Published by WTM Enterprises.

September 9, 2000

Strakon Lights Up

Political gravity

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I've been digging through my old computer files again, and I've come across a story that's pretty yellowed and dog-eared — at least it would be if it weren't on disk — from the Congressional Quarterly, headlined "Conservative Riders Falling Off As GOP Looks to Next Year." Written by Martha Angle, it appeared in the October 7, 1998, edition. You remember 1998, I hope, even though the Earth was still cooling back then, and the Solar System hadn't yet captured Pluto. Angle writes:

Anticipating big gains in the Nov. 3 elections, Republicans are signaling a willingness to compromise with President Clinton on conservative "riders" that dot the remaining fiscal 1999 spending bills.

"One of the reasons we are so comfortable with this is that we know we will be back next year with an even larger majority in the House and Senate, and those things that perhaps we don't get done this year we can get done next year," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas, said yesterday. "Most conservatives are not going to like what's in the omnibus," Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said.

Even though 1998 does seem like ancient history, if not prehistory, what with all that's happened since — including the explosion of those smug Republican expectations — what I'll call the law of political gravity hasn't changed. Keeping Angle's piece in mind, get a load of a certain New York Times story that appeared today, headlined "Congress Poised for Big Increase in U.S. Spending." Timesman Steven A. Holmes writes:

Cushioned by a growing surplus, Congress is poised to approve large increases in spending by federal agencies, pushing the national budget to record levels. Top-ranking Republicans predict that the perennial year-end wrangling between Congress and the White House will result in a federal budget for the 2001 fiscal year that allocates at least $614 billion, and probably quite a bit more, for discretionary spending.

That figure would represent a 5 percent increase over the $586 billion Congress approved last year after a heated debate with the Clinton administration that delayed final approval of the last spending bills until Nov. 19, seven weeks after the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Holmes points out that the $614 billion would blow through the $600 billion discretionary-spending cap Congress established in April. (Ah, April ... I remember distant April. Back when Richard the Lionheart and Saladin were still alive, and chivalry was in flower.) "The widespread view among Congressional Republicans that federal spending will rise significantly in the next budget," Holmes writes, "is causing disquiet among the party's more conservative fiscal hawks. Some of them console themselves by pointing out that the increases are taking place during a time of federal budget surpluses rather than deficits."

Holmes reminds us of the grievous political wounds the Republicans suffered in the "government shutdown" of 1995, which the media blamed on them and not on the Maximum Leader, and then gives us what I consider his "nut 'graf": "The fact that many Republicans are supporting expanded federal spending illustrates how the blossoming surplus and the desire to maintain the fragile majority in Congress have eroded the Republicans' traditional fiscal restraints."

There we have it. During the 1998 campaign, the Republicans confidently expected big gains in November — so they sold out to the Clintonistas. During this year's campaign, they know they're in trouble, and they're scared — so they're selling out to the Clintonistas. Now, remind me one more time. Under what circumstances would they consider it inappropriate  to sell out to the Clintonistas?

No one enjoys ridiculing and lambasting cowardly and corrupt Republicans more than I, but in doing so, we mustn't imply that we expect anything else or that we think anything else is possible. Making a big deal out of how cowardly and unprincipled particular Republicans are strikes me as just another way of moaning, "If only we could put good  people in Power!"

Republicans act the way they do because they must act that way — because, that is, of the law of political gravity. The GOP is a wing of the official duopoly apparatus, and for the nonce it's still a necessary wing (if only for appearance' sake), but it's not the senior wing. The people who have been delegated control of communications and culture, whom I call Red Guards, and the people who have done the delegating, whom I call Dark Suits, both systematically favor the Democrat Party. Under the hybrid form of socialism/fascism our rulers have invented, not to mention the cultural destruction they tirelessly promote, the Democrats naturally emerge as their vehicle of preference. The Democrats are the party of Monstrously Huge Socialism/Fascism, while the Republicans are only the party of Big Socialism/Fascism. The trouble is that for the past 60 or 70 years, Americans have been carefully educated to believe that socialism/fascism is, in principle, a good thing. And you know how we like to super-size everything, especially when we're convinced, as most of us are now, that it won't cost extra.

So what's a poor Republican to do? At his most rebellious, he's a "Yes, but ..." socialist/fascist. At his most cowed — after taking his periodic licking at the hands of an indignant media — he's a "Me, too!" socialist/fascist. Just about the only resources he's left with are spectacle, personality, scandal, and spin, spin, spin. It's as if some guy named McDougall opened a restaurant with orange arches and tried to sell Moderate Macs. Everyone, including those big hungry boys at Goldman Sachs, knows it's the Democrats who offer the real meal deal.

I don't mean to suggest that there aren't Republicans on Wall Street still, or that the Suits will start contributing only to Democrat candidates, or even that the Suits will never again clear the way for a successful Republican presidential candidate. One TV commentator has said that Wall Street actually prefers divided government "because it keeps anything from happening." He seems to envision Wall Street as some sort of laissez-faire, anti-government force, but I'd put it a little differently. The Suits may sometimes prefer divided government because that state of affairs offers them maximum leverage in getting done precisely what they want to get done.

With divided government, they can more easily manage the excesses of politicians — including the grave excess whereby a politician forgets who owns him — simply by throwing a little weight behind his opposition. President can be played against Congress, and Congress against president. Using one party as a brake and another as an accelerator may help our rulers drive Leviathan to the exact destination desired, with fewer of the surges and jerks and outright smash-ups risked by regimes that steer states with only one official party in formal control of all the branches of government.

Under the laws of inertia and gravity, a ball will roll downhill, but that doesn't mean it can't bump up against a log on the way down or be intercepted by a curious bird. In terms of our political system, the difference is that the logs and the birds usually materialize by design rather than by accident. Still, most of the time the ball will roll all the way to the bottom: which is to say that the Democrats sooner or later will get implemented what their masters want implemented, whether or not they win all the important elections. Divided government may be a good tactic, but it's not the only tactic.

Another workable tactic, since we're on the subject, is to set up divided government within  one de facto ruling party. In Indispensable Enemies,  populist Walter Karp showed how the Democrat Party, during the years of its greatest ascendancy, was divided into sub-parties — the Southern Bourbons and the Tammany liberals — and he argued that the two wings of the Democracy systematically colluded to make sure nothing important got done in the way of true Reform. Karp was not a believer in an extra-regime ruling class, but I am, and given the fact that a lot did get done that enriched and privileged a lot of people outside the regime, I think it's more nearly accurate to say that the ruling class systematically played the Bourbons off against the urban liberals, and vice versa, emptying both factions of any authentic content and reducing both to mere puppets.

If I had to guess about the ruling class's standing order of preferences for how the official government should be arranged, I'd say: Democrat president, Republican Congress; Democrat president, Democrat Congress; Republican president, Democrat Congress. And I'd say that the fourth possible arrangement isn't in the playbook any longer.

As I say, it's only a guess, and in fact I'm supposed to be in recovery from the nasty vice of making political predictions, which always seem to explode in my face. Last year, what with everyone around me insisting that the Man of Wood could never be elected, I started to think that George W. might have earned the crucial imprimatur of the ruling class. But the graybeards among us, including me, suffered through God only knows how many New Nixons, and we simply have no excuse for being surprised by the sudden appearance of the New Gore.

It started with The Speech; that's when the established media turned on a dime and began promoting Gore, as if they'd been pre-programmed to do so. In the late afternoon and early evening leading up to The Speech, I flipped around from news net to news net, and all the chatterers agreed that the pressure was really on, Gore was in bad trouble, he was going to have to give the best speech of his life, and the odds were he couldn't. Seconds after The Speech, the chatterers were just about falling out of their chairs in ecstasy. There was something false about it all; I was put in mind of the fake horse-race announcer in "The Sting" affecting excitement as he narrated races that had already been run.

After hearing for months that no one watches the conventions nowadays, we were supposed to believe that a routine acceptance speech had the same immediate impact as the Sermon on the Mount — in fact, greater, for Christ wound up crucified, while the media seem determined to make every day Palm Sunday for the New Gore. (Oh, but I've forgotten The Kiss, haven't I?)

Let us imagine that The Speech was everything the media say it was. I must concede that the handful of people I've talked to who listened to it do agree that Gore managed to impersonate a human being. If that is so, it puts me in mind of still another movie — "Simon," with Alan Arkin in the title role. It's set in a super-secret R&D facility, and in a scene establishing the place as mysterious, sinister, and powerful, one of its resident weirdos murmurs quietly that "the Nixon who went to China was not the Nixon who returned." Was the Gore who went to Los Angeles the Gore who returned?

In any event, what I detect in the sudden appearance of the New Gore is political gravity at work. It's being applied by the Dark Suits' Red Guard media employees and perhaps also by Red Guard reprogrammers assigned to the Gore campaign. Faithfully adhering to my twelve-step recovery program, I must refrain from making any prediction about the outcome of the election, but I can't help notice that that old ball now seems to be tumbling down the hill in obedience to the normal laws of American political physics. Probably all that has happened is that some artfully placed logs and some expertly trained birds have been put away. Ω

September 9, 2000

Published in 2000 by WTM Enterprises.

A later column on political gravity.

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