Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ideology and crisis

The current economic crisis, coming, as it does, at the end of the dogmatically reactionary Bush administration, is opening the door to a new dialogue about the nature of capitalism, and the role of the state. Not since the sixties has there been the opportunity for such a far-reaching and essential look at our social arrangements, our economic system, and our political process. Since Reagan, who brilliantly took the country so far right that centrist democrats like Clinton looked like progressive visionaries, a truly progressive agenda has been totally on the margin.

Taking up the mantle of reaction, Bush postulated the perfect, in-itself, connection between democracy and capitalism. Free enterprise and political democracy were meant to be one in the same system. Any attempt to move the economy in a more compassionate direction was transformed into a challenge to democracy. As long as the economy, at least on the surface, was marching forward, this democracy is free enterprise and free enterprise is democracy formulation held sway. The collapse of the banking system, not from a socialist revolution, or a natural calamity, but under its own weight, is a wake up call to even the most jaded observer. The old saws, now being hoisted up absurdly by the House Republicans, that all we need is less taxation, less spending, is just not going to fly. People losing jobs and houses and health care and pensions are not convinced that these very real hardships are being caused by too much spending on social programs or raising the tax rate a few points. They know they were screwed by people who got rich at their expense, with the blessing of the government. This is not a marginal, radical opinion, everyone sees it.

How do we constructively engage this new situation? For all his fits and starts, I still am encouraged by Barack Obama and his willingness to put all the issues on the table. He and his financial team do not have an answer to the banking debacle yet, and there may not be one that is not without a lot of pain. But he is still laying out his vision on education, and health care. While the chattering class calls this over-reaching hubris, I think he is absolutely correct to say that these issues are all related, and that we cannot move forward without addressing them all on a macro level. This is truly daunting to the entrenched interests and they will fight back with all they have, and in every arena. It will get ugly. We need to support the full and far-reaching vision that will be necessary to get us out of this hole, and to a more viable society.

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