How Sex Panic Almost Destroyed the Economy
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A lot of people, including myself, have been critical of Frank’s cynicism in this formulation, arguing that the leadership actually delivers more on right-wing populist demands than Frank gives them credit for doing.
But what we didn’t argue with was the basic premise that there’s two kinds of conservatives: right-wing populists and country club Republicans, and while liberals may not much like the latter, we at least had the reassurance that they’re not crazy. Country club Republicans may want less regulation and lower taxes, but they don’t actually believe that federal power is illegitimate, or that liberals are motivated by Satanic forces and therefore can be treated as always wrong. For the past few decades, the leadership of the Republican Party was able to work with Democrats on commonsense governance such as raising the debt ceiling, precisely because they didn’t believe the wild-eyed rantings from right wing talk radio about how Democrats and the federal government are pure evil. (And the legality of abortion is example #1 in the right wing pantheon of reasons to believe the federal government is evil.)
What I think Frank and those of us who were mildly critical of him failed to grasp is the right-wing populist beast may not be within the control of the Republican Party forever, and that the populists may become a large enough group of people that they could take over the party and make their obsessions---the evils of sexual liberation, the end of the federal government as we know it---the actual priorities of the Republican Party. They very nearly brought a real end to our country as we know it, defying what what Wall Street wanted, and a major reason is that the populist caucus in the party is more interested in ideological purity than doing simply following the lead of Wall Street.
I suppose it should have been easy enough to see coming: for decades, a constant stream of propaganda about the evils of federal power, abortion rights, affirmative action, social spending, multi-culturalism, gay rights and other right wing bogeymen has energized the base to keep voting and giving money and running for office. At a certain point, the populists would have enough power to change the rules of the game. This crisis was averted, but we should not forget the important lesson learned here. The constant feeding of the paranoid, sexually and racially panicked right wing extremist imagination does not come without consequences. In the past, the mainstream media could downplay this because the major victims didn't have a lot of privilege or power. But increasingly, it looks like the victims could be all of us.