Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On the Other Hand: Bubba Bait for Progressives

Yesterday I worried that President Obama's tax and spending ideas for the FY16 budget were bubba bait for the middle class. Because what working woman doesn't want more sick leave and maternity leave mandates? Who doesn't want to stick it to the Rich?

But now I think that I'm wrong. The president isn't trying to separate the middle class from Republicans. He's just throwing red meat to his progressive base. Because the one thing he must do is keep his base home and energized. Otherwise the Democrats won't be voting to sustain his vetoes.

When soldiers get into a firefight, when aviators get into an emergency, they all do the same thing. They fall back on their training. When politicians get into tight corner, they go back to their instincts. The president's instincts are the left-wing shibboleths he learned as a teenager with black Communist Frank Marshall Davis, the liberal-left politics he learned in college, the machine politics he learned in gentrified Hyde Park palling around with baby-boomer lefties like Bill Ayers.

I don't know what the best strategy should be for Republicans in countering this foolishness. I suppose the best thing to do is to ignore it and to structure the appropriation bills in the fall to make them as difficult as possible to veto. Apparently Republicans have already been doing this, by stuffing funding bills with all kinds of riders but featuring one or two items that are poison to the president and his base. When the president objects, they kill the poison and leave the other stuff in.

But it is obvious that the president is not interested in, e.g., a comprehensive bill to simplify and reduce rates in the federal corporate income tax.

But the bigger issue is how to turn the whole culture around, how to sink the progressive political culture of expressive individualism combined with lower-class tribalism. The modern world is founded upon responsible individualism, but we have a ruling class that believes in self-expression. That makes it hard to win the fight for responsibility.

On my best days I imagine that conservatives and libertarians will win the culture war. But on normal days I realize that things will only change in the crisis when the current ruling class runs out of money, and can't deliver rewards to its supporters.

The responsible world of the exchange economy changes in response to the day-to-day signals of the price system and to crises like bankruptcy and business failure.

But politics doesn't work that way. It responds to the day-to-day power plays of special interests and the crises of war and revolution.

In a way, the two systems are the same. They go on, blindly hoping for the best, until the whole world collapses about their ears. The difference is that bankruptcy doesn't involve war and rapine and loot and plunder and starvation and death camps. The exchange economy just takes resources and labor away from failed business projects and sells them, often at a few cents on the dollar, to folks with a better plan for economic growth.

The trouble is that, instinctively, we are all tribesmen. When things go wrong we look for a strong leader to save us, someone to lead us in marches and protests, when what we really need is a good bankruptcy lawyer.

But tell that to President Obama's progressive base and see where it gets you.

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