August 14, 2008

WHAT MAKES HER AN ULTIMATELY MORE SIGNIFICANT FIGURE THAN THE GIPPER...:

The plot against liberal America: In its pursuit of a free-market utopia, the US right tried to crush unions, the legal profession and all the pillars of the left. It will not stop there (Thomas Frank, 14 August 2008, New Statesman)

The most cherished dream of conservative Washington is that liberalism can somehow be defeated, finally and irreversibly, in the way that armies are beaten and pests are exterminated. Electoral victories by Republicans are just part of the story. The larger vision is of a future in which liberalism is physically barred from the control room - of an "end of history" in which taxes and onerous regulation will never be allowed to threaten the fortunes private individuals make for themselves. This is the longing behind the former White House aide Karl Rove's talk of "permanent majority" and, 20 years previously, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's declaration to the Republican convention that it's "the job of all revolutions to make permanent their gains".

When I first moved to contemplate this peculiar utopian vision, I was struck by its apparent futility. What I did not understand was that beating liberal ideas was not the goal. The Washington conservatives aim to make liberalism irrelevant not by debating, but by erasing it. Building a majority coalition has always been a part of the programme, and conservatives have enjoyed remarkable success at it for more than 30 years. But winning elections was not a bid for permanence by itself. It was only a means.

The end was capturing the state, and using it to destroy liberalism as a practical alternative. The pattern was set by Margaret Thatcher, who used state power of the heaviest-handed sort to implant permanently the anti-state ideology.

"Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul," she said, echoing Stalin. In the 34 years before she became prime minister, Britain rode a see-saw of nationalisation, privatisation and renationalisation; Thatcher set out to end the game for good. Her plan for privatising council housing was designed not only to enthrone the market, but to encourage an ownership mentality and "change the soul" of an entire class of voters. When she sold off nationally owned industries, she took steps to ensure that workers received shares at below-market rates, leading hopefully to the same soul transformation. Her brutal suppression of the miners' strike in 1984 showed what now awaited those who resisted the new order. As a Business Week reporter summarised it in 1987: "She sees her mission as nothing less than eradicating Labour Party socialism as a political alternative."


...is that she succeeded. Even a cipher like David Cameron has a cakewalk to power because Gordon Brown has deviated from Thatcherism/Blairism. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton lost because she began her campaign eschewing Clintonism/Thatcherism and Barack Obama has had to pretend not to believe in anything (besides his own ambition) because he can't risk being seen as outside the Thatcherite/New Democrat/Compassionate Conservative mainstream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 14, 2008 8:10 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« LONG STORY, SHORT: | Main | AND WHAT RUSSELL KIRK, ROE V. WADE, JERRY FALWELL, AND RONALD REAGAN DID...: »