JACK SPENCER: Stay divided and risk everything
Polls show that a majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction in which the nation is heading, a trend that started long before most people had even heard of Barack Obama. This discontent is fed by the 24-7 news cycle which has produced a background noise of sensationalized propaganda that widens political divisions beyond the realm of what is substantive.
Liberals focus on businesses, corporations and other entities of accumulated wealth; seeing them as puppet masters, pulling the strings of those in government. Conservatives focus on overreaching government; viewing it as a conductor who calls the tunes to which we are all forced to dance.
While our outraged citizenry — incited by spin doctors on both sides — argues over which of these descriptions most accurately depicts what’s going on, the “government class” smirks, smiles and walks off with almost everything it desires.
Conservatives and liberals in the U.S. need to realize they have a common enemy, and that enemy is the government class. This class is comprised of more than those specifically pigeon-holed as being “in the government.” It includes tens of thousands of lobbyists, private and public sector special interest groups, corporations and businesses that possess government contracts or seek to obtain such contracts, and others too numerous to enumerate.
A peril of our present times is that divisions — many of which may be artificial — among “we the people,” consistently allow the government class to run amok.
When government spent billions of taxpayer dollars bailing out financial institutions in the wake of the housing market collapse of 2007-08 it made millions of conservative and liberal Americans furious. But any chance of forming a united stand against what was happening proved virtually impossible due to divergent perceptions of who the crisis should have been blamed on.
Liberals saw massive corporate banking and lending interests as the chief culprits. As they perceived things, these were greed-driven market exploiters that had discarded reality in exchange for short-term profits from hundreds of thousands of upside-down mortgage deals. During the housing market bubble, financial institutions displayed virtually no concern over defaulted mortgages because the homes could so easily be resold at increased prices.
Meanwhile, conservatives saw government as the real villain. After all, it had been officials and politicians in government who had proclaimed that “everyone” deserved to fulfill the American dream of owning a home whether they could afford to or not. When anyone tried to point out that giving loans to people who would never pay them back would lead to disaster, it had been the politicians and government officials who scoffed and accused them of nearly every form of bigotry.
What’s more, the government-created entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -both organized to expand the U.S. secondary market for mortgages — had spearheaded the mindless mortgage mess.
While liberals and conservatives busied themselves disputing where most of the blame should fall (with the government or with the private sector) the bailout drama played out. Some financial institutions collapsed, but those who had been at their helms scrambled to other lucrative jobs, executives of financial institutions that had been bailed out got huge pay increases, implicated politicians were reelected and the government officials involved simply underwent a reshuffling of their high-paid positions.
What conservatives and liberals failed to understand was that the debate over assigning blame for the financial disaster was no more than a distraction. It served the purposes of the government class and aided the worst offenders, in government and the private sector, in skating away virtually unscathed.
Liberals should be reminded that Thomas Jefferson was dead serious in proclaiming government to be a necessary “evil.” He did not say a necessary “inconvenience,” or a necessary “impediment;” he chose ‘evil;’ and in that context “enemy” is precisely the word that should be applied to the government class.
Meanwhile, conservatives need to start realizing that any entity – a corporation, financial institution, or industry that is considered “too big to fail” falls into virtually the same category as a government. The difference between being “too big to fail” and being a “necessary evil” is an almost undistinguishable distinction.
Liberals and conservatives seem to oppose each other on virtually everything; yet many of their disagreements are more superficial than is generally realized. Nothing has a greater tendency to unite than recognizing a common enemy.
Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.