Quote of the day--they don't speak for us edition

>> Monday, February 21, 2011

Lori Montgomery reported in The Post last week that a bipartisan group of senators thinks a sensible deficit reduction package would involve lifting the Social Security retirement age to 69 and reforming taxes, purportedly to raise revenue, in a way that would cut the top income tax rate for the wealthy from 35 percent to 29 percent.

Only a body dominated by millionaires could define "shared sacrifice" as telling nurses' aides and coal miners they have to work until age 69 while sharply cutting tax rates on wealthy people. I see why conservative Republicans like this. I honestly don't get why Democrats--"the party of the people," I've heard--would come near such an idea.

-E.J. Dionne Jr., "The Tea Party is winning"
The Washington Post, February 21st, 2011.

Not much I can add to that, really, except that Digby's right: follow the money; nurses' aides and coal miners don't drop billions of dollars into candidates' electoral war chests across the country, rich people do.

But, y'know, that's because money is speech, and if you believe that, it only follows that rich people have more speech than the rest of us. So it's their game and their stadium, we're just in the nosebleeds.

At some point it makes you less angry than depressed. David, over at 4 Quarters, 10 Dimes, has a great post up today about the rise of actual conservatism in America--i.e. the rise of true reactionary, anti-revolutionary, European-style conservatism as opposed to the Enlightenment-style "conservatism" that dominated American politics for most of American history. It's a great post, though I don't know if he's quite right: I think what we might be seeing is the triumph of Reaganism, a morally-bankrupt quasi-ideology that despises collective action, exults corporations, feels the sole business of America is business, worships the military and condemns all roles for government other than promoting corporate well-being and enforcing morals. (Incidentally, just as one may ask whether Jesus was a Christian and was Marx a Marxist, it's sensible to ask, was Reagan a Reaganist?) In many ways, Reaganism as a civic religion overlaps true conservatism: it is a quasi-apocalyptic creed in some respects, is actively anti-Enlightenment and draws heavily on Christian mores and tradition (and therefore despises forms of individualism that are incompatible with fundamentalist Christian doctrine and/or Reaganism's worship of business--i.e. the individualist CEO may be acceptable but the iconoclastic union rabblerouser will never be), and it tolerates or even encourages a hierarchical social order by a tacit love affair with post-hoc Social Darwinism (the rich man is obviously more fit than the homeless man, and they are both where they were destined to be from the former's hard work and the latter's congenital shiftlessness). All that said, Reaganism isn't exactly a monarchist or imperial philosophy and does pay at least lip-service to the Protestant work ethic, though it implicitly conflates that work ethic with the aforementioned Social Darwinism (it's just that Reaganists can't actually say the word "Darwinism," you know, because it's a swear word like "liberal").

As I was saying, anyway, at some point it almost has to make you more sad than angry, or maybe the word I'm looking for is weary. Whether you want to label the apparent trend as the second coming of true conservatism or the triumph of Reaganism (or some combination, with the former being the political expression and the latter a religious expression), either system represents the decline and fall of America. Neither set of doctrines is amenable to a post-Enlightenment society, though both are very amenable to the rise of oligarchies and plutocracies (and, frankly, kleptocracies). Either ideology, if applied, will lead to the rise of a permanent underclass and disappearance of the middle class, and that underclass must necessarily either rise up in violence (as, for instance, the emerging American underclass did during the first years of the 20th Century, leading to government and business concessions and empowering much of the underclass to become the blue collar and white collar middle classes) or suffer silently and indefinitely. Neither ideology cares much for how people live--if people want clean water, clean air, trees, food for their children, roads, firehouses, or anything else, they can pay for it like civilized people instead of stealing from people who are willing to work for their living (or whose ancestors did). Either ideology is susceptible to becoming well-armed and bankrupt at home--and Henry Cabot Lodge was right about that. I have started to feel like these may be last days, though I imagine America will roll along on its own inertia for at least a few decades after I'm gone.

I feel despair, in short.

(H/t Digby.)


David Monday, February 21, 2011 at 8:47:00 PM EST  

Thanks for the kind words, Eric!

I think the main reason why I would go with "reactionary, anti-revolutionary European-style conservatism" instead of Reaganism is that what I'm seeing these days has a very large amount of authoritarianism in it. Not monarchism, really, but a strong sense of hierarchy that finds it offensive when the little people get uppity. Reaganism (great term) always struck me as Gilded Age stuff - stridently individualistic and for that reason anti-union, Social Darwinistic, full of Gospel of Wealth naivete and Horatio Alger mythology, and so on - with the overlay of piety that you identify.

Either way, though, I'm with you on the weariness and the general pessimism about the future of the American republic. Neither ideology cares how people live, as you point out, or much beyond maintaining its power.

As a historian whose main specialty is the political culture of the Founding Fathers, it is all just depressing to see how low this country is sinking and how grimly determined it is in doing so.

Eric Monday, February 21, 2011 at 9:57:00 PM EST  

You're welcome, David! And I can't say this enough to any readers over here who haven't read David's post yet: read his post.

I like your summary of Reaganism better than mine, actually: I wish I'd hit the Gospel Of Wealth and Alger references, because they're spot-on.

It's sadly possible we're both right, y'know. There's sometimes a sympathy between those pious Social Darwinist corporate types and hard-right authoritarian conservative types; the mutual fondness Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler had for each other comes to mind.

Naturally, I'd rather we were both completely wrong, than either one of us or both being onto anything. But it's hard when even the so-called "liberal" party can't motivate itself to stand by first principles, and anyone who tries to take it to task for abandoning those principles is accused of being petty, immature, unrealistic and self-destructive.

timb111 Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 10:33:00 AM EST  

Thanks for the link to 4 Quarters. I read both "Actual Conservatives" posts and added a link to David's blog to my list of daily reading.

fulome: Well I just am.

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