If future historians are still allowed to freely and objectively assess the American past, the decades spanning the turn of the millennium surely will be christened The Age of Fly-by-Night Conservatism, that period when one of the great nation’s major political parties, the Republican Party became a bastion of indolence and plutocratic moral corruption, when a politics of cult-like extremity and potency so influenced America’s behavior it fell out of synch with the first world, perceptibly began to physically and to socially crumble.
I look at that paragraph of a sentence and wonder at how dystopian it sounds, though in fact America has a long, long way to fall before it is truly in acute or irreversible decline, starting at the remarkable heights it does. Yet the metrics comparing us to our own past and to other modern nations continue to reflect the irrefutable and pronounced slippage. I have detailed them previously, as in America the Basket Case as have plenty of others. Though the nation retains every possibility it can restore itself, if future Americans look back and are not astonished by the dark turn against knowledge, expertise, factuality and material reality taken by a prominent segment of our polity during the current period, well, I guess we remained in our medievalism induced ineffectual rut.
Ignoring problems in order to elude ideologically inconvenient solutions has all but become conservatism’s and Republicans’ one identity. The staggering costs and inefficiencies of health care; the ever more evident repercussions of climate change and their certain worsening unless addressed; wealth disparity, wage stagnation, deteriorating infrastructure, educational decline are irrelevancies when Republicans hold power, solutions to them the target of vehement obstruction when not in full control. If the money rakers and the money changers are remaining flush, and the politics are good enough, the short term is all that matters: plunder and don’t worry, loll complacently in power and just deny; rig the game and propagandize. It’s the M.O. of every con, every fly-by-night operation, every sharpie too smart to worry about the suckers or the future consequences or anybody else.
Republicans are now the party of the fast buck, of the corporate bully, damn the consequences. Those lucky enough to fall under their political protection and warrant their political advocacy have been winnowed down to financial sector hustlers and a coercive corporate sector whose power dwarfs that of mere government by far. This conservatism is a worshipper of business and idolizer of wealth. Business is the highest calling and those who practice it successfully held in unique esteem: those who educate them, those who protect them and protect their property, those who are productive for their enormous benefit, those whose works of imagination stimulate their own entrepreneurial imaginations, those who do the dirty work and the menial tasks they rely upon as we all do inhabit a far inferior economic and moral echelon. This is a conservatism whose materialism and philistinism are rivaled only by communism’s.
According to this conservatism the new utopia is fully privatized, the source of supernatural evil the very idea of modern government’s civilizing capacity. The private is synonymous with virtue, the public domain with waste. But the brutal, inescapable irony is that only public investment, abundant public investment can produce a broadly prosperous nation and sustain a first world economic power. Only a healthy, educated and thriving consumer base can run the engine of a consumer driven economy with a vibrant middle class.
Economic study after economic study (this piece in today’s Wall Street Journal written by economists Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez adds to the historical fact base) demonstrate that higher taxes on the wealthy do not inhibit growth, and that to the contrary the public investment provided due to those very revenues boosts economic growth significantly and sustainably, as well as dispersing its benefits throughout the populace (as opposed to fly-by-night conservatism’s quasi feudalistic deposit of almost all of it at the very top).
In the short term it may be politically useful to applaud a reduction in public spending or a reduction in the government workforce and in government resources, but in the real world a great deal of long term private sector advancements originate at state-supported universities or in government subsidized research. None of that matters to the short-termers, though eventually this desiccation of the public sector will cause much of the innovation in the private sector to decline with it. It may not be apparent initially, but eventually the decline will be apparent. It already is physically apparent in our schools and roads and bridges. And while I have full faith in fly-by-night conservatism’s zeal for deflecting blame when the brunt of the consequences are upon us, upon us they nevertheless will be.
This fly-by-night conservatism embraced by the Republican Party even yearns with a weirdly selective amnesia and perverse nostalgia to ignore problems once again that America has addressed and largely mitigated, removing the remedies that have long addressed them. Oh how keenly they must miss ignoring wide scale elderly poverty, misery and abandonment in the halcyon days before Social Security and Medicare. Other nations look forward. America only gazes back.
Constricted and derailed, bought by the lingering influence of fly-by-night conservatism and its political vessel the Republican Party, America stays pat, sits mired. America remains inert, its citizens obstructed by economic superstition, enforced and perpetuated ignorance and a defiance of history, science and math. Fly-by-night conservatism is the definition of the short term windfall, the fast financial and political score at the expense of long term growth and soundness. Fly-by-night conservatism remains the economics of exaggerated profits and the legal fleecing; of irresponsible speculation rather than building and solidity for the long term, integrity in other words. It is not the economics of constructing products of value; but rather of the legislatively permissible shake-down, the allowable burning of consumers and of piggish executive plunder and the politics that protects it and sustains it.
I don’t know if Woody will allow it, but if the Republican Party today with its inculcation of fly-by-night conservatism can find a more appropriate slogan than Take the Money and Run, I can’t imagine what it is.