Friday, March 6, 2009
The Second Great Depression
It's kind of fun watching the Republicans implode. I mean, it's not good, because there was a time when the Republicans were good to have around. And it's no fun to sit through the implosion of a political party. An opposition or shadow government is a good thing. I don't think it can come from the Republicans, however. Certainly not the Republicans we currently have. It's the old lie down with dogs, get up with fleas problem. We're now seeing the results of the Republicans turning their base over to the fundamentalists. It's why the whole Rush Limbaugh thing is getting so much traction. I was reading an article, I think from Slate, today that made the point that the fight between Limbaugh and Michael Steele and the fact that Steele (and everyone else who stands up to Limbaugh) lost come from the struggle between expansion and ideological purity. Steele represents (although idiotically) a call for a new direction for the Republican Party. Limbaugh represents that salad days of Reagan and the Real True Republicans. Whatever the fuck that means. It's no accident that the Republican concern with ideological purity mirrors fundagelical Christianity's obsession with theological purity. It's not the victory that matters for either, but the moral principle, no matter how friggin' stupid that moral principle is. But there's this strange idea in fundamentalist Christianity that if they can just get everyone to lead a moral life -- by their definition of morality, of course -- the world will miraculously fix itself. Moreover, the way to reach that moral victory is apparently to withdraw and create an ideologically pure in group. The weird thing is that it actually makes logical sense within Christianity if you understand the mindset. If you honestly believe that there is an achievable level of morality and you honestly believe that Jesus steps in and makes everything he touches perfect, it's a short step to believing that it's simple and if everyone else agreed the world would change. But this attitude carries with it a dangerous obsession with understanding exactly what is the right thing to strive for. It's also got enough of a disconnect with reality that when the faithful get all riled up because Jesus is sending revival and no revival comes, they rationalize and fragment. The evangelical fervor isn't the dangerous part. It's the inevitable letdown when the promised revival doesn't show up. Political parties don't have the external promise of fantasy land to rely on. So it doesn't make sense for them to stand around, kicking out the unbelievers and waiting for someone to open up the puppies and rainbows closet. We won't be going back to the Reagan years any time soon. Or ever. Republicans need to move forward and face the political realities of the year 2009. They need to admit that the political landscape is changing and that their ideological purity will guarantee a slow death. I find it fascinating that the Democrats of today can trace a direct line back to Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans. The Republicans only go back as far as Lincoln and stand on the shoulders of the failed Whigs and Federalists. This comes in spite of the fact that the Democrats didn't win a single national election from 1856 to 1912. Oh, and what was it that allowed Woodrow Wilson to sneak in to the Oval Office? The Republicans fractured due to ideological squabbling. Teddy Roosevelt left office after a term and a half with Taft as his heir apparent. Roosevelt then decided he didn't like how Taft was doing things, formed the Bull Moose Party (okay, I think it was the Reform Party, but who remembers that?), and split the Republican vote enough to allow the Democrats in to office. The question is, what have the Democrats learned over the years that the Republicans can never quite figure out? And, more importantly, what ramifications does this have? The answer to the first question is that they've learned how to change. Democrats were the party of state rights standing in opposition to federal power in the early days of the republican experiment. In the post Civil War years they were the voice of the South, banging their heads against the wall and trying to keep tradition alive. Until they stopped doing that. Wilson ran on a dovish platform. He ultimately took the U.S. in to World War I, but in 1916 he won a close re-election on a platform of staying out of European entanglement. FDR, of course, had the New Deal. Kennedy brought in a robust anti-Communism on the heels of McCarthyism. And we all know that Obama got in to office as much because of frustration with the excesses of the Bush Administration as anything else. The ramifications are, I think, huge. They're also extemely obvious. The political left used to be known as progressives. I prefer to leave them that way, because "liberal" has so many meanings it's become meaningless. The right are known as conservatives. That hasn't changed because, well, conservatives don't like it much. It's hard to learn much about the progressive/conservative dynamic from the first century of the United States. The early days were spent learning how to make the thing work. Then there was the Era of Good Feelings, when the US was briefly a one party system, followed by the abortive and almost useless Whigs. And, of course, from Lincoln through Taft the Republicans basically led a one party system, since the Democrats were effectively relegated to minor party status. However, we have a lot of data from the 20th Century. It basically seems to work like this: Things go to shit or look like they're about to go to shit. The Democrats put together a coalition of the people most effected by the current crisis and get in to power. Things settle down, people go home, and the Republicans get in to power. It's basically the story of the guy who spends his teen years and twenties raising hell, then settles down, gets married, has a couple kids, moves to the suburbs, gets a job as an insurance salesman, and yells at neighborhood kids to get off his damn lawn writ large. The fact is, we need this push and pull. The reason Communism failed but socialism is going strong is because Communism requires a continual revolutionary fervor that cannot be sustained. Socialism isn't interested in making the perfect world, it's interested in making a world where everyone can live. The difference between perfection and functional is key. Things fall apart, people get riled up, people push for change, change comes, people go home. Then the next generation faces its great crisis and the cycle starts again. Conservatism isn't good at facing the present crisis. Progressivism isn't good at maintaining stability during stable times. You can't keep things the way they were yesterday forever. But sometimes you need to slow down and let things settle for a while. This, of course, isn't a hard and fast rule. Nixon, for one, got in to office on the promise of a certain degree of change. And I don't quite know what the deal was with Carter. I'm not a fan of the political discourse in this country. I guess that's the price of being a gray in an increasingly black and white landscape. Both sides need each other and, quite frankly, we need both sides. So it's absolutely not good for us to spend our time hearing about how Bush was Hitler and Obama is Stalin. Both sides of the political spectrum think they have all the answers and the fault is entirely the other side's. This isn't helping. Thing is, I'm no big fan of the stimulus. It's not that I don't like it, it's that I think it's being done wrong. Yeah, I'm a bit of a Keynesian. Big whoop, wanna fight about it? See, we've got a bunch of pundits who are still trying to exhume the corpse of FDR and beat it into the ground. They'll go on TV and say "it's a historical fact that the New Deal did nothing/failed miserably." This is a gross misrepresentation of the simple fact that it took World War II to pull us out of the Great Depression. The question I always ask when the topic comes up is, "And what condition would the country have been in come 1941 without the New Deal?" Worst case scenario, I think, would have been anarchy. Imagine a world without the Civilian Conservations Corps where those young men were instead left to fend for themselves and did what desperate people who need to eat have done throughout history. I'm not such a big fan of throwing money at the same financial institutions that got us in to this mess because of their stupidity and downright illegal activities. I'm also not a fan of just throwing money at people whose homes are being foreclosed. I'm not dumb enough to actually believe that every home that's in danger of foreclosure is the result of greedy, horrible McMansion buyers with McDonald's jobs. Certainly allowing a restructuring of loans and cracking down on subprime loans in the future and convincing banks that it's in their best interest to allow people to stay in their homes instead of leaving them empty is the way to go. I like infrastructure projects. Yeah, this gets people screaming "Pork!" but there's a simple solution to that. Ignore them. They're idiots. We need bridges fixed. We need roads upgraded. I, personally, would love to have fiber optic internet options. There's the fun stuff, like solar panel projects, wind power, research in to more efficient ways of recovering oil from shale, and, y'know, other stuff that falls under green projects and that stupid "reducing our dependence on foreign oil" sound byte. See, if you say, "Let's build a bridge," then you give bridge builders a job. But they need steel and asphalt and concrete and bulldozers and whatnot, so you keep the producers of steel and asphalt and concrete and spare parts for bulldozers going. Then those bridge builders and steel mill workers can keep making their mortgage payments or maybe buy an new truck or whatever. It's good for the economy. It won't fix the economy on its own, but it may well keep things running for a while longer. But that's crazy talk, right? It's way easier to yell about how the other guy is wrong and carrying you directly to Hell in a handbasket without offering any helpful options. Because everyone loves a critic and a sourpuss.