Americans want Progress. Since the Democratic Party’s elected leadership, and its major political candidates have decided to run as slightly left leaning Reaganites, Americans are turning to racism, nativism, anti-banking hysteria and conspiracy theories promulgated by demagogues. Huckabee and Paul are both populist reactionaries. They think that the cure to every headache is to amputate at the neck.
Within the Republican Party their populist and elitist division is bubbling to the surface because three policies of the elitist wing are appearing in the populist world as major pains. Populist candidates don’t believe in solving root problems, particularly not in the conservative side, because they believe that the symptom is the problem. Both pander directly to racism, and to a fuming conspiracy view of the world.
The three policies are the Iraq War, the Dollar Glut, and the bank bail out. I think people here understand that the complex of power, energy and entrenched interest drove the decision to invade Iraq, finance it with debt, and intervene in the banking system to tilt outcomes. However this invisible to the populist. He or she sees that we have lost the war in Iraq, and don’t believe that because populist Republicans are screaming how we have won Iraq that they believe it, because people who have won a war don’t spend much time saying this, they spend time dividing the spoils and dealing with the problems. We aren’t doing much dividing of the spoils in Iraq, which is a good indication that there aren’t any. He or she does not see how the resource bubble of the last decade has created a wave of resource economic dispossessed refugees. That is, people who can no longer afford things like water where they come from. If you look at the immigration into the US, it hockey sticks just at the moment that the first Greenspan bailout in 1997. This is because resource prices bounce hard off the bottom of the great commodities depression, and those people who were just making it by as labor in that era are suddenly unable to do so, and they come to the developed world – Europe and the United States – to make it up. He or she also does not see the budget crisis, or the global crisis of payment imbalances that bankers talk about, he or she sees the housing bubble implosion.
This is a point that is important to make: what elitists and technocrats see as the results and symptoms of bad policy choices, populists, and particularly conservative populists, see as the problems themselves with direct and obvious solution. In the world view of a conservative populist, every problem is because some asshole needs his butt kicked. And yes, that’s the language they think of it in. Hence, explaining that their own Reaganite disregard for macro-economics has come back to bite them in the ass in the form of a wave of immigrants doesn’t get anything but MEGO, particularly because conservative and reactionary populists believe that if they do what they want then anyone who causes them trouble just needs to be tossed in a cell or shot or blown to bits. The more unwise the original choice, the more violent their reactions are.
A large reason that the Democratic Party is not making any headway with this group is that the first thing that the Democratic Party did when taking power, was allow a coalition of the Reaganites in the Democratic party to form a coalition with the Republicans to prevent anything being done about anything. The unwise leadership, particularly in the Senate, has squandered a golden chance to put the Democratic Party back in control of the popular narrative.
The populist wants to see direct and decisive actions, even if they do not have immediate results. FDR understood this, JFK understood this. It seems clear that the moral cripples in Washington do not understand this, or they would have passed a series of loud populist measures and let Bush veto them, only to turn around and run on those vetoes. Instead, we have had one continuing resolution in the Bi-Partisan Pork Protection Act: that is, Bush has not been confronted, so that earmarxism and corruption would be easier to get through. There has been a buy-partisan borrow and squander agreement, before the next recession hits and people, other people, have to make hard choices.
During the Great Depression demagogues rose up, and they have in other moments. The village idiots are very good at painting as demagogues people who are otherwise serious. Nothing, and I mean nothing, that either Dean or Clark said in 2004 is as outright crazy as what Huckabee believes about evolution and what Ron Paul believes about monetary policy. Dean and Clark both took edgy and visionary positions on issues, but nothing that was not within a reasonable range of opinion. In fact, Dean was toasted for saying things which are inarguably true, such as “America will not always be the most powerful country in the world.” This is a metaphysical certainty in fact. It is like saying “there will be another recession.” Huckabee believes things which are conclusively untrue about biology. Ron Paul believes things which can only be described as economic flat-earthery.
What the populist Republicans do not want to believe, is that all of the things which are showing up as symptoms have a root cause, that root cause is the great borrow and squander consensus on the Right which they have lived under for their entire lives. That is Reaganism, itself, is the problem. That the blow back from unilateralism, itself, is creating the problem. Paul and Huckabee represent the ressurgance of neo-confederate ideology. The root of neo-confederate libertarianism is a worship of unilateralism. Unilaterialsm, and the capability to engage in unilateral action is the iconic value of the far right. The ability to do unto others when they cannot do unto you in return. Unilataralism is “freedom” in their view, and the right to profit from unilateralism is “liberty”. There is an entire ideology devoted to arguing that the elect, whether religious or economic, have an inherent right to unilateral action bestowed by “property”, “morality” and “patriotism”. Those who have a right to profit from unilateralism are, therefore, entitled to use unlimited force in defense of that right. From the economic perspective, it should be noted that this is really the truth that people will kill to protect the right to over-consume what is under-priced. They represent “God and Country” neo-confederate sentiments, and are the “parse as southerners” candidates in this race. Fred, Ruddy, John and Mitt do not parse as southerners. They parse as elites. It is not an accident that a resurgence of neo-confederate sentiment and rallying figures in the Republican Party is mirrored by Hillary slipping losing ground in general election polling. In a race between two elites, these voters deactivate, or they make a sort of least of evils, as they see evil, decision. Huckabee and Paul show them that the Republican party still has a hard core of racism, virulent anti-elitism, corrosive hatred and outrage with which they can identity, and which draws them back into the Republican fold.
Paul and Huckabee represent the failure of the elite wing of the Republican Party to come up with a candidate who can speak to the populists, even if the elite wing reaps some small benefits by their existence. Both candidates terrify the elite wing of the Republican Party, because their nomination would represent a decisive proof to technocratic voters that what LBJ said about Goldwater still applies: “in your heart, you know he is right – but in your guts, you know he’s nuts.” The populist wing of the conservative movement has not gotten a major party nomination since, quite probably… it his hard to say when. This is why, of the third party bids since the second world war of any consequence, two sourced from outside of the conservative populist wing. Nader and John Anderson for those keeping score. Perot, Byrd, Thurmond and Wallace were all conservative populists. The realignment of populists with a conservative bent from the Democratic Party, to being conservative populists is the story of the disintegration of the FDR electoral coalition. The obsession with getting back these populists by center right elites in the Democratic Party is the story of the politics of the Democratic Party since the rise of Clinton. Other than Clinton’s two terms, it has been a monumental failure: the South has not produced the gains in Congress or in the Presidential coalition. Instead it has been the shift of the Ohio River valley and upper midwest towards the Democrats, and the implosion of the national Republican party in the Northeast which forms the basis of the Democratic congress and hopes for the Presidency. The next Democratic presidential nominee is going to lose every single southern state, other than Florida, even if winning the White House.
The thing to do is to profit from Paul and Huckabee. They are crazy. Bats in the belfry, barking mad on crank crazy. The people who support can be divided into two groups: barking mad insane gold bugs, evangelicals and greed headed meglomaniacs, who are completely beyond any discourse, simply because this is their religion, not their politics, and the people who will fall away as soon as there is an alternative presented in clear and reasonable terms. Bill Clinton was the master at speaking through the noise to enough, just enough, of these people to win the Presidency, but was utterly unable to break their hold on Congress. Paul Dukakis could not, and Albert Gore could not blunt enough of the barking made neo-confederates to hold on to the victory he had, by law, won. The Republicans turned these people loose in 2000 and the Democratic Party capitulated.
We should be going to all of the moderate Republicans that we have started to pick up, and impress upon them what a Huckabee-Paul or Paul-Huckabee ticket would do. For example, let us do the exercise of putting the US on the gold standard. Gold goes to, roughly $10,000 an ounce, and we would have to, to redeem our dollar obligations in gold or gold equivalents, have to ship every ounce of the yellow metal to China and Saudi Arabia. Far from being a nationalist, strong and heroic thing to do, Paul would bankrupt the United States, shatter the financial system. Or just not actually put the US on a real gold standard, merely enrich his gold holding friends by buying up gold at outrageous prices and then not allowing redemption. They cynical observer of how corrupt Republican Politics in me knows which I think is more likely. Either way, it would be massive transfer of wealth from people who work and have capital, to people who charge rent. Impress upon them what obliterating America’s scientific capital would mean. The effects would ripple through the American financial system.
To blunt the immigration screaming point is an essential project. The answer is simple, they are coming here because Bush and Greenspan have broken the world economy, allowing a few centers of resource production to explode in growth, while sinking almost everyone else. Over quota immigration into the United States is the direct result of broken trade policies, broken monetary policies, and the Iraq war. These have created massive monetary imbalances, and the iron clad commitment to bail the banking sector out has meant that the expectations bet has been in play. The banking sector has basically said to the world’s central banks: we bet you won’t let us go broke, no matter how stupid we are. With almost a trillion dollars poured into the global financial system in the last six months, that’s trillion with a trill, the bankers have won that bet. And are now saying “let’s play double or nothing, we are going to make more huge bets on inflation, and are betting you will bail us out again.”
To break the neo-confederate wave is not difficult, but it does require that Democratic elected officials stop cutting deals with the devil. So far, the elected and would be leadership of the Democratic Party has declined to do this. They have also had a terror of directly addressing populist anger. These open the door to demagogues who preach that old time religion of hating foreigners, bankers and negros, while preaching that money just oozes from the ground in America. They conveniently neglect to notice that most of the oil is gone in the US.
Ron Paul and Huckabee represent the dark face of populism, and are only effective because neither elite wing really desires to stand up to either the prison-industrial complex, which loves the powers of the Patriot act, nor are they willing to stand up to the military-industrial complex. The populists are completely disconnected from the results of what they want: on one hand they want cheap oil to build cheap developments on cheap land with cheap money, and on the other hand, they have no idea where that cheap oil, cheap money, cheap land or cheap labor comes from. Or rather, like populists in many times and places, they are unwilling to let facts get in the way of a good stretcher. The elites, for their part, are completely unhinged from reality in the other direction: the reason their are problems come directly from the poor decision making of elites, and the present elite class is disinclined to blame themselves for anything.
Democratic elitists have completely failed to address the public’s desire for change, and they have completely failed to unwed themselves from the neo-conservative world that they rose to elected office in. In short, they are intellectual and moral cripples who know nothing more than converting bribes into a sufficient number of platitudes to get elected, and having signed on board to every foul compromise of the old order, have sold whatever moral authority being out of power earns a party, in return for two years of pork. Those who trade liberty for job security get and deserve neither.
The slow coming into focus of a progressive ideology must rest on the continued realization that elites are morally, intellectually and politically bankrupted: odious to the public, spending money which they do not have, and using power which rests on rotted planks, with the realization that the public is not yet willing to make the sacrifices to alter the direction of the nation, and indeed the world, fundamentally. The great populist demand is to divide the pie differently, not realizing that there is no pie to divide: we are not a surplus society deciding how to spend our riches, but a debtor society trying to figure out which bank to kite a check against to pay off the second mortgage we used to pay off the credit card that we put our Baghdad Vacation on.
The other realization is that must come to pass is that the Baby Boom’s GI generation fantasy: that they were given a World War II moment to re-engineer America and they just need a bit more time to make their new America work, is just that, a completely neurotic disconnected fantasy which bears no relationship to reality. America is not a the bottom of a long climb upward a new economic system which will exploit pent up demand and easy to exploit technological curves, but is, quite the opposite, at the end of several technological curves: internal combustion, micro-processors and broadcast. We are not putting aside a dark World War II moment and rebuilding the world in our image, but instead an empire sinking into the sands of debt for an excess of hubristic and unprofitable military ventures which have cost more than all the free cash flow that we had.
The progressive solution must rest on the realization that the global monetary, political and economic order, as well as the subsidiary social orders that flow from them, is catastrophically unstable. It is creating more disutility than utility. The converse is also true: the social assumptions from which we create our preferred economic outcomes are likewise based on global circumstance which is no longer operative. Paul and Huckabee say that we can fix our problems with clear and simple solutions, and that we can dump the drive for empire without cost and go back to just playing poker with houses. Both are completely wrong: the ability to create the sprawlconomy rests on the ability of the United States to consume one quarter of the world’s oil. If the United States went down to merely European levels of oil consumption, the sprawl cities we have built over the last 50 years suddenly become economically untenable. Consider what a sprawl city looks like at $6/gallon for gasoline, and what the subsidized military bases look like economically.
It is not an accident that Huckabee and Paul both play to the exurban fantasy of having a low global footprint, simply because they are isolated from cities. In fact, the exurbanite uses more, not less, imported goods for the exports he or she generates, and has a larger, not smaller, footprint. Gripped in a religious delusion of mana from the ground money, the exurbanite neo-confederate thinks that if only “they” would not come and suck the fat of the land off, that all would be well again.
It is to this instability that a progressive movement must speak, replacing the rentalist resourcist fantasy of mana from the ground money, which is always and everywhere going to have a reactionary racism as a component, even if progressive in some of its policy desires, with the idea that is human capital which makes the basis of American greatness. This replacement, of rent religion of country, with civic religion of nation, is a change in frame and direction which progressive movements, if they were to have any lasting impact, had to acheive.
So far, there has been a complete rejection by Democratic Party elites of this inevitable historical logic, and instead a belief that by pandering to it one more time that they will be able to retire with their Congressional pensions and health care protections in tact. It is a foolish hope, since the Republicans are now in the driver’s seat for the Presidential election, and quite possibly a return to power in Congress in 2012 when President Huckabee runs for reÃ«lection.