Unless You Learn to Levitate

October 14, 2012

If we take Paul Ryan’s debate performance at face value along with the occcilating policy positions of Mitt Romney (who’s as hard to positively pin down as an electron), what the three R’s (Ryan/Romney/Republican party) want to do during the next four years is to fundamentally privatize America and institute a community-killing plutocracy.

They would very likely:

1. Continue tax breaks and subsidies for the oil industry 2. Privatize Social Security and Medicare (and here, here4. Give more tax breaks to the top 1% and raise taxes (or alternate instruments, like fees as Romney tried in Massachusettson the 99% 5. Extend the reach of trickle-down economics until every last vestige of our democratic republic is drowned. 6. End government grants for higher education 7. End Obamacare insurance coverage for female birth control (while covering Viagra) 8. Repeal Obamacare and turn our health care over completely to profit-making businesses  9. Abolish Roe vs. Wade for every circumstance a woman may face 10. Kill Planned Parenthood 11. Kill the idea of community and replace it with survival-of-the-fittest individualism. 12. Reduce government of, by and for the people to the size of a nit so it can finally be stomped out or controlled by business and wealth and rendered impotent to curb their excesses.

All of these intentions have two things in common: arrogance and greed  —an arrogance that allows one to diminish others (their circumstances, their thoughts, their needs) and the philosophical greed that justifies that arrogance.

Paul Ryan has suggested that his political ideas are inspired by Ayn Rand. Rand, author of the novel Atlas Shrugged, was a believer in “… a pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism,” the kind of capitalism that requires the surfeit of arrogance and greed required to amass astronomical amounts of money without regard for the effect of that amassing on others; the kind that leads to debacles like Enron, gulf oil spills, general ecological degradation, and the banking meltdown of 2008 all of which have brought us here.

I read Atlas Shrugged when I was young and had the stamina to plow my way through Rand’s dense and turgid book.  The only thing I really learned from that book is that Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan’s brand of capitalism creates a moral atmosphere that makes almost ineveitable the purchase of government through vehicles like Super PACs and organizations like ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) which ties legislators to business at the hip and pushes laws written by corporations in their interest.

Ryan’s hype of Randism comes with a cost. There’s a price to be paid for adopting a philosophy of greed. What was characterized by Ronald Reagan as trickle-down economics has lead to “…policies and the slack civic morale that accompanied them (and has) changed the manners of American society,” writer David Bromwich suggests .

And, Bromwich continues: “(I-deserve-it-now) Credit rather than savings became the recommended way of dealing with money in everyday life. The change extended from the top of society to the bottom; but the corruption started at the top. The losers are everywhere now, and you cannot separate the bursting of the mortgage bubble in 2007 from the S&L collapse of 1984. What then can be learned from this history? The cure for the abuse of financial power is not to surrender the rules and oversight that are all that prevent the abuse from spreading more widely than ever before.”

Reagan’s insistent mantra of “trickle-down” economics and  its touted benefits, now followed by the Republican’s updated version: an economy by and for “job creators”, has, as Bromwich says, changed the manners of American society. How could it not, being founded on a morale flaw. It celebrates of greed. American capitalists have twisted and transformed Adam Smith’s suggestion that humans are driven by self-interest to serve others into an ideology of intent to serve themselves: to embrace greed.

The United States has been squeezed in the fist of trickle-down theory since Ronald Reagan’s presidency (and it’s $2.5 trillion increase in the national debt). And it was doubled down on by George W. Bush who not only hugely reduced the revenue share of the rich with his famous tax cuts, but heaped that and two unfunded wars upon the backs of middle class Americans and the poor. And we wonder why with that and having to work with the cynical party of No! we’re having so much trouble clawing our way out of this mess?

If reducing taxes on “job creators” works so well why did job growth fall during the trickle-down job-creating years of the Bush administration (913,000 lost). And why are we still here —the Bush tax cuts are still in place, so where are the jobs created by tax-relieved “job creators”?

Finally, the capitalism of Ryan and Rand is the kind of capitalism that leads to Republican state administrations that are intent upon the voter suppression efforts occurring right now in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Voter suppression rather than voter accession (one more example of David Bromwich’s “changed manners of American society”).

John Galt, Ayn Rand’s hero in Atlas Shrugged, is the mythical epitome of severe capitalism. Fortunately, as we’ve seen in his politically necessary compromises, Ryan is no John Galt. What would objectivist Rand think of an acolyte consenting to be locked in an unholy marriage with a shape-shifter like Romney?

Let’s be clear, if Ryan were true to his ideological beliefs; if in the debate he said what he really thought (i.e. that if it were up to him Social Security would be a corpse, and Medicare would be a zombie chasing down and threatening the living with virtually worthless vouchers) he’d be dead weight slung around the neck of the Republican candidate, Myth Romney. I mean, isn’t Romney having enough trouble just being not-himself/himself.

As you step into the voting booth, be careful, the Republican landscape is a minefield calibrated to detonate only under the slight economic weight of average Americans. Those weighted with heavy moneybags will cross it unscathed.  If you vote for any Republican you will more likely be condemned to haunt the margins where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth —unless you hit the lottery or learn to levitate.

by Jim Culleny, 12/14/12


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