By John Weeks.
[more stuff like this in my new book coming out in January,
Economics of the 1%: How mainstream economics serves the rich, obscures reality and distorts policy, Anthem Press, order it at http://jweeks.org]
The Tea Party’s Weimar Republic Strategy: History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes*’
*attributed to Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
Texas pseudo-Senator Ted Cruz filibustering against a reactionary budget bill not reactionary enough for him. His nuttiness has method in it.
Like other I watch in amazement the sorry spectacle of the far-right Republicans paralyzing our government and the Democrats yet again too chicken-pooh to effectively oppose it. As the dugout philosopher Yogi Berra so aptly noted, “it’s like déjà vu all over again”. The US Tea Party movement has a hardly original dream, a white-ruled America under the despotic rule of capital. The current congressional comedy brings that dream closer to fulfillment.
The route by which the dream would be realized has been obvious since mid-2009 during the early fights in congress over reforming the appalling (ill-)health system in the United States (it is with intent that “congress” has no capital “c”). It matured to a clear and consistent strategy during the debt limit conflicts over the last four years. The strategy is to render congress and other formally democratic institutions as dysfunctional as possible, thereby casting doubt upon the credibility and viability of the electoral process and representative government itself.
While congress at the moment bears the kinship to representative government that football does to a university education, in the past it produced legislative majorities for progressive reform (typically half-keistered). However, the two years of large Democratic majorities in the house and senate, 2009-10, rewarded the voters with missed opportunities and weak programs designed to be discredited, most notably 1) healthcare reform without a public option, 2) a fiscal stimulus too small for medium term impact, 3) financial regulation with major loop-holes, and 4) half-hearted gestures of withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The very short term effect of these was to prevent the bad from becoming worse (e.g., the fiscal stimulus). This meager harvest for the 99% allowed the Far Right to use the anemic reforms as clubs to bludgeon the democratic process itself. The inadequate fiscal stimulus discredited the brief return of countercyclical fiscal policy. “Compromises” over debt limits helps formalizes dis-accreditation of the electoral process, by ensuring a decade of fiscal austerity. I have a nephew in Texas who tells me, “why should I vote when those politicians do nuthin’ for me?” I regret that at present he is not wrong, which is the life-blood of the far right (aka Repubilicans).
With an effective fiscal stimulus the public sector deficit would now be close to zero and the debt-GDP ratio at or below its pre-2007 level. A public sector based health system administered nationally, euphemistically named “single payer option”, would have come into effect quickly, short-circuiting the possibility of reactionary Republican state governments (forgive the redundancy) blocking its implementation. What appeared as elements of “compromise” have in practice become the fatal flaws that the reactionaries intended them to be.
History provides an unsettling lesson about where these compromises with the Tea Party troglodytes might take us. In December 1924 Germans elected fourteen members of the Nazi Party (National Socialist Workers Party) to the Reichstag out of a total of 493. From the moment they entered the Reichstag the Nazi worked single mindedly to disrupt the normal operations of the legislature. The purpose was to undermine representative institutions and, in doing so, to demonstrate the “decadence of democracy” (a favorite term of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels).
The disruptive tactics fell into a clear strategy. Disrupting formally democratic institutions would prevent their normal functioning. The resultant dysfunctionality would create in a perception among the public that the government was ineffective, corrupt and alien to their hopes and needs. Whether the public believed this fascist propaganda or blamed the Nazis themselves for the collapse of effective government would prove irrelevant. Once a majority lost faith in representative government, the road to dictatorship lay ahead.
Halfway through his second term, Franklin Roosevelt famously said,
Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.
(Speech delivered in Marietta, Ohio, 8 July 1938, full text here:
How many in the United States today would hear that and believe it? Most would consider it laughable, and therein resides the great hope of a far right, authoritarian party, which the Republican Party has become.
The Tea Party Republican members of congress, as with the Nazis eighty years ago, are not prone to compromise. They are “high-stakes rollers” whose grasp on power will be achieved through extreme tactics or not at all. The possibility that the conflicts they generate over debt, deficit and health care might “back-fire” causes them no anxiety. Like the Nazis, their existence depends upon their outrageous behavior and extremism, their “nuttiness” with a purpose, to discredit representative government. A voting majority would never elect them, but the majority dropping out of politics paves their way.
The Democrats have chosen not to fight on the strong ground of a growing economy, a fairer tax burden across classes, and no budget cuts that harm the majority. As a result, Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats find themselves forced to defend a continuously deteriorating political position.
By election time 2016, the majority of Americans will suffer from the cuts in social programs that the Democrats did not oppose, with limited benefits from a health care program designed for right-wing disruption. Lower public expenditure will depress the present meager rate of growth, ensuring that unemployment remains at seven to eight percent.
After falling from 14 to 12 representatives in 1928, the Nazis became the second largest party in the Reichstag in 1930 with 107 out of 577 seats. At that point the tactics of disruption became a strategy for power. It is time for congressional Democrats to get off their tails and join Bernie Sanders and the other few-but-true congressional progressives to turn the reactionary authoritarian tide. Unless they do the next US election could be the Tea Party’s Reichstag-1930 moment.
But we aren’t there yet. To again quote from the insights of Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over”.
forthcoming in January 2014:
ECONOMICS OF THE 1%: How mainstream economics
serves the rich, obscures reality and distorts policy (Anthem Press), $15.38
Information sheet @