Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We've just been realigned.

I can't sleep. Here is my take for everyone who cares, which is no one. This was a major realigning election in American politics. 2008 wasn't. In 2008, a cool, collected, pragmatist ran against a crazy old man in the teeth of a deep recession (I'm talking about how people perceived the candidates, as perception is all that matters in elections). The 2012 election was quite different. The Republicans explicitly ran on the economy and getting the financial lunacy of the federal government under control as the most predictable (and largest) fiscal and monetary crisis in history is barreling down on us (with very limited, halfway measures that aren't actually anywhere close to drastic enough). The Democrats ran on sex, free stuff, and class warfare. This election sent a clear message to both parties: If you run on taking away anyone's free stuff, you will lose. It doesn't matter how bad the recession is, it doesn't matter how badly the incumbent has blown it, and it doesn't matter how juvenile and trivial the opposition's message is. You do not take away anyone's free stuff. Ever. Doesn't matter how broke we are.

The Republicans have now tried twice to get the cancer of entitlement spending under control, and both times the voting public has punished them for it. If it was ever going to happen, this is the election where it would have happened, and therefore it's not going to happen. The issue is now dead. There are only three ways to deal with unsustainable entitlements: Massive tax increases, massive benefit cuts, or ignore the problem and let the market force the issue by destroying the currency. Americans have rejected the first two options, which leaves only the third.

 I have seen some Republican pundits argue that the disasters bearing down upon us will surely discredit the cradle-to-grave welfare state in a kind of conservative take on Lenin's 'The worse, the better.' This is in defiance of everything we know from history. Historically, when people have a religious-like faith in the state's ability to supply material wealth via legislation, it is nearly impossible to disabuse them of it. The state's failure to answer their prayers is always blamed on a villain--either an external villain standing in the state's way, or an internal villain sabotaging the state. The idea that the state is intrinsically unable to do what they wish really doesn't enter the discussion.

As the Greek state collapses, Greeks riot, demanding that the state restore their free stuff. As businesses flee California, Californians simply demand more taxes on the businesses that remain, so they can have their free stuff. As the Argentine government destroys the currency, Argentinians reelect the president who promises to keep the free stuff flowing.

Ironically, this election was not even really about ending free stuff. It was about whether we were even willing to begin to have a conversation about just exactly how we're going to cut back a little bit on the free stuff. The answer was no. The answer was that sex is way more important than that boring money stuff, and besides, where is Argentina, anyway? The big deal is not that Obama won. He's already established that he's incompetent, corrupt, and foolish, and another four years will simply reestablish that. Nor is it that Romney lost--I don't believe his plan was nearly aggressive enough to actually solve the problem. The big deal is that financial reality and capitalism are officially losing issues in American politics.

 The problem is that something that can't continue forever won't, and promises that can't be kept won't be.


Jewish Odysseus said...

This reminds me of a WSJ column ~20 years ago by IRVING Kristol (smarter than his son), talking about the budget crisis at that time. To paraphrase, he wrote: "This disaster won't occur, because what has to be done will be done, and what must not be done won't be done."

That assured/naive attititude has worn awful thin the past 4 yrs, though..

Me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Me said...

I feel the same optimism that one of JW Booth's co-conspirators must have felt as he was marching up to the gallows.

Derek said...

Sadly, I have to agree.

I suspected Obama would win, but I was hoping he would have to put up a much bigger fight and would lose the senate in the process. Depressingly, it was a nice clean victory.

I learned something important last night. The fury with Bush after 2004 wasn't actually about wars and civil rights violations. It was because he was perceived to be standing in the way of an expanding entitlement state. Iraq and the PATRIOT act made for a good excuse, but there was never any kind of substantial coalition that wanted to punish him for those transgressions, or they would have stood up to punish the Dems last night.

I think of Obama as being Bush with a leftward class warrior slant. I had hoped that some significant constituency would surface to punish him for that. Instead, we rewarded him for having fixed the only significant problem with the Bush presidency.

Derek said...

The ray of hope was that Gary Johnson gained almost 1% of the vote. While that's a tiny fraction of the electorate, nowhere near enough to pass any kinds of laws or even broker any compromises that could delay our doom, it's higher than ever before.

There's a possibility that if we gather our strength and reloading supplies, and pick the right gulch, cave, or underwater city, we could actually hold out for several months longer than I had expected.

Dan G. said...

I keep coming back to the dumbing down of America through the last hundred years of public education and media as the root cause of the apathy, cluelessness, and hedonistic tendencies that have driven us so far down this path. Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but then I see a commercial for Honey Boo Boo and wonder if I'm actually being too optimistic.

Fearsome Pirate said...

Derek, Bush actually did expand the entitlement state. Of course, the left despised Medicare D because it didn't implement price controls or tax increases.

I think it's a bit more subtle than that. The Left has devolved into pure, Marxian utopianism. The Republicans are semi-rational social democrats who want to create sustainable, rationally-run entitlements. The Democrats, by contrast, want the government to simply declare that everyone will have all they need, and believe that such a declaration will magically make that happen.

I've seen highly educated Democrats say amazingly stupid things. One guy I know, an engineer, said the government can prevent rationing by simply disallowing the bureaucracy in charge of health care to deny anyone anything they need. Another guy, a mathematician, said the government can ensure a decent standard of living for everyone using a combination of expanding the money supply and price controls.

These people really are this stupid. It's not a ruse.