Farewell GOP? 10.26.08  

Without a rudder, the GOP May Soon Pass the Way of the Whigs


The historical roots of the rise and fall of the free-market philosophy are explored, and the conclusion is reached that the GOP is provbably not long for this political world.

Where is the Whig Party today? Or the Free Soil Party? Or the Know-Nothing Party? Don't answer that one. The U.S. Constitution does not annoint any party with immortality, not even God's Only Party. They come and go as they lose their rudders in the political and economic storms of their day.  And it may well be that the GOP has now lost its rudder and has no clear destination. 

For decades the unholy trinity of economics, politics and religion have sailed the high seas like Columbus, promising imminent discovery of some New World of prosperity. The great lead ship, the U.S.S. Free Market, hauled behind it the U.S.S. GOP which, in turn hauled the U.S.S. Church, each one extolling the virtues of the others, and all trusting in the wisdom of the lead skipper, who in recent years was Christopher, I mean Alan, Greenspan, who flew the flags of small-market proto-economist Adam Smith and popular fiction-writer Ayn Rand.

The seemingly infallible chart of the high seas with which Captain Greenspan guided us all these years now turns out not to have been a map at all, but rather a work of fiction, and the gleaming Shores of Prosperity he thought he saw now turn out to be the rocky Shoals of Reality, upon which the Free Market has foundered. Our treasures in the hold have spilled irretrievably into the depths, and the entrained ships are now in danger of being pulled down as well.

The skipper, testifying to Congress recently, was asked whether his ideology was at fault. He replied that he had found a "flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works....[and] was shocked because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well." 

So how did he get it so wrong, and why did so many follow him? Adam Smith in 1776 ("The Wealth of Nations") saw local markets working well, regulated only by enlightened self-interest, but no one thought to ask whether the mechanics of tail-gate markets could be safely extrapolated to global economies without regulation. Then Ayn Rand enshrined the imaginary superiority of unfettered capitalism in her classical fictions "Fountainhead" (1943) and "Atlas Shrugged" (1957). 

In her works Rand identified the true enemies of prosperity to be altruists, those who would live more simply so that others might simply live, good folks like community organizers, people like Jesus. She wrote, "If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject."  Greenspan and others avidly read Rand, mistaking her for a writer of non-fiction.  

So Greenspan, Reagan and others reasoned that all regulation must be bad, greed must be good, and altruists must be enemies of the state, like communists. When Greenspan became skipper of the Free Market, he, along with Captains Clinton, Bush and McCain, proceeded to jettison all regulatory ballast. Without laws against piracy, pirates like junk-bond king Michael Milken rose and fell, but were designated as anomalies. Freed from responsibility to home-owners, the S&L's overreached and collapsed, tainting McCain, who seemed to learn nothing from the adventure, but instead advocated further deregulation, which has now terrified us all. 

The GOP was founded on two guiding principles, abolition and free markets. The first was stolen by LBJ and the civil rights movement, while the second has now foundered upon the reefs of reality. What is left? Ill-considered bellicosity and morality? With the Iraq war dragging on and over 50 nationally prominent Republicans forced out due to flagrant violations of decency, legality and the public trust, this is a weak case indeed. 

Jesus did not say, "I will lower your taxes." He did say, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."  It sounds a bit like "Spread the wealth around."

If the Rand fans had read her more closely, they might have stumbled on this cogent advice: "Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong. Every aspect of Western culture needs a new code of ethics -- a rational ethics -- as a precondition of rebirth." 

So the U.S.S. GOP has lost its rudder, has foundered on unseen rocks and is sinking. What is needed now for global rebirth is a new code of ethics that is suitable for long-term human survival on a finite planet. Neo-altruists might want to check out  "The Green Collar Economy" by Van Jones.

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