Howdy y’all. After living as a Mountain Man in the Sangre de Christos for a few years I’ve ambled down to the flatlands to shoot bigger varmints.
I wanted my first post back to be a comprehensive ideological thing about something I noticed on Memorial Day.
And then I came across Mike Konczal’s recent centrism piece.
He’s been doin’ yeoman’s work and has a beautiful soul. And this piece on centrism’s recent failures is spot-in in its parade of horribles (listed at the end of this post *).
But when he claims that those recent failures mean centrism is doomed as an ideology as a result?
Ideologies don’t die when they’re revealed to be dumb. Ideologies die when they’re beaten. And pretending otherwise makes it less likely for centrism to be killed and buried where it deserves to be: underneath a giant pile of the fetid stinking human misery it’s so good at producing.
Centrism’s been failing since Matt Yglesias was in diapers
Konczal looks at policy failures from 2008. Centrist ideology has been failing since at least the mid-80s, when Reagan had to reverse himself and raise taxes in order to keep the economy going.
Since then: centrism has had failure after failure after failure.
Slashing public investment and moving public assets to private control? Too many failures to count, but some bigger ones you may have heard of:
- the 1996 Welfare Reform that created tens of millions of hungry kids
- Repealing of financial regulation that created the ’08 crash
- Department of Homeland Security
- Patriot Act
- Iraq War
- A federal judiciary filled with hacks who construct a Neo-confederate Gilded Age between mouthfuls of tobaccee
These events all happened *before* the ones Konczal lists.
Just because an ideology produces misery doesn’t mean it won’t stick around for a long, long time
So how has this ideology been at the levers of control for so long with so much failure?
Follow the Money
It hasn’t had failure for *the right sorts of people*. Here are a few graphs, presented without comment:
Pushing public resources under private control, letting business interests run hog-wild in an environment of lax regulation, and pretending there’s no alternative to this state of affairs because, all-together-now, BOTH SIDES DO IT and there’s no difference between parties, pushes income and wealth to the top and prevents the bottom from doing much about it.
Ironically, Konczal drops name after name that has been instituting centrist policies that have failed for the last few years – Peter Orszag, Alice Rivlin, Alan Simpson, Pete Domenici – and doesn’t stop to ask himself why they instituted these centrist policies in the first place.
Why does the Washington Post employ centrist writers? Why are there more centrist think tanks than cow shits around a watering hole? Why do centrist tropes and policies have influence after 30 years of providing money to the rich and immiseration to the rest?
The Long Con
Let’s try to go deeper than “rich folks control all the power.” How?
Partly because of stuff like this Mike Konczal piece.
- Short-term memory: the kinds of policy failures Konczal discusses have been happening for generations, but presented as if they’re recent
- Focus on the presidency: not quite a horse-race piece (although there are shades of it), there is still a background assumption that the presidency is the end-all be-all of policy making, and that should a progressively-minded person get in there the ship will be righted.
- Focus on correctness and not power: Konczal’s piece assumes that making correct arguments in the public square has a relationship with acquiring and retaining power.
All these dynamics prevent people from using levers of power. A short-term memory keeps people from using levers that only show themselves over time. A focus on the presidency keeps people ignoring the levers that exist outside the presidency. And a focus on being correct in arguments keeps people from grasping any kind of levers in the first place.
And you’re the mark.
* From the rabid spittle-flecked mania to reducing the deficit to keep inflation low (deficit remained high, inflation is now negative), to privatizing Medicare as the only way to lower healthcare costs (Obamacare has in fact lowered costs, no need to make seniors try and eat vouchers for dinner) and claiming that matching skills and education with jobs would fix the economy in the long-term without the need for short-term assistance (let’s all just laugh at this one: hahahahaha).