Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama Are Gay Lovers!

Got your attention, did I? When that title occurred to me today, I didn't know when I'd find a use for it. And then I logged onto Facebook and found this Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, linked by a right-wing acquaintance of mine. The subhead crows, "In 2008 liberals proclaimed the collapse of Reaganism. Two years later the idea of limited government is back in vogue." Of course, I'm not a liberal, so, just to show off, let me quote myself from a year ago:
Driftglass, which has some nice discussion here and here, also shares this video clip and Washington Post article from 1994, when the Republicans, having taken control of Congress, thanked Limbaugh for his services and leadership. In the video you can see Limbaugh pronouncing the final defeat of liberalism: every college should have one liberal and one communist professor, he declares, living fossils who will remind students of what they tried to do to America.

This Nostradamus-like prediction should, I think, be borne in mind now as liberal pundits celebrate the end of the conservative movement. Just on general principles, this is never a good idea. The arch-reactionaries who now define conservatism in the U.S. were supposedly defeated for good when Barry Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential elections -- but sixteen years later Ronald Reagan proved those claims premature. Yes, the Republicans are in serious disarray now, which suits me just fine, but I don't think that Obama is in office, or that the Democrats now control Congress, because the Democrats or his center-right policies are superior to the Republicans' -- it's because the Republicans screwed up the economy so spectacularly. (I say "the economy" because in foreign policy Obama clearly intends to continue screwing things up as Bush did.) The Dems now have a chance to do better, and I hope their timid approach is enough to right the damage that the Republicans inflicted (with Democratic collaboration), because it doesn't take long for the voters to become disgusted with Democratic ineptitude. In particular, Obama is going to have to stand up to the banking system, but so far he only seems to be interested in throwing more money at it. Clinton was elected in 1992 because of Americans' disillusionment with Reaganomics, and he lost his mandate in just two years.

As I said, liberals have jeered at the right's paltry showing in their tea parties, and it's been entertaining to watch the indignant right-wing response to the jeers: Big trees from little acorns grow! There may be just a few of us now, but there will be more! One, two, many Pinochets! ... And after all, the Civil Rights movement, the opposition to the Vietnam war, the women's movement, the gay movement all started with little bands of nutty extremists. The same is true of the conservative movement William Buckley Jr. built, which ultimately took over this country for three decades. So, for that matter, did Christianity, which is a reminder that, contrary to what one commenter argued at the Village Voice, it is not necessary to have realistic or coherent ideas to build a frighteningly successful movement. Irrationality can be a strength. And forty-seven percent of the electorate voted against Obama last November; they lost the election, but they are not a negligible part of the population.
I said it was premature to celebrate the death of the Right. But did anybody listen to me? Noooooooo!

Anyway, Berkowitz's analysis is wrong from start to finish. American voters in 2008 pretty decisively rejected what he calls "limited government" -- though that's a misnomer for Republican policy since Reagan. "[R]eining in spending, cutting the deficit and spurring economic growth" describes neither the Reagan nor the George W. Bush administration. Bill Clinton cut the deficit by cutting social spending, but without benefiting most Americans economically -- most of the money created by the Internet bubble went to the rich, and the bubble burst just in time for Dubya to take office. (See Robert Pollin's Contours of Descent [Verso, 2003] for more information.) Obama has mostly continued their policies, which is why most Americans are still in bad economic shape. On the other hand, corporate profits -- the only measure that interests Republicans and their Democratic collaborators -- have bounced back since Obama took office, so from Berkowitz' point of view Obama has been doing the right thing, or at least not doing wrong.

The far-right Republican revanchists of the Tea Party never complained about big government, runaway spending, and ballooning deficits while Bush was in office, at least not until he bailed out Wall Street at the end of his second term. (With the cooperation of McCain and Obama, remember.) They only became restive when a brown-skinned Democrat moved into the White House. Unfortunately, given our zero-sum two-party system, those voters who don't want either Republican or Democratic pro-corporate pillaging have few options this November. A defeat for the Democrats won't be a vindication of Republican policies -- if anything, the reverse -- any more than it was in 1994, but the corporate media, the Republicans, and the Democratic Party apparatus will spin it that way.

"In the aftermath of the global economic crisis of 2008, Western liberal democracies have been increasingly forced to come to grips with their propensity to live beyond their means," Berkowitz intones. This is typical right-wing hackery, but it's important to get warmed up for this November, whether the Republicans make electoral gains or not. The global economic crisis was the result of neoliberal economic policies championed by the Republicans in the US and their allies elsewhere. They never had any interest in making governments live within their means -- rather the opposite: the aim was to cut back government revenue (by tax cuts for the richest) in order to rationalize and justify cutbacks in social spending, while continuing to raise deficits, subsidize corporations, and wage war. This would starve the mass of people while enriching the top one percent or so of the population. (See Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine [Holt, 2008] for a fuller account.)

To describe Obama's record as "aggressive progressivism" is absurd, but I'd expect no less from a Wall Street Journal op-ed. For even more fun, read the comments, like this one: "Re-reading this article a day later, I have come to suspect that Peter Berkowitz is a closet progressive." And why? Because Berkowitz allowed that our government's "responsibilities include putting people to work and reigniting the economy—and devising alternatives to ObamaCare that will enable the federal government to cooperate with state governments and the private sector to provide affordable and decent health care", and that

A thoughtful conservatism in America—a prerequisite of a sustainable conservatism—must also recognize that the liberty, democracy and free markets that it seeks to conserve have destabilizing effects. For all their blessings, they breed distrust of order, virtue and tradition, all of which must be cultivated if liberty is to be well-used.

To observe this is not, as some clever progressives think, to have discovered a fatal contradiction at the heart of modern conservatism. It is, rather, to begin to recognize the complexity of the conservative task in a free society.

Working at the Hoover Institution must be a cushy gig, with no thought required, just the ability to shuffle and deal out gaseous cliches. Numerous commenters took vehement exception to his platitudes, however, and to
The Gingrich revolution fizzled, in part because congressional Republicans mistook a popular mandate for moderation as a license to undertake radical change, and in part because they grew complacent and corrupt in the corridors of power.
The "Gingrich revolution fizzled" because most Americans didn't want it -- Gingrich never had a mandate, since voter turnout in the off-year elections of 1994 was typically low. The Republicans capitalized on voters' anger over one of their own programs, the North American Free Trade Agreement, just as they're capitalizing now on the consequences of their policies under Bush and Obama.

My ambivalent Obama-supporter friend just posted this joke to Facebook, from Fark:
Estimates show that there would be fewer jobs and larger deficits under the Republicans' plan. Republicans say that's impossible, they don't have a plan.
Oh, but they do. Maybe I should have titled this post, "You Can Trust the Republicans (To Be Republicans)." Maybe I'll use that one further on down the road.