Tom W sent along a piece from Belmont Club and asked if I had thoughts on the subjects it tackles. I answered him back via email, but I figured I may as well go ahead and post my brief reply here, as well. Because why not, right?
William Galston, writing in the Wall Street Journal warns that the institutional Republican Party — the political equivalent of the Washington Generals — may have lost its audience after the longest losing streak in history. A large part of the GOP base is walking out — led by an “aroused, angry and above all fearful [Jacksonian America] in full revolt against a new elite”. They’re no longer entertained, no longer spellbound by suspense after finally being convinced that the Washington General’s secret job is to lose every exhibition match against the Democratic Party Hokum Globetrotters.Galston has impeccable liberal credentials. “A former policy advisor to President Clinton … his current research focuses on … the implications of political polarization”, he should be celebrating the crackup of the Republican Party. But instead he is worried because the Mighty Wurlitzer is broken. Galston writes, “it’s hard to see how the U.S. can govern itself unless corporate America pushes the Republican establishment to fight back against the tea party—or switches sides.”Translation: who’s going to keep the gravy train running if people stop making gravy? His immediate concern is that “defeating” John Boehner in the showdown over Obamacare may have put consensus out of reach. ‘Persuading’ the GOP establishment to turn on its base destroyed the mechanism the establishment used to bring skeptical parts of the electorate into the fold. Those skeptics are now out the door, having finally figured out the game is fixed.
This is more than a columnist’s speculation. Stan Greenberg, a Democratic survey researcher whose focus groups with Macomb County Reagan Democrats in Michigan transformed political discourse in the 1980s, has recently released a similar study of the tea party. Supporters of the tea party, he finds, see President Obama as anti-Christian, and the president’s expansive use of executive authority evokes charges of “tyranny.” Mr. Obama, they believe, is pursuing a conscious strategy of building political support by increasing Americans’ dependence on government. A vast expansion of food stamps and disability programs and the push for immigration reform are key steps down that road.
But ObamaCare is the tipping point, the tea party believes. Unless the law is defunded, the land of limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility will be gone forever, and the new America, dominated by dependent minorities who assert their “rights” without accepting their responsibilities, will have no place for people like them.
For the tea party, ObamaCare is much more than a policy dispute; it is an existential struggle.
Galston is running ahead to warn his bretheren about the new threat, the better to defeat them. He can see the torches and pitchforks in the distance coming closer and closer. Nor is he alone in noticing the trend. Gallup reports that “60% of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of this question. A new low of 26% believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans.”
The results are consistent with Gallup’s finding of more negative opinions of both parties since the shutdown began, including a new low favorable rating for the Republican Party, and Americans’ widespread dissatisfaction with the way the nation is being governed.
The prior highs in perceived need for a third party came in August 2010, shortly before that year’s midterm elections, when Americans were dissatisfied with government and the Tea Party movement was emerging as a political force; and in 2007, when the newly elected Democratic congressional majority was clashing with then-President George W. Bush.
Taken together they suggest that the old consensus model may be collapsing. Why then should only the conservatives be in revolt? For at the heart of the crisis is money. The system of hitting up The Man in order to buy votes from a captive electorate dependent on the federal government, so successful during the postwar boom, has finally stopped working.
The very issues over which the shutdown was bitterly fought underscore this. The establishment “won” not because it was rich and powerful but because it was so poor it resorted to hair-pulling, eye-gouging and and ear-biting. The elite can only continue to sustain itself by borrowing. That was what the crisis was about, borrowing. Obama’s basic demand was simple: let me borrow and borrow without limit. His ‘victory’, if so it can be called, is the victory of a bankrupt who has compelled his relatives to mortgage the farm so he can return to his losing streak at the casino.
But the assumption that Third Party must only come from conservative ranks bears closer examination. For the Democrats need money too. In fact they need it more than anyone else, a fact underscored by their obsession to lift every limit on their credit cards. The truth is they are only one step ahead of disaster; for if once the EBT system stops working, even momentarily, there is a drastic disturbance in the force.
Nor is this surprising. It has been argued and proved by natural disasters that the entire fabric of civilization is but nine meals from anarchy. After 3 days without food most people are willing to do anything to anybody to get a meal. The hard reality is that the current deficit system will inexorably create a situation when the grub literally runs out.
[...] members of the Democratic Party should also rise in the ‘name of their pensions, jobs and other expected benefits’. Without reform those ‘gains’ are toast. Lincoln Steffens once said of Soviet Russia, “I have seen the future and it works.” People with pensions should visit Detroit. That is the future and it doesn’t work.
Galston’s argues that the conservative insurgency is rooted in some kind of atavism; that it arises from a nostalgic hankering after an America long past in the face of new demography. Nothing could be further from the truth. The hell with demography. People would be just fine with changes in demography if only times were good. When times are bad homogeneity is irrelevant. Rats of the exact same breed will fight to the death over the last piece of cheese.
It’s the cheese that matters. The conservative insurgency is rooted in a lack of money. And so will the coming liberal one. The unrest is not driven by a desire to return to the past. On the contrary it is propelled almost entirely by the growing belief that there is no future.
I have not much really to add here but to reiterate what I’ve been writing now for nearly 5 years: The whole outlaw idea — which has been mocked by some entrenched “conservatives” who sneer at its supposed self-importance — was based around the rise of a third party mindset that would, I argued, draw significant support from Democrats who weren’t actual leftists. These were the people whom Reagan won over with a message that liberty breeds prosperity, while governmental dependence crushes the soul and bankrupts the nation, not only fiscally but existentially.
To me, it no longer matters what the specific appeal is. We need to work from the grassroots to take over state legislatures and circumvent DC — starve it by way of state amendment conventions and a renewal of federalism — until the rats on the Potomac are reduced to eating each other rather than feasting on us.
To some, this whole attempt at spawning a movement seemed ludicrous and unhelpful. After all, Obama was just a garden variety liberal, a good man who had different ideas about what is best for the country — and rather than resort to broadsides on such an “historic,” transformative figure, people like me were cautioned to watch our words, to temper our outrage, to quiet our criticisms, lest we lose forever the very moderates our Republican cheerleaders constantly chase.
But what the “smart” Republicans — the “pragmatists,” the “realists”, those who mocked us then and continue to mock us now for our firm convictions and who dismiss us as True Believers demanding “purity tests” — missed was that the TEA Party movement, itself an outlaw movement based around the very same notions of smaller government, a return to constitutionalism, and individual liberty, had already begun coalescing around its rejection of the big government “compassionate conservatism” that reached its peak with TARP bailouts and the notion that we must circumvent capitalism in order to save it.
These very same types never left when McCain was soundly thrashed by a Marxist — and they today still control the Republican Party.
They openly deride us. They represent their own interests. And they rely on phalanx of opinion-drivers to couch their strategy and tactics — which are a mirage to begin with — as the strategy and tactics of a politically savvy, experienced, and road-tested group of “adult” lawmakers — distinct from those corny, idealistic citizen legislators who have presumed to come to DC and take different tacks. Because those kind just don’t understand how DC works, we’re told. It’s not about conviction and principle or other hokum. It’s about the “art of the possible” — even though the possible is constantly undercut by preemptive surrendering and constant backbiting from the professional political class.
The new word we’re hearing a lot from our betters is “populism.” This was the same kind of attack that was leveled at Sarah Palin, and it is now one phase of the attack on uppity Senators like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, both of who run intellectual circles around the old guard and their guards in the “conservative” media.
After McCain’s defeat, it was Mitch McConnell, not surprisingly, who told us that the “era of Reagan is over” — that if we wished to remain something more than a “regional party” we would embrace the reality of a New Deal nation. This was self-serving fatalism then, and in 2010 it was shown to be a serious misreading of the electorate.
The truth is, people have lost all faith in both parties, and they view government with horror and disgust. They just haven’t figured out a way yet to defeat a ruling class that has rigged the game in their favor.
As I’ve been a bit under the weather today I haven’t had a chance to check to see if the reports from last evening were correct — that Congress affirmatively signed a deal that would hand de facto spending power to the imperial Executive by making debt ceiling raises automatic, while relegating Congress to votes of approval or disapproval that the Executive could then veto, requiring Congress to muster a 2/3 majority to stop the piling on of debt as determined not by the People’s House, as the Constitution demands, but by a king.
This wouldn’t be the first time Congress has elected to surrender its power to the Executive in order to avoid messy battles that could harm their members’ reelection chances — we have far more regulations with the force of law passed by unelected bureaucratic agencies created and funded by Congress than we do actual laws coming out of Congress, with no way of addressing those writing them — but it may just be the last.
Because the center will not hold. And I don’t think when we’re living in the ruins, we’re going to show any special deference to the rats who have worked their entire careers to insulate themselves from the very laws — and the attendant suffering — they’ve visited on us, all of which drove the collapse that must certainly come.