Drowning in the Bathtub

I confess I’ve been more than a little surprised recently to see the ripples of shock and alarm spreading through liberal circles in the US recently. Having won an historic election, progressives somehow find it unimaginable that the Republican leopard hasn’t changed his spots.

How dare Karl Rove have the temerity to open his mouth? How dare the Rush Corps pray for failure? Can’t they see we’ve won?

The Left has won, that much is true. But all it’s won is an election, nothing more. This is not the end of the fight. Though they’ve suffered an electoral rout, many Republicans feel they are still on decent ground, and have every reason in the world to feel there’s no great need to change tactics.

For these people, a failed stimulus and subsequent economic disaster is the stuff of dreams. It’s what they’ve been working toward for decades.

In the liberal/conservative ideological conflict that’s gripped the US since the days of Goldwater and Buckley, the Rand-inspired libertarian ‘small government’ movement is arguably the most important axis on the right.

Have we already forgotten Grover Norquist’s desire to cut government down to a size where he could “drown it in the bathtub“? Have we forgotten how Ayn Rand described the comeuppance of government in Atlas Shrugged?

The dream of small government – not just unwilling but incapable of interfering with business – is realised when government becomes so indebted that it’s unable to act.

With trillions of dollars in liabilities piling up on its doorstep and spending still out of control, the water is rising fast.

The last election was a setback for the Right. One of America’s enduring virtues is its ability to find great people in moments of great distress. It’s hard to imagine anyone more able to combat the present economic crisis that Barack Obama. But that doesn’t change the fact that, whether he succeeds or not, he’s facing a dire outcome. Even if he manages to wring concessions out of the more timid Republicans, even if he helps moderate Democrats grow a backbone, even if the stimulus succeeds, he – and the nation – are still in deep water.

President Obama’s efforts are entirely defensive. The best he can do is cede as little ground as possible, retrench and build from there.

From the far Right perspective, it makes all the sense in the world to keep the same tactical stance. If they can keep grinding things out for just a few more months, they will see one of their main goals fulfilled.

Sure, that comes at a cost. But remember, these people live in a world of Social Darwinism with markets red in tooth and claw. They’ve gathered enough wealth that the strong most assuredly will survive. The devil take the hindmost. This was never about them anyway.

The war isn’t over, folks. The Left is not advancing on a metaphorical Berlin. Cheney is not cornered in his bunker. If we learn no other lesson from TARP, we must recognise this: If the economy breaks in some fundamental (sic) way, the people who broke it will be the ones who suffer least.

I don’t have any suggestions; I’m not going to prescribe. But I will say this: Quit acting so surprised when you see unanimous Republican votes against the President’s initiatives. Though they’re weakened in Congress, they’re still very close to one of their most treasured goals.

All that Democrats can do now is make sure that this Republican campaign becomes a retreat from Moscow.