Let’s get down to brass tacks: Republicans are slaves to a fantasy ideology called supply-side. They are not free to consider any actions other than those that enrich the rich. The ostensible logic of this compulsion of theirs is that the wealthy alone are capable of distributing their own wealth, that they do this by investing in ventures that create jobs for the non-wealthy. But let’s be real: Republicans are not free to think beyond the first step: Enrich the rich. Any sector other than the rich doesn’t exist for Republicans. Enrich the rich.
In this, Republicans are exactly like the lancet-fluke infected ants Daniel Dennett likes to cite when discussing freedom and religion. Like these helplessly suicidal ants, Republicans are merely the vessel by which a very dangerous meme propagates itself. Until very recently it was not absolutely clear how dangerous this meme was, but the conditions for a perfect storm unleashing the danger have been brewing since the tandem events of the financial crisis of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama.
Anyone who was conscious in 2008 ought to have quickly grasped that the financial crisis that nearly crashed the global economy was the result of decades of the government’s liberal policies toward wealth-accumulation and its permissive indulgence of wealth-accumulators’ every whim. You can tick off the government’s favors to this class on every available digit: the Bush tax cuts; free-trade policies that sent corporations out of the US in search of lower wages and labor standards, developing markets and virtually tax-free profiteering; the elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act, which enabled FDIC-covered banks to engage in risky investments of other people’s money; the refusal of the Clinton administration and Alan Greenspan to push for regulation of derivatives, and on and on and on… All of this kowtowing to the needs of the wealth-accumulators was the result of one single trigger: the post-Watergate, post-energy crisis, post-stagflation institutionalization of supply-side economics as the national dogma, one that Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been happy to take up.
In response to this sad state of affairs, Jared Bernstein, the former Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser to Vice-President Joe Biden (and a good friend of mine, I’m pleased to disclose), wrote a book in 2006 that apparently caught the eye of the Obama camp (ever on the lookout for anodyne slogans that can mean anything to anybody) with its clear argument in favor of what Bernstein called “We’re in this together” (and I call #DEMANDside) economics. Despite Obama’s noises about “we’re all in this together” during the election of 2008 (when Bernstein was hired as an adviser) and since, the president has been about as likely to actually push for “you’re on your own” policies. To be fair, Bernstein might disagree with me about the distance between Obama’s actions and his words. But we haven’t yet seen the end of the debt-ceiling clash of the summer of 2011. We have seen Obama use his bully pulpit to short-change the stimulus, install Republican-style pro-private insurance “universal” health care, prolong two wars he promised to end, extend Bush-era tax cuts, and now offer up Social Security and Medicare as sacrificial lambs to appease the angry deficit gods. Who knows what other accommodationist tricks he has up his sleeves?
As David Dayen noted on Firedog Lake a few weeks ago, Bernstein, now a senior fellow and blogger with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, lifted the curtain to show what sort of atmosphere for economic debate there was in the White House when Bernstein was a lonely voice for demand-side stimulus spending:
There will be no WPA-type programs in our near future. There was no appetite for them in the Obama admin in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression and there’s a lot less now. The reasons for that are interesting and I’ll speak to them another day. But it ain’t happening.
And please don’t accuse me of “negotiating with myself” here. I stressed above the importance of making those arguments, and I frequently made them myself as a member of the President’s economics team.
Depressing (so to speak) as all this is, it will only get more depressing. And this is mainly because the Republicans do not seem to know that audaciously hopeful Democrats were duped into electing a Republican in 2008. Perhaps they haven’t noticed because there’s a (D) after Obama’s name. Perhaps they’re just as fooled as Democrats were by the moderate to moderately progressive noises Obama makes now and again in front of crowds. Let’s not even go to the high likelihood that Republicans can not see past the color of Obama’s skin. For whatever reason, Republicans seem to believe Obama is a far-left Mau-Mau socialist and are more determined even than they were under Bill Clinton to stand firm against everything they think he stands for, even if he might not actually stand for anything.
Let me put this in more frightening terms: the infected brains of these Republic-ants, such as they are, are driving them to the top of the grass blade where the hungry sheep of Post-Imperial Depression is prepared to ingest them. If they were only offering themselves up, there would be not so much need to worry. We might be free of this disease at last. But we are all in this, together, endangered by these ideologically enslaved Republicans. The tragic farce in all this (if I may coin a phrase) is that these enslaved brains seem to “think” they stand for freedom. If this were true, would they be subject to litmus tests and ultimatums absolutely forbidding compromise? Would free minds categorically ignore basic economics to the point where the phrase “demand-side” is considered an evil–even though weak demand is demonstrably the very problem (!) with the American economy?