It’s that time of the year when scary things are happening: Monster movies in theaters, costumes in store windows and your local coffee shop usually trying something stupid (sorry, no one wants to try your “Witch’s Brew” green latte). For the truly terrifying things, however, you need look no further than our very own United States Congress, where things terrible and strange are afoot.
John Boehner’s resignation as Speaker of the House in September left an immediate power vacuum and raised the question as to what kind of new leadership would fill it. Boehner was essentially forced out by an insurgent faction of the Republican Party, which had been agitating against Speaker Boehner on and off for quite a while. The rebellion stemmed from these radicals’ desire that Boehner be “more ferocious with Democrats during the upcoming fiscal showdowns.” In other words, a radically more corporatist budget with massive cuts to social welfare programs, the relaxing of corporate taxes and a plunge backward on social issues. This has been referred to as a kind of coup of the crazies — a takeover by a new breed of conservative so reckless that they’re even drawing the ire of traditional neoliberal commentators.
In the new Speaker, these hyper-Republicans seem to be seeking someone who will be even more dysfunctionally obstructionist than Boehner, and who can push an ever more radically conservative agenda.
The funny thing about all this is that Obama already is fairly conservative. Despite the liberal mania surrounding him, many critics have commented that Obama is essentially what would have been a “centrist Republican” back in the day. He’s extended and expanded many of the fiscal and foreign policy initiatives begun by Bush, and shown, in general, little interest in passing what would have historically been considered “progressive” legislation, sans the Affordable Care Act.
Yet these conservatives are not sensible; and because we live in a time where politics is drifting ever rightward, Obama can be smeared by the mutant-cons as a whacko Marxist Muslim dictator, Boehner as a weepy softie and Paul Ryan as the steely eyed casanova of Ayn Randian libertarianism — the only one to save the country from liberal excess.
Hell, for a second there they were even holding out on the notion that Ryan was himself a liberal in disguise.
Despite the fact that Ryan’s policies are infamously radical, the corporate media has basically been giving him a congratulatory hand for his new appointment, and has expressed close to zero concern for the fact that his political positions (on basically everything) seem to run counter to what the majority of the American people want. Forget the fact that Ryan hates gay marriage, abortion and science — it’s his economic positions that are the most radical facet of his political personality, and which are likely to be the bulk of what he pushes under his new title.
The list of Ryan’s controversial legislative pushes is too long to list here, but there are a couple that are important to remember. In the past, he’s said he’d like to:
- Destroy Obamacare: At a press conference, Ryan literally said out loud “We are not going to give up on destroying the healthcare system,” in reference to the Affordable Care Act. It was as much a freudian slip as a gaffe, and referred to the fact that one of Ryan’s primary goals for the past several years has been to burn any not-private, not-corporate healthcare to the ground.
- Eradicate Medicare: Despite the fact that the vast majority of American people have no interest in changing what is a fully functioning, cost-effective safety net, Ryan and the other Republicans are somewhat determined to eradicate Medicare for seniors. What does Ryan want to replace it with? A privatized voucher system, which Obama had some choice words for during the 2012 campaign: “Gov. Romney and his running mate…wants to turn Medicare into a voucher system. That means seniors would no longer have the guarantee of Medicare — they’d get a voucher to buy private insurance. And if it doesn’t keep up with costs, well, that’s the seniors’ problem. It was estimated that Gov. Romney’s running mate, his original plan would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year.”
- Gut the welfare state: By now, Ryan’s 2011 budget is infamous for its outlandish proposals for restructuring the economic hierarchy. Robert Greenstein, MacArthur Fellowship recipient and founder of The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said of Ryan’s proposed 2011 budget that its “reverse Robin Hood approach” would leach most of its money from “low income Americans” and would “produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.” The plan proposed making 4.5 trillion dollars in budget cuts over a 10 year period–almost all of which would’ve come from social welfare programs, as well as investments in education, infrastructure, and research programs.
- Lower Taxes for the Wealthy, Not So Much for Everybody Else: In addition to making life harder for America’s least privileged, Ryan’s 2011 budget also proposed slashing taxes on the wealthiest Americans. This includes making permanent the Bush tax cuts and repealing the estate tax, which would reportedly cost America 269 billion dollars and would affect only a tiny fraction of the 1% in America. Matt Taibbi gave a pretty good summation of what Ryan’s tax-the-poor-to-fund-the-rich proposals amounted to: “No matter what, Ryan’s gambit, ultimately, is all about trying to get middle-class voters to swallow paying for tax cuts for rich people.”
Ryan has shown nothing if not his ability to tenaciously stick to his quasi-fascist corporatist principles throughout his career — never mind the rampant criticism they’ve drawn from well respected economists and public officials.
The philosophy that supports this radical plan to reshape America has been the subject of considerable media attention: Ryan’s big, gross crush on Ayn Rand and her utopian social theory of Objectivism. Ryan has gone back and forth on whether he is truly a diehard fan of Rand’s; nonetheless, the general philosophy that he has consistently pushed (and which he claims was inspired by Rand) is compatible with his budgetary desires: Ryan has characterized the country as being made up of “makers and takers” and said in 2009 that “Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism, and this, to me, is what is [sic] matters most.”
What is this interpretation of Randian philosophy but a medievally classist social darwinism? The reason that poor people are poor is because they lack proper moral fiber; the reason the rich are rich is they possess a kind of inner virtue that makes them capitalist ubermensches and masters of the universe. In this moral system, the rich should act as hawks, preying upon the poor and the weak because that’s what the cold, pure essence of the “free” market dictates. It’s positively arcane thinking that should’ve gone the way of phrenology and the bowler cap.
Yet it’s a philosophy that may have progressively more and more influence on American politics. Jonathan Alter from The Daily Beast has nicely summed up the effect this ideology would have on public policy:
The budgets he wrote in recent years as chairman of the House Budget Committee envision turning back the clock 80 years to a pre-New Deal America, with a sharply different social contract and a harsh attitude toward Americans unable to take care of themselves.
The fact that Ryan was born with a silver spoon jammed up one or another of his orifices is not the problem in itself; it is, rather, that he’s used that privilege to build a teflon-tough neoliberal ideology that sees the social safety net that FDR and LBJ created (and which millions of Americans rely on) as an institutional cancer to be eradicated. He wants to take away social security, medicaid, retirement, education, anti-poverty programs, infrastructure, and pretty much everything else that we’ve agreed should be provided to American citizens as a right–and deliver those institutions back into the hands of elite private ownership and the markets, returning us, in effect, to the economic model supported during the Gilded Age. From a liberal perspective, this is a plunge backwards into the dark ages.
So maybe your best option for costume parties this year is our new speaker of the House? I certainly can’t think of anything scarier.