Bush�s medicare victory, today, underscores the schizoid split in American conservative thinking. Conservatives have a way of thinkiong about the private sphere: they think of it as a place populated by agents who are rational maximizers of their self-advantage. To unduly limit this tendency, as in socialism, leads to inefficiency, bureaucracy, and eventually the horrors of totalitarianism. So, how do conservatives think about the public sphere? In the conservative utopia, these economic self-advancers are to be led by agents who pursue self-minimalization. That is, the public sphere is supposed to be full of politicians shrinking government, and, insofar as the scope of government is a measure of their own power, abdicating their own power.
Both images of action are severely distorted. The supposed atomism of agents in the economic sphere doesn�t exist, or exists only by abstracting members of collectives, like families and businesses. Furthermore, other interests � most notably, interests of identity � are as strong, in the economic sphere, as pure self-advantage. While the later can be quantified in terms of money, the former is about status, values, and feelings that give rise to various complexly qualified symbols.
Then there is the conservative incoherence about politicians. There is nothing more attacked, in the conservative discourse, than the politician � and yet, for conservatism to succeed in its ostensible goals, they need a combination politician/saint. Such creatures exist few times in a century � Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. Is it really coherent to believe that politican saints are going to govern, on a small government scale, the society in which the economic profit maximizers are rolling in opulence? The vestal virgins, we are to believe, will run the brothels, and the gates of paradise will open.
Well, there ain't any virgins on Capital Hill. The fact that government has mushroomed during the reign of Bush should come as no surprise. This time, we don�t hear any of the excuses we heard under Reagan�s terms � that is, that Congress just grew the budget, in spite of the Protestant ethic that Reagan was trying to enforce. That was a canard back then, and is now in the junkpile of forgotten excuses. The tendency of the state to grow should come as no surprise, given the intertwined interests of the Fortune 500 and the Bush campaign 500 � or the Tom Delay PAC 500. The Medicare bill is sloppy and dumb, but you know what? LI was affected by Clinton, after all. Dem senators should have voted for it. It is a platform. It can be used, in the same way that Nixon�s bureaucracies, like OSHA and the EPA, could be used.
However, that universal health care is and has been a liberal goal that this bill will, we think, bring closer doesn�t address the toxicity of the conservative incoherence in regard to spending and borrowing. The theory that Krugman has promoted, taking it from Nicolas Lehman, is that the Republicans intend to create a financial crisis that will result in a general abandonment of Government entitlement programs. I think Krugman is thinking, here, like an economist � that is, he is disregarding the difference between the conservative ideologues and the politicians. If we assume that the politicians are maximizers of their own self-advantage, we are not looking at a Master Plan � we are looking at a blind refusal to face up to the difference between rhetoric and reality. A better model for Republican politics than the Manchurian Candidate is the stock market boom of 2000. It is a politics of the Greater fool.