August 31, 2012

go ahead, make my day

Corrente writes,

Maybe it's me, but last night's convention/sideshow convinced me that this whole process of electing a president is nothing but a sham, something for the rubes to chatter about while the real action is going on in an entirely different tent.
Actually its not you - and you're not the only one. But what makes this time different?

People have suspected these things for a long time. The problem is that they know the show is fake but still fool themselves by thinking they've spotted the real distinction, the real importance, between what is real and what is not. Reality is multi-layered. Offstage creeps onstage. One convention is present in another while the same issues are absent from both. And as long as Americans continue their fickle love-affair with reality they'll always have something to seize upon, size up, and dispose of no matter how contrived. Reality requires an effort of the imagination. 


August 13, 2012

Paul Ryan's Ordo Praedicatorum

Libertarian ideology seems to be quite the rage these days. No longer the nomenclature of right-wing economists and nerds that it was in previous decades it has  gained considerable visibility and acceptance - despite its failures, despite Alan Greenspan. Ron Paul's attempts for the Presidency, for instance, though not exactly successful, have increased their following with each consecutive run, while, more tellingly, his libertarian son, Rand Paul, was elected Senator of Kentucky in 2010. Also, a movie based on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was released last year, and, just this last June, the first Ayn Rand Summit was held in DC and attended by John Stossel, Allen West, Grover Norquist, and President candidate, Gary Johnson. The Libertarian Party itself boasts having become the third-largest political party in the US. And considering the more substantial extent to which neo-liberal "free market" policies and talking-points have been adopted across the board, by both Democrats and Republicans, should any of this be much of a surprise?

Another self-proclaimed Randian, Paul Ryan - who in 2009 admitted, "the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, it would be Ayn Rand" - has now been tapped to share the GOP ticket. Ryan has not only reportedly said as far back as 1999 that the books he most often reads are "the Bible, Friedrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged," but also confessed his proselytizing efforts to The Weekly Standard in 2003: "I give out Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well... I try to make my interns read it." Yet some libertarians are complaining. Though some see in Ryan a man of ideological credibility who can balance out the Republican ticket, others are crying he's a phony - a big-government conservative even. Indeed, as lots of the commentary has already pointed out this past weekend, Ryan's record suggests that he is both for economic "austerity" (the gradual privatization of social security, deep cuts to spending, and "a balanced budget") as well as for "big government" (government bailouts, TARP, Ethanol subsidies, unemployment extensions, the Patriot Act and other federal intrusions, Constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage as well to criminalize flag burning, and many proposed measures to restrict the reproductive freedom of women.)      

That Ryan even started dialing back his Randian cred a few months ago, evoking Thomas Aquinas, may only cause libertarian voters to harden their convictions, and maybe vote for Gary Johnson. Who knows? But I wonder: what in the world can be more utterly glibertarian than to balance out neo-liberal Austrian economics with an "epistemological" turn *cough* to a 13th century Dominican Catholic priest? (See this take down of neo-liberal Aquinian grandstanding.) And what can be more harmful to the GOP in November than this rift between free-market contractarians who find inspiration in the atheism of Rand's "objectivism," and conservative God fearing Christians? Thus, in Romney's words, "Paul is in public life for all the right reasons — not to advance his personal ambitions but to advance the ideals of freedom and justice; and to increase opportunity and prosperity to people of every class and faith, every age and ethnic background. A faithful Catholic, Paul believes in the worth and dignity of every human life." Well, well...

Ryan's move away from Rand signals the electoral liabilities of associating with her, which Ryan and the rest of today's politerati obviously recognize. Democrats will thus likely try to tag Ryan to her Social Darwinist pretensions - but not so much because she was a free-market libertarian but because she was an ideological hack with as much intellectual depth as a nine-year old. Unfortunately, as Democrats look to exploit that particular angle, the failed economic policies of neoliberalism, and the growing gap between "producers" and "moochers," as Rand put it, will get the obligatory free pass. 

But even by their own "small government" standards libertarian ideas are a failure: they simply don't work. On one level, the I-got-mine-now-fuck-off school of thought creates economic and political counter-movements, to borrow a phrase from Karl Polanyi, which are antithetical to it. But in an even more obvious respect, any "small government" exponent running for office in "big government" by default cannot govern on such principles because big capital will always be there to make sure that the corporate mega-state - and its spending sprees and dysfunctions - will remain in place. Thus, the Paul Ryans and the Rand Pauls of the world who sit in political office will always be compromised, and always fall short of their libertarian spiel. Big capital and its spokesmen will never acknowledge that the effort to "bring back effective and responsible government" actually requires a call to resist this very collusion between big government and big capital.

Big capital will also always be there to remind us time and time again, whether through the mouth of Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, or petty bureaucrat, that the functioning of a successful economy requires transforming political categories and expectations into economic ones. These reminders translate into generating more cost cutting measures and bigger profits. They also make even those who are most well-meaning view the country's problems through the language and schemes of short-term practical payoffs and "market" discourse. The long-term political effects of such incessant zero-sum economizing only preclude the chances that any political alternative to the neo-liberal cul de sac we find ourselves in might ever get off the ground and be worth fighting for. (I mean, who wants to fight a losing impractical battle these days when, to recall Margaret Thatcher's words, "there is no alternative"?) 

Big capital also doesn't need the ideological purity of Ron Paul or Gary Johnson to do its bidding because its already the biggest show in town. By occupying the electoral margins such libertarian figures enable "free market" rationalities to operate as business-as-usual, more informally, more impersonally, and more inevitably. Their mere presence also makes it easier for Paul Ryan to try to back away from his Randian schtick just as he moves into November's spotlight.