top of page
Hey, Ronald McReagan!
(A series of essays on the failures of Republican governance since the 1980s)
Soylent Green is Government!
FAMOUS RONALD McREAGAN-ISMS:
"The nine most terrifying words in the english language: "Hi, We're your neighbors., and... Yes, you have neighbors!"
RONALD McREAGAN: The 111 most terrorizing words to Republicans:
"Hi, we live in the same area and I saw you got laid off due to Reagan and Bush's failed Friedmanesque policies and together we can try to lessen your suffering some and ensure future sustainable prosperity together for all, or maybe just get some food, wanna try? Or do you want to go it alone in a world without security forces or the power of the people when they work together, no roads, no fire department? Your call, you can vote on it. It may not be perfect but at least it shows a little humanity. Want to get a beer? Or some soup? What movies have you seen lately?"
By Kevin Salveson
I recently wrote a review of the book The Forgotten Depression by the author James Grant (author of the fairly well-known and respected stockmarket newsletter Grant's Interest Rate Observer). That got me thinking more about elaborating on my view of why government is not the boogieman that the free market Tea Party Republicans want you to think it is (for their own often crooked purposes).
Basically, it boils down to this: "government is soylent green". That is, government is people.
To free-marketeers like Friedman government is a pernicious outside actor which "intervenes" on the markets giving unfair advantage to some and "establishing barriers" for others. Thus, it scoops up and grinds up people. Well, yes, bad governance does do that. But not all government by nature does that as the Friedmanites believe. So down with bad government! (Not all government!)
However, much as we all appreciate the usefulness of markets and understand that generally free and lesser-regulated markets are better than a Communist closed-market system for the long term prosperity of the greatest number of Earth's citizens, good government must be considered an essential component of the marketplace itself without which the marketplace could not exist.
To discount that idea courts social dysfunction. Government (being the collective power of the people themselves) does not solely "write the script" and "direct the action" and "intervene' as an outside actor Rather, government goes hand in hand with private enterprise to provide the foundation for the marketplace itself.
Contrary to being an enemy of the marketplace, government is a function of the will of the marketplace. In fact, it provides the bulwark of the structure: a security and legal force to ring in marketplace disorder. Government exists explicitly to abet the marketplace and hence by definition cannot be an enemy of the marketplace.
Sure, governments may operate dysfunctionally, such as the disaterous 02-08 Bush presidency. Yet, as government is a servant of the marketplace, it is up to the marketplace to thus use and influence government to its satisfaction. Dissatisfaction in government on the part of Republicans, then, is simply a function of their failure in the marketplace of ideas.
Again, no one likes it when a Govenment apparatchik disobeys the expressed will of its people and thus breaks the social contract. The electoral college, a pernicious remnant of a simpler time, still is expected to represent the majority interests of the marketplace. At all times. By definition. If it doesn't, that is called bad government, a miscarriage of justice. Strangely, though they loudly decry it as a bullying tactic, this type of bad government is typically most in evidence when Republicans are in power. Since Republicans are authoritarian by nature they adopt what might at best be called the 'benevolent dictator' model of governance whenever they can. In this day and age that boils down to a classically Fascist style of rule.
As numerous studies have shown, Republicans by genetic predisposition often see it as expeditious to circumvent the will of the people and the marketplace (even as they claim to act in the name of the marketplace's best interests) in a truly radical fashion. They often do so in the name of upholding an 'orthodoxy that is under attack' without which society will collapse. Hence, they justify their obscene power grabs, oligarchical favortism, and questionable fascist tactics (such as the 2002 W. Bush Iraqi war or the 2008 Bush bank bailouts) as 'good for the country' in a time of emergency and threat. Often their policies then bring ruin to the greater majority at the expense of a prosperous minority.
So yes, we all agree: there can be such a thing as bad government and too much intervention and miscarriage of American rule in a paranoid fascist style.
(At this point if you've been reading this and you're a Republican I know what you're thinking, "No! I refuse to listen. He's baiting me with his enthusiasm for America's victory in World War Two and subtly implying I'm on the side of the Party of Mussolini in that conflict! But no way! Republicans always like to resolve conflict in a good kick ass way so World War Two is ours! We starred in movies about it. We're the party of winners. It was Reagan who said that the words to be scared of were, "Hi we're with the government and we're here to help.' Ha ha, that was a good one! Because helping others is Communism. And Reagan tore down that wall! He won the cold war single-handedly and so that's why he gets an Airport! So, Republicans are the solution to my tax dollars being wasted, I'm not going to fall for you calling me a fascist!")
Amazing how good I am at reading your mind, yes?
Well, let's parse that bundle of irrationalities for a moment, I may have put some words in your mouth, I admit. But we were talking about the marketplace. And basically what Reagan said was, "when the marketplace comes to your door to be nice by the will of the people, be afraid of your neighbors and elected officials and your own employees.'
Well, it's always fear that is exploited by Republicans, isn't it? A very base emotion to capitalize on in politics but one that has been a constant theme since Nixon decided to hire Roger Ailes to help him win elections (and thus the Southern Strategy was born).
And yet, unless you are truly racist and ignorant, it doesn't even make sense to be "afraid'. The agents of the marketplace called "your government" have been created explicitly to serve the people by the people. They are us. Of the people, by the people, with the people, beside the people, in front of the people, around the people, within, all up in, and any other numerous number of prepositions you want to throw in there. Your neighbors. The people in your city who ran for office or applied for a job.
I mean, I get frustrated at the idea of the DMV too. And yet when I went down there the other day they ran things pretty smooth. I saw a lot of people doing their jobs and a lot of stuff gettintg done, I went in there and renewed my registration in about an hour. Everyone seemed pretty busy and they had a system that made sense and worked ok. I mean, you can complain because beauracracy but honestly it wasn't that bad. I bet it would be less worse if you hired more workers but then that would take tax dollars! Anyway, it was just people. Why does Reagan want to hate on all of us so much?
(Quick aside: Seems to me that 'Government people' are the same as the people who work the check-out line at Ralphs. I don't get all up in Ralph's face because the line was slow. And yet people were attacking census workers like it was a conspiracy because republicans. Meanwhile, I like that check-out girl. I've seen her before. She has a smile with dimples on her broad round face. I remember that she worked at the Ralphs in Claremont and then she went on strike for better wages and medical and then she started working as a check out girl at the Ralphs in Rancho Cucamonga when the Ralphs in Claremont closed and became a Sprouts. So government people, who knows... they might have a nice smile too if you take a look).
Meanwhile, continuing our roasting of the conservative straw man we erected in honor of this momentus essay, we also have to ask: why do so many people not realize Roosevelt and Truman were Democrats and that they won World War Two? And Obama got Bin Laden while Bush let 9/11 happen on his watch? And yet the chickenhawks are supposed to be the ones we feel safe running the military and funneling no bid contracts to Halliburton after working there as CEO? What is that if not Facism in its purest, most cynical form? War for profit.
Face it. Everytime Republicans screw things up Democrats come along to fix them. The adults get ahold of the wheel again, basically. Since the marketplace is self-correcting and government expresses the will of the marketplace by definition, you shold understand that taxes and the policies funded by them are the expressed will of the people. Changing government, criticizing something wrong which could be done better, that's fine. Saying it is to be feared, and threatening to drown us all in your bathtub? That's pathological.
Our government embeds the tools to overturn a poorly running system in favor of better governance in the system itself: voting, democratic action, better policies.
So why didn't we as a nation vote George W. Bush out in 2004 as we obviously should have? Sadly, once in power Conservatives by nature are very difficult to dislodge because they see power as a means to an end. Hence, miseducation is often the source of a short term voter mistake. Luckily, history has shown that the compass of the people and the marketplace tends to turn towards the true north of intelligent rule over time. After all, this America. Founded with a smart set of ideals, full of kick ass people.
Yet sometimes the cynics and the money wins out. Since Republicans view the world with an 'ends justify the means' point of view, they see abuses of the power of office and miseducation as legitimate tools of political persuasion in the modern media era. Thus, often when Conservatives are elected they embark on a pattern of ignorning the will of the majority in the voting marketplace with impunity and demonizing those who disagree with their paranoid style. Knowing they cannot command a true majority, they embark on their divide in order to conquor campaigns with a religious fervor unique to their party.
Due to their typical mental and emotional tenor, opposition to them is evidence that they need to dig in harder and bend reality to their will with greater vehemence rather than cave to facts. (Often, they become almost messianic about it since religious tendencies go hand in hand with this type of voter and candidate). History has shown that Conservatives tend to adopt a philosophy of rule which actively and improperly uses its power to stifle dissent (regardless of merit) in order to promote their cronies in the oligarchy. Typically, it ends in disaster which requires the marketplace itself repair the damage via government action (as an extension of the will of the majority in the marketplace).
The evidence is clear:
--Hoover's small government philosophy precipitates the Great Depression in a time of crisis. The Democratic's New Deal creates the conditions which precipitate a recovery.
--Nixon spies on the opposition using government power in order to try to win re-election while taking the US off the gold standard.
--Reagan circumvents congress and funds an illegal war in Nicaragua (while using fear-monger tactics to boost commie paranoia to great heights and cement his cowboy reputation with his base, probably the basic source of his continuing cannonization today).
--Ollie North calls himself a patriot for violating the sacred rule of law government which employees swear an oath to uphold. (The rule of law is of course the cornerstone of a healthy marketplace).
--GHW Bush declares a new world order, a fascist phrase nonpareillel.
(The word fascism gets thrown around a lot but in this case this is the textbook definition: government serving the interests of a small corporate cabal using authoritarian and oligarchical tactics for short term profit at the expense of the long term interests andf human rights of the majority in the country.That was exactly the new world order that was envisioned by Rumsfeld and Cheney and Reagan and GHW Bush who were all in cahoots with the authors of The Project for A New American Century).
--W. Bush ushers in the modern era of state power abuse.
By 2002 the trajectory towards "oil-igarchy" started by Reagan was completed with passion by W. Bush with disasterous results.
--First, they stole an election by using all the weight of their conservative power base as well as abuses of the rule of law to prevent a full expression of the democratic process. (Methodical and rigorous vote counting? Not in our democracy! Not when winning is everything.) But that was just a harbinger for the conservative goernance failures to come.
--Second, W. Bush follows his first act up with a historic failure on the national security front. Yet he had the gall to use it as an opportunity to falsify out of whole cloth an invasion of the nation's middle east enemy with a huge reserve of oil (which his cabal of oil industry buddies can and will profit from with obscene impunity) despite having nothing to do with the terrorist attack he allowed on 9/11!
--(Certainly, terrorists are an enemy to be dealt with. But they should not be an opportunity to exploit a situation. Too often, conservatives view small but significant failures as boogeymen that then justify fascist or 1950's Soviet Union style repression as a response).
--After W. Bush's failure on 9/11 the majority in the marketplace was then incredulous to see ushered in an era Illegal spying on citizens, torture, illegal renditions of innocents without rule of law, black sites, bold faced propaganda, patriotic jingoism as social coercion, and the conflation of religion with government. Sure, those things are un-American on their face and violate ideals enshrined in our Constitution. But remember, the ends justify the means to conservatives and they see nothing wrong with fascism!
So under W. Bush's failed leadership we see the cumulative effect of the failure of conservative principles of government via the aggressive mis-management of the regulatory environment.
This fervor for destroying the rule of law in order to permit corporate malfeasance without consequence eventually lead to a total collapse of the banking system and economy by 2008. Shockingly, but not entirely without immediate need by that point, the mis-rule is compounded by oligarchichal abuses of the national treasury to prop up elite interests at the expense of the people and the marketplace itself!
So, sure, of course it is possible to see that bad government is indeed pernicious.
But while, as stated, the solution is to just vote them out and not turn to the dark side (as Democrats espouse), unfortunately we see that Conservatives will abuse the power of government itself and wrap themselves in the jingoism of patriotism to try and entrench themselves (making them very hard to extricate, though the magnet of history has obviously swung back to Democratic principles since Obama was voted in and during the Clinton Presidency's corrections of the errors of the Reagan era).
Anyway, perhaps the classic paranoid Republican is Nixon. He used government operatives to spy on and subvert Democratic party initivatives by breaking into their very headquarters! Talk about keeping your enemies close. Winning: it's the only thing to some. TM, the GOP.
Nixon went on to create the 'divide and conquor' style of Republican politics as well the drug war and the racist Republican Southern Strategy. Perfected by Roger Ailes (Nixon's media advisor, who went on to create the propoganda arm of the republican party known as Fox News), this effort to create a 'small government less taxes' class war within American politcs is at the core of Republican misrule in the 20th and 21st centuries. It is really the Roger Ailes playbook, written with Nixon's support, which has been at the heart of Republican misrule since. Riling a rabid base is all they have when they can't get a majority.
Ailes and Fox and most successful GOP politicians since have all blown these types of divisive and paranoid dog-whistles. Seemingly, they are a tones a modern conservative needs to hear (or has been taught to want to hear). Thus since Nixon we have seen Republicans return to divisiveness and big moneyover and over again as basic strategies: fear and fascism, a wonderful one-two punch!
Thus we saw Reagan demonize the poor and the unions and start a war with Grenada to bolster his jingoistic patriotic image with the public even as his adminsitration was deep in the cocaine trade with Noriega. And triple the debt while claiming to be a fiscal conservative. And we see GHW Bush, a former CIA head, ascend to the Presidency and extend Reagan's anti-middle class policies and hawkish military industrial complex global power positioning. Even Clinton was guilty of corporate favoritism in his style of governance but at least he raised taxes some on the right people and was a flexible liberal leader with a vision of more than oligarchy. Of course, W. Bush then pushed the abuse of government espionage power and patriotic coercion to their logical nadir to the degree that even conservatives themselves seem to have lost sight of what they claim are their ideals: small government, right guys? We had to build the dome to destroy it? Is that the logic?
Conservative behavior since Nixon begs the simple question: when the chips are down why don't the Friedmanites stick to their guns and let the free marketplace decide the fate of the economy and nation without their acts of oiligarchy?
Well, turns out that Keynes was just as right or moreso than Friedman, especially during a crisis and even they know it. Democrats have long realized, though, that a crisis does not justify fascism or oiligarchy and that is why Dems by nature tend to welcome a process of consensus building as well as a vision for ending the extreme acts of intervention authorized by the people when it has served it purpose.
So unlike Paulson's acts to protect the banking class during 2008, Democrats when elected to clean up the mess simply raised taxes on those who had benefitted from the previous oiligarchical experiment by republicans and went on to invest in growth via the will of the people and the marketplace. It was a bill called The Economic Rehabilitation Act of 2009 which a Dem-led Congress put into place. Eight years later, the economy has been healed to a great degree despite republican oppisition and unemployment has been halved.
This is the same story of beneficial change being opposed by economically flawed conservatives since their opposition to the New Deal, and that is why propaganda, fear, division and and disinformation are so important to modern coservative political strategies-- they simply couldn't win if the public was educated as to the facts of history.
Historically, it has chiefly been Republicans and conservatives who use fear as their chief impetus to policy and thus cannot be trusted to govern intelligently. Fear? Yes, that is always the first response of authoritarians to that which they have been told poses a threat.
Do you mean that when my neighbor comes to my door I should find their offer to help "Frightening" because they represent a too big for me to undersand "other" which imposes its will on me --an individual-- via taxes and police cars? Do you mean that as an individual I have no responsibility to others, get off my porch? Fright should always be the first response when your neightbor comes to the door offering human concern? Help? You want to help me? Oh god, honey!! Get the gun! No-- better - get the bathtub and start the water, we're going to drawn this fucker! I will die of starvation before I believe that my neighbors might be here to help!!
Well, authority figures since forever and Goebbles know that disinformation and fear go a long way in rallying a small but virulent base to carry out plans of oligarchy. Ha ha, caught you red handed!
---RNC document mocks donors, plays on 'fear'
Hence, despite fighting the solution (after their solution played out like a national boondoggle at time of crisis) Republicans eight years later now in fact have to admit yet again in 2015 that in an emergency something must be done by the people of the marketplace and their representatives. Yes, the people are not to be feared, the power of the people is a rightous thing. But when conservatives don't like a policy enacted by the majority they claim the system itself is flawed... when it is only their unpopular policy itsself that has failed to gain traction in the marketplace.
So yes, even Republicans have to admit it. Good government can be the solution to bad (e.g. Republican) government! No wonder they still try to run for office! Because their down with government logic doens't seem to stop them from wanting the office. They want to get in there to try to undo all the bad their republican predecessors caused by pushing the nation further down the wrong road? Problem is, at this point they can't convince a majority to agree to that so they bad-mouth 'the system' and 'big government' (and thus you and me) instead. Just like a loser in sports who having lost says "this game of baseball sucks anyway, and I hate all of you, and I'm taking the ball we all bought together to play with and going home." Well, thanks Chariie Brown.
At this point, it's clear that Conservative 'ends justify the means' actions contradict their stated beliefs to such an mmoral degree as to undermine all of their credibility (and that is beyond the fact that their beliefs were already lacking credibility as history had demonstrated to the nation again and again since The Great Depression).
So, sure, everyone agrees that government is often wasteful (hello, wasteful conservative military spending), even as the way it is wasteful actual benefits the private sector (got oil services to sell? You're in luck, Cheney started a war for you and will funnel no bid contracts to you. Can't say that doesn't help some in the private sector).
The problem is --rightly observed by conservatives themselves though with a shocking lack of self-reflection-- that when that collective-granted power is abused by a few bad actors they can allow a virtual monopoly / fascist economy / death machine (Halliburton, Blackwater et al) which excludes other free market players and starts fascist wars. So, sure, that is pernicious when abused.
One may ask, then, why did the mythical "free-market party" of the GOP then approve of the Bush bailouts and the no-bid 'lose the pallets of cash somewhere' war profiteering of the Iraq war? Makes your head spin since they are contradictory in both practice and philosophy.
At least Democrats and liberals have their thinking straight and uncontradictory. They always like free markets as long as they are fairly well-regulated and benefit the most people in a sustainable fashion. I'll say it again: Democrats love capitalism and free markets... when they work and with the aid of the rule of law expressing the majorty interest. Simple. The rule of law-- it's what Conservatives too often violate with their 'burn the village to save it' mentality which justifies breaking it to ultimately uphold it.
bottom of page