Make no mistake; this is war. It's a non-shooting political war, but a war, nevertheless. And progressives had better be prepared to wage it.
The war was formally declared on Aug. 11 by Mitt Romney, when he picked far-right Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his 2012 running mate. The selection of Ryan, better known as “the kill-Medicare guy,” means this year’s edition of Republicanism is going all out to destroy 80 years of institutionalized liberalism, if it can.
The full range of Democratic accomplishments from the New Deal through the Great Society — the entire legacy of progressivism — is on the line. In addition, such long-ingrained concepts as social insurance, economic regulation, and progressive taxation, which have been part of the American fabric for generations, are suddenly up for discussion and potential elimination. The Romney/Ryan “vision” is to end the liberal project once and for all, using the cover of debt reduction and austerity, and to replace it with government of, by, and for Wall Street and the propertied interests it represents.
Mitt Romney has been accurately portrayed as a man without a core, a flip-flopper par excellence. That’s true as far as it goes, but in at least two areas, the relationship of government to business and the prerogatives of the wealthy, he is constancy itself. Furthermore, in choosing Paul Ryan, Romney has allied himself with an ideological right-winger possessing impeccable credentials in movement conservatism, a true believer ready and able to inject spinal stiffness into the flexible backbone of the head of the ticket when necessary.
Ryan, who fully shares Romney's belief in economic conservatism, is also a social conservative of the first order — a Christian Right fanatic when it comes to abolishing abortion regardless of circumstances, limiting birth control and family planning, and conferring full citizenship on fetuses through personhood legislation. Although he accepts the pure laissez-faire prescriptions of the bizarre libertarian theorist Ayn Rand, his acknowledged economic role model, he rejects her inconvenient atheism. The squaring of that circle will be interesting to watch.
Democrats can certainly defeat Romney/Ryan, but only if they recognize it for what it is — an existential threat to everything they believe. This is not the ticket of your father's Republican Party; its principals don't want to modify or adjust the status quo, but rather to obliterate it. Compromise is a dirty word to these pinstriped barbarians, and if Democrats pull their campaign punches in the name of eventual accommodation, coalescing in the arid political center, they will pass into history like the wooly mammoths of the Ice Age.
Here's what Romney/Ryan essentially represents: an end to taxes on investment and on the wealthy; an end to economic regulation of corporations, particularly in banking and finance; an end to government spending programs that benefit average people; an end to what we call the public sector except for the military (and even there, a lesser public role); an end to any notion that there should be curbs on capitalism, limits on environmental degradation, or efforts to reduce poverty and its associated evils. In one area alone would government remain active: policing the nation's bedrooms and enforcing fundamentalist morality.
The Romney/Ryan anti-government mantra of market supremacy and extreme individualism seemingly derives from a queer combination of the Mormon gospel of wealth (money and material success as evidence of moral righteousness and God's favor) and the Randian concept of “objectivism” (self-interest, selfishness, and greed as enlightened public policy). In essence, the message is that ordinary individuals exist in a fallen state, and altruistic efforts at improving the human condition are impractical, counterproductive, and doomed to failure. Best to let progress be dictated by the needs and desires of the obviously superior plutocratic elite.
It's a mean, cynical philosophy for a mean, cynical time and a mean, cynical political party. The platform specifics offered up by the Romney/Ryan team, then, should surprise no one. Federal income taxes (but not payroll taxes) would be cut to their lowest level since the pre-Depression 1920s, because those are taxes rich people pay. Likewise with capital-gains and dividend taxes on money made from money, because, again, it's the rich who benefit from financial transactions and unearned income; this includes private-equity poster boy Mitt Romney, a beneficiary of the rock-bottom 15% (or less) tax rate permitted under the “carried-interest” loophole that converts equity profits into capital gains.
Romney/Ryan triumphant will amount to an endorsement of the predatory form of capitalism that has come to dominate the 21st-century American economy, with its emphasis on “creative destruction,” financial manipulation, debt and leverage, offshoring and outsourcing, and a low wage-benefit structure. Domestically, manufacturing is no part of this equation; money will be made not from making things (How retro!), but from the movement of capital. Above all, capital will not be taxed. Meanwhile, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (wasteful “entitlements”) will be cut back and/or privatized, while organized labor, a threat to capital, will be neutered.
Such is the plan, and it stands to be implemented nationwide if Romney/Ryan gains the White House and the GOP seizes full control of Congress. It’s already been applied in the states, where Republican governors and legislatures have disempowered public-employee unions, enacted right-to-work laws, and laid off thousands of public-sector workers in order to lower taxes on high-income earners and corporations. If and when Paul Ryan reaches the vice presidency, the widely imitated Wisconsin model of Scott Walker can be expected to go national.
Romney/Ryan will campaign, of course, on behalf of job creation. Don’t believe it. A September online poll of Fortune magazine subscribers, dominated (80%) by self-identified Republicans and Independents, indicates where business-oriented conservative hearts reside. A clear majority (51%) would “improve the economy” by reducing taxes or by cutting government spending and balancing the budget, barely a fifth (21%) by creating jobs. So much for the employment rhetoric emanating from the Right.
The same Fortune respondents favor Romney/Ryan over Obama/Biden by 50 to 31 percent and reject any government role in stimulating the economy by an even greater margin — 74 to 26 percent. Progressive Democrats (and job seekers) should need no further motivation to vote this November.
Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine, specializing in political economy.
From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2012
Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us