January 08, 2012
“A High-Minded Way of Saying ‘Gimme’”

Thomas Frank is out with a new book (excerpted in The Guardian), and the promotion includes an article at TomDispatch.

The TomDispatch article takes the form of an open letter to the Tea Party, though given their Authoritarian and Social Dominance tendencies Tea Party members are highly unlikely to read it. In the letter Frank urges Tea Partiers to get behind Mitt Romney because he’s actually their kind of guy: an explicitly anti-worker free-market capitalist who doesn’t really care about anything but money and is thus quite comfortable switching positions on social issues when necessary.

Not only that, but Romney embodies the hypocrisy of the movement as well, railing against big government while being heavily subsidized by various aspects of government policy. The Tea Party disliked Romney’s embrace of the TARP program, for example, but how much difference is there between the bankers’ demand for TARP in the face of their free-market rhetoric on the one hand, and on the other the Tea Party’s demands encapsulated in the now-iconic sign reading “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”? Both want everything that’s coming to them, and everyone else should keep their greedy hands off.

Pointing out that everyone who withdraws money from a bank that’s been bailed out by the FDIC is taking a government bailout, Frank talks to the TPers about bankers and TARP.

The reason they — I mean, you — do these things should be as obvious as it is simple: “free market” has always been a high-minded way of saying “gimme,” and when the heat rises, the “market” is invariably replaced by more direct methods, like demanding bailouts from the government you hate. Banks get bailouts for the simple reason that they want bailouts and have the power to insist on them — the same circumstances that got them deregulated in wave after wave in the Eighties, Nineties, and Aughts.

In this sense, Romney, who is loud and proud when it comes to the need for further deregulation, has actually been more consistent than you. He’s the gimme candidate of 2012 and so he should really be your guy.

Frank is an excellent writer, but more importantly a perspicacious observer. He likes to start by describing a well-known situation in such detail that we’re struck by the depth of his hipness. Then he steps back from the immediacy and applies a deep knowledge of history, particularly the history of popular movements in the US. This leads the reader to an almost postmodern realization of the nature of the spectacle. Which is immediately followed by a realization of the ridiculousness of the whole thing, in this case the idea of capitalism as a value in human life, something God-given and not to be violated at our peril.

That we don’t have pure capitalism in America is not a revelation vouchsafed to the great Tea Party awakening. For decades, the idea has been a staple of the left, where the limited-capitalist model is generally understood as a good thing. The state is involved in the economy all right, the libs say, but that’s because it has to be. A complete free market would be a disaster, something not even the business community itself wants to try. The real problem, from the liberal perspective, is that government doesn’t go far enough — it merely doles out public subsidies of one kind or another while shareholders of private companies walk off with the profits, in the now familiar scenario of socialised risk and privatised gain.

The revitalised right simply turned this argument upside down. Yes, government had its finger in every segment of the economy, and that’s what was to blame for everything that had happened. Market forces had never been truly free, and therefore they bore none of the blame for our current predicament. And so the obvious answer arose from a thousand megaphones: get government out of the picture completely. Until the day free enterprise was totally unleashed, capitalism itself could be held responsible for nothing.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at January 08, 2012 06:29 PM
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