Has the Revolution met its Counterrevolution? Yes.
Does it matter? No.
Both factions stand against Big Government.
Neither is providing a high potency agenda for equitable prosperity.
The indefensibly grandiose overreach of Obama and the Democrats may well allow the GOP to parlay an oppositional strategy into a Senate majority in November. Yet both the GOP’s Regular and Insurgent factions appear to be stuck, exclusively, in Reverse. The electorate desires more than that.
The factional disputes are more tactical than ideological. Some reversal is required (including from the GOP’s own prior excesses). The voters want to hear a commitment to credible ways toward job creation, economic flourishing through honest labor, and the dignity that derives therefrom.
Republican solicitude to “job creators” — in preference to us workers — makes it sound like the party of Thurston Howell III. “Gilligan, refresh Lovey’s and my martinis. There will be a modest tip for you. Chop-chop.”
There is a better way. Proto-supply-sider Peter Drucker nailed it in The Effective Executive:
“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problem.” (p. 98. Emphasis original.)
The GOP is very good, and somewhat credible, at promising to starve (or at least put on a diet) the problem, or part of it. It is seriously deficient in promising to feed opportunities.
Jack Kemp showed how to do that with his advocacy of economic growth through across-the-board marginal income tax rate cuts and the gold standard. Reagan put the rate cuts and a proxy for the gold standard in place. It worked. He won re-election in a 49-state electoral landslide.
As its near single-digit popularity shows there’s a lot of popular disgust with the Congress. Yet, with the outlying exception of David Brat’s victory over Eric Cantor, insurgent candidacies are dying in droves. As the New York Times reported to great notice on March 8th, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “I think we are going to crush them everywhere.”
This election season, Republicans led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are taking a much harder line as they sense the majority within reach. Top congressional Republicans and their allies are challenging the advocacy groups head on in an aggressive effort to undermine their credibility. The goal is to deny them any Senate primary victories, cut into their fund-raising and diminish them as a future force in Republican politics.
“I think we are going to crush them everywhere,” Mr. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said in an interview, referring to the network of activist organizations working against him and two Republican incumbents in Kansas and Mississippi while engaging in a handful of other contests. “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”
Substantively there is somewhat less here than meets the eye. CNN’s Political Ticker in May, amidst another big Tea Party candidate die-off, cited Speaker Boehner’s statement of … the obvious:
“You get in these primary elections – they are hard-fought battles and sometimes – listen, there is not that much, not that big a difference between what you call the tea party and your average conservative Republican,” he said, pointing to the GOP’s near-unanimous opposition to Obamacare, tax increases and an overbearing federal government.
The revolution and counterrevolution comes down to a struggle for power, not purpose. And although it is considered bad form to be explicit about it, power, and struggle for power, is the essence of politics. Politics only matters to us voters if one faction, or party, credibly offers to advance our core values and interests in significant ways. At the moment, neither faction of either party, nor either party, is doing a credible job of advancing a resonant agenda.
Middle America, at the top of its agenda, wants out of a protracted, painful, stagnation. The Democrats offer ineffectual or even counterproductive solutions. They couch their approach as a narrative of attacking “income inequality.” Meanwhile, Republicans sound tuned out.
Saul Alinsky in Chapter one of Rules for Radicals observes with perfect clarity:
My aim here is to suggest how to organize for power: how to get it and to use it. I will argue that the failure to use power for a more equitable distribution of the means of life for all people signals the end of the revolution and the start of the counterrevolution.
What America confronts, now, as in 1971, is a power struggle: political revolution and counterrevolution, both intra- and inter- party. Much of it simply is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is high time for both national parties, as well as the Tea Party, to mind Alinsky.
The electorate cares about who prevails only insofar as the contestants represent our values and interests. So far, all factions — Republican Regulars and Tea Party Insurgents, Establishment Democrats and Democratic Populists — present as out of touch with these.
As Alinsky implied, political fortune hinges on who most credibly promises to “use power for a more equitable distribution of the means of life for all people.” This, subtly yet profoundly, is fundamentally different from “inequality.” Equitable means impartial. It implies merit-based.
As columnist Catherine Rampbell recently wrote in the Washington Post, Income inequality isn’t about the rich — it’s about the rest of us.
Yes, anti-inequality rhetoric has grown in recent years. But it’s not the growing wealth of the wealthy that Americans are angry about, at least not in isolation. It’s the growing wealth of the wealthy set against the stagnation or deterioration of living standards for everyone else. Polls show that Americans pretty much always want income to be distributed more equitably than it currently is, but they’re more willing to tolerate inequality if they are still plugging ahead.”
Most of us really do understand that labor needs capital and capital needs labor. There really can be a synergistic, positive sum, relationship to promote the general welfare.
As reported in the New Yorker, in The Six Things that Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate, You, research clearly shows that positive messages consistently outperform — for “virality” — massive, enthusiastic sharing — negative ones.
Berger and Milkman found that two features predictably determined an article’s success: how positive its message was and how much it excited its reader. Articles that evoked some emotion did better than those that evoked none…. But happy emotions … outperformed sad ones ….
There is every reason to believe that the same “positivity principle” applies in politics. A positive, “feed the opportunity,” agenda is not, yet, much in evidence.
The prevailing Democratic theme is of opposition to “income inequality.” This is a convoluted way of not taking the (politically lethal) position of being “for income equality.”
Nor has the national GOP yet come up with a credible positive message. Republicans are fixated on opposing Obama. There’s a lot to oppose about this unpopular president’s agenda. Oppositionalism may well lead to tactical GOP victory in November. Yet it will be a very provisional victory if the contenders for party leadership keep couching their crusade … monotonously … as all shield, no sword.
Rand Paul currently most notably is engaged in a noble fight against the erosion of our Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights by a runaway national security apparatus. Mike Huckabee now has thrust himself to renewed political attention by railing against “judicial supremacy.” Ted Cruz shut down (sort of) the federal government. He takes consolation for his “black listed and loving it” status with a tortured rationalization that he “elevated the national debate” over Obamacare. The technocratic Mitt Romney, ostentatiously declaims he is not running for president in 2016 (meanwhile positioning himself to be the Big Money Establishment’s choice if Jeb Bush folds his hand). He relentlessly reminds us that he is not Obama. (He, tellingly, also is making the point he is not Hillary.) Stuck in Reverse.
Lots of nots. Where are the positive ideas that would lead to sizzling growth?
Woodrow Wilson’s Vice President, Thomas R. Marshall “in response to Senator Joseph Bristow’s catalog of the nation’s needs,” famously “quipped the often-repeated phrase, ‘What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.’”
A long-suffering America awaits a message from its political heavyweight contenders offering a really credible plan — whether liberal republican or social democratic — to “use power for a more equitable distribution of the means of life for all people.” A call for a good five-cent cigar, a trope for rising prices, might at least be somewhere to start.
The depreciated Federal Reserve Note makes the modern equivalent of five cents something like five dollars. Addressing the depreciation of our money, the obvious culprit in our long economic stagnation, would be an excellent place to start.