Â These beliefs have taken on the form of a crusade that defies reason or consequence. If history has taught us anything about those who perceive themselves as crusaders – it’s this: they often believe you have to destroy something in order to save it. Today’s Tea Party Republicans truly believe they have to destroy the current U.S. government in order to save it. If they are not stopped, we may be in for our own Dark Ages…