In the 18th century, there was a craze for Constitutions. Rousseau wrote an outline of one for Poland, and Boswell, of all people, had influenced the Corsican constitution. And of course then came the Americans and the French, who linked constitution making to revolution.
The idea of decreeing legislation has become, since, a normal feature of streetcorner and water fountain intellectual life, at least in the States. People, such as myself, who have never successfully organized lunch or an ant farm (when I was a kid, I’d always end up either starving to death the latter or drowing the poor ants in too much sugar water), are undettered by their failures and make and proselytize revolutionary legislative suggestions all the time. Unfortunately, the organizers, if they are good, are usually on the side of the organizations, ie the status quo. There they are rewarded for profiting the heads of those organizations, or the set of them – the establishment.
Now that the dust has settled and we have an American Congress that will make the largest threat to the US – global warming – worse, while claiming the threat posed by ISIS requires major Pentagon trillions – a Congress that will gladly pass Obama’s Pacific Trade treaty, with its many and odious gifts to big business – a Congress that will, in other words, not do much – it is a good time to look back over what I think, for lack of a better name, is the Bush era, a 13 year old phenomenon. In the first phase, when Bush proper was president, it was of course reckless and negligent. However, it was politically astute – it was able to use even the worst evidence of its incompetence, for instance the highly preventable 9/11 attack, to gain more power. Most of the signal events of the Obama end of the era – the withdrawal from Iraq, the continuing and astonishing sums given to the Pentagon, the surveillance, the rescue of Wall street and the hardening of the culture of impunity that spares the rich and the powerful any punishment for whatever they do – were either hatched in the Bush era or bear the stylistic trademarks of that era. The one Obama addition, Romneycare, was hatched by the Heritage Foundation long ago as the alternative to Clinton’s healthcare bill, advocated by Newt Gingrich, and realized in Massachussetts by Romney. This is not exactly a Marxist pedigree.
The ACA, like social security and medicare, are liberal schemes that the Democratic party designed. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way these schemes were put on the shoulders of the 80 percent of the wealth and income bracket who have the fewest assets and the lowest pay. The top 20 percent, meanwhile, which owns something like 90 percent of the financial assets in this country, were massively rescued by the Bush-Obama team. It is an oddity of our politics that the neo-liberals do not at all see this, and are frankly puzzled how people can “vote against their own interests”. Myself, I don’t think they do. Before the Great recession, if a Gop hothead promised to end social security and cut taxes, the voters who elected him could be pretty sure he wasn’t going to end social security but that he would have a chance, in the compromise machine of DC, to cut taxes. Though the taxes he cut would be mainly those of the wealthy, some of the cuts would go to the 80 percent. Meanwhile, the Dems, responsibly talking about securing social security for the future, meant by that either cutting benefits or raising taxes on the 80 percent – since the not so secret secret about social security is that it is paid for by the most regressive federal tax.
The Dem establishment is firmly in the top 20 percent, households that make at least 250 thou a year. And they have designed politicies exquisitely calibrated to not disturb this group. But a liberalism that doesn’t disturb this group is no liberalism at all. Just as camels can’t go though the eye of the needle, in the Kingdom of Heaven you can’t cater to the wealthy while being totally oriented to the welfare of the rest.
Now, it might seem puzzling that the upper 20 percent aren’t more grateful to the neo-liberal Dems. But this isn’t really surprising – the art of the deal, the code by which this group lives and dies, requires an aggressive dealer. The more concessions the other side gives, the more they can give. You don’t do a deal by compromising your side from the outset.
The US is really no different from France, or the UK, or Canada. The non-communist left, born in the Great depression, was led into the golden years by organizers who were richly rewarded for their acts. Those rewards, and the decay of labor power, brought about a brutal disconnect between the political elite and the people they were supposedly leading, the people whose side they were supposedly on.
In the first eight years of the Bush era, the philosopher kings were the loudmouthed imperialists, the Hitchenses, the Niall Fergusons, the Weekly Standard crewe. In the next six years, under Obama, the philosopher king appears to be Cass Sunstein, whose concept of “nudgery” codifies everything about these years – the sense of noblesse oblige by the political elite, the sense that the 80 percent are too dumb to understand their own interests, and the ridiculous presentation of their case as if it is in response to the “devastating critique” of the Mommy state by libertarians. In fact, of course, nudgery exposes most people to the unchained power of the corporations, while the power that the 80 percent might have to, for instance, send an email without being snooped on by the state is, because because,. Something we really have to abridge for the near future. Meanwhile, the 20 percent, who apparently know all about their interests, have to be treated like the too big to fail group they are.
That is pretty much how I see this ultimately not so important election. When Obama was elected in 2008, I thought our long national nightmare was over. Now I think that the nightmare has so saturated everyday life that it isn't a nightmare anymore - it is just how we live.