One thing that strikes me from Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America is the way that James Buchanan and the Kochs and their cadre worked to cultivate in people a sense of political nihilism and self-interest in order to make their “stealth plan for America” more feasible. It came as a surprise to me that people have not always thought about politicians as self-interested actors but as civil servants, since, as a child of the Reagan Revolution, I was raised to think about government as something I should be suspicious of. The suspicion, MacLean makes clear, is not just of government’s capacity to work for public interest, but of the motives of those who work for public interest. MacLean documents how “public choice theory” as developed by James Buchanan encouraged people to think of politicians as self-interested where their interest is chiefly to be re-elected. The problem the “radical right” faced was how to achieve their tax-free dream when politicians, driven by their self-interested, supported efforts of historically powerless groups to achieve equality through government support and protection of labor, education, and the environment. By casting these groups as “special interests” and politicians as concerned with their own selfish ends, rather than the good of the community, Buchanan and the Kochs and their team were able to shift the views of the average American from the general respect of government and its capacities, and a general recognition that historical inequalities had to be put right, to seeing politicians as untrustworthy and those seeking rectification for wrongs as undemocratic leaches of the public purse.
This morning I read this in Brian Beutler’s latest piece at the New Republic:
“As someone who’s run for office five times, if the devil called me and said he wanted to set up a meeting to give me opposition research on my opponent,” Judge Jeanine Pirro, the maniacal Fox News host, said on Sunday. “I’d be on the first trolley to hell to get it. And any politician who tells you otherwise is a bald-faced liar.” She added that “there is no law that says a campaign cannot accept information from a foreign government.”
Pirro is referring to the meeting that Donald Trump, Jr. took with Russian nationals claiming to have information that would help his father win. One of them was a former spy. Beutler is making a case that our elections and politics require candidates to act above reproach so that not even an appearance of wrongdoing or interference can be seen in order to maintain the full faith and confidence of the American people in our election process. But Pirro makes the case that politics is just about self-interest, everyone knows it, and everyone who supposes they would act otherwise is lying to themselves.
In March, I wrote here about similar problems in the ways that people were talking about healthcare in this country–as if the various penalties and difficulties don’t matter if you don’t think you will ever be subject to them. But Pirro takes this notion even further and says, it isn’t blameworthy, it’s what anyone would do because we all know the point is to win. There is no room here for other possible motivators–say the pursuit of justice or the good. Read more
Over the last six weeks, I’ve been on the medical check-up tour. I visited my general practitioner’s office, my gynecologist, my eye doctor and my dermatologist. I’ve given my family medical history many times. In the last visit, at the dermatologist, I realized when I had to check none of the boxes they were concerned with, that family-wise, I was in pretty good health standing. On the contemporary view of American politics, this situation should make me shrug my shoulders at H.B. 1313, which passed out of committee late last week, which would allow employers to penalize employees who decline genetic testing. While such testing might lead to higher insurance rates for employees who have certain genetic dispositions for illness, people like me might have little reason to refuse such testing (except that it’s a gross invasion of privacy). Read more