Sunday, 6 February 2011

Revolution and Reaction.

A Rich man's Revolution.

In a nostalgic moment, John McCain once described himself as a "foot soldier" in the "Reagan Revolution". The tenure of Ronald Reagan is often described as a revolution for the Republican Party, but it should be considered part of an ongoing counter-revolution against the American working-class. Gore Vidal once said "Class is the most difficult subject for American writers to deal with as it is the most difficult for the English to avoid." The political discourse in the US is framed as if there is only one class, the middle-class, which involves anyone who owns a car. But the fact that there is a middle-class presupposes that there is an upper-class and a working-class. The global shift in paradigm from social democracy to neoliberalism, a counter-revolution in itself, that commenced with the changes to monetary policy made by Paul Volcker under Carter after Nixon pulled apart the Bretton-Woods system.

With the famous adept timing of the Reaganites, the US government was able to seize on the overwhelming disillusionment with government. The source of this disillusionment went back to the 1960s when the US embarked on the war in Indochina and President Kennedy was assassinated. The Democrats had made a desperate lunge to capitalise on a disillusioned electorate and pander to the radicals roused by the Vietnam war. Jimmy Carter  was put forward as a candidate for President as token to the generation of Americans who protested against Vietnam, Carter would serve one term and made some gestures to black people and the poor. But overall the Carter administration abandoned New Deal liberalism and paved the way for the Reaganites. The Reagan administration, with the Democrats in Congress, merely furthered the transition to neoliberalism. Thus, no one but reactionaries should idolise Jimmy Carter.

From 1978 to 1990 the richest 1% of the American population accumulated $1 trillion, $840 billion of which was a result of massive tax-cuts as part of an active attempt by the Reagan administration to "starve the beast" in order to justify massive cuts in public spending. In 1984 alone the tax-cuts amounted to $190 billion, the majority of which went to the wealthy, in the same year that $140 billion was cut and defence was increased by $181 billion. In the 1960s and 70s led to the share that the richest 1% held of assets collapsed dramatically to almost 20%. In the late 1970s the share of assets for the wealthiest Americans began to increase, a trajectory which was furthered throughout the 1980s and eventually peaked at around 1990 at 40%. Since this explosion can be traced back to the Carter administration, out of a partisan agenda Forbes have written off the inequality produced by "Reaganomics" as the consequence of Carter's economic policy.

In the US Budget of 1986 we can see that out of $794 billion in tax-revenue a total of $294 billion was to be spent on social security. $286 billion was spent on defence, $12 billion for foreign arms to client states and $8 billion on energy (e.g. nuclear weapons). $27 billion on benefits for war veterans and $142 billion for interest on loans on money spent to prop up the national security state. So out of the remaining $500 billion, left over once social security is taken out of the picture, $475 billion was spent on the national security state and fed the military-industrial complex. Other federal spending came to $177 billion, which would contribute to the size of the deficit. Naturally Alan Greenspan, a devotee of Ayn Rand, called for social security and medicare to be slashed in order to balance the budget. The billions poured into wars is a sacred cow no politician is willing to slaughter to avoid confronting the military-industrial complex.

During the "Reagan Revolution" it was not just a "revolution" in domestic and economic policy but in the discourse itself. The Fairness Doctrine, which was introduced in 1949 to ensure liberals and conservatives would be given a fair amount of airtime in political commentary, was repealed in 1987 and we're still living with the consequences. The rise of Rush Limbaugh and the Right would lay claim to talk radio in the 1990s. Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes injected the political debate with right-wing populism that championed the GOP through campaigns of appeals to bigotry, vilification and red-baiting. The same tools are used today, we can see them in the accusations hurled at Obama. Fox News was launched as the propaganda wing of the Republican Party as the so-called "liberal" media is complacent and sets the limits on criticism of government. The lack of meaningful discourse has hollowed out what little hope elections held for Americans.

Throughout the 1980s the Republicans succeeded in transforming the federal judiciary into a conservative institution and had filled over half of federal judgeships with right-wingers by 1991. This was a way for the Reaganites to overturn the rulings of liberal judges and harden a reactionary base along populist lines, which have had a long-term impact on the discourse particularly the attempt to appoint Robert Bork. Whether it takes fundamentalist or nationalist forms, in rulings it takes the form of supporting the death penalty, opposing affirmative action, gay rights and abortion. Following this transformation the death penalty was reinstated, the constraints over police power reduced whilst the legal protections of unions have been dismantled. Education was deemed not to be a "fundamental right" so poor people had to pay for public education. A recent ruling by Supreme Court removed the limits to how much corporations can spend on campaign donations.

30 years after Ronald Reagan came to power, the man's legacy can be clearly seen but is rarely understood for what it is. The vast gulf between the rich and the poor has led to social deprivation on a massive scale, from the way drugs have become a substitute for welfare to fear-driven politics that have led to lone-wolf terrorism and skyrocketing rates of gun crime. Again and again the GOP revives the notion that the government is the source of problems and not the solution as the economic system becomes increasingly dysfunctional and unconstrained. Millions of Americans are now superfluous, left jobless and abandoned by the government with no sufficient medical care and barely enough welfare to get by. The counter-revolution has succeeded in rolling back social democracy and pouring billions into warfare.

No comments: