11
Oct
08

Grover’s Bathtub

(Above: Reaganite guru Grover Norquist dries off his hands)

As three decades of conservative misrule and libertarian/Republican free-market fundamentalism in Washington finally surfaces in the form of global financial meltdown, the American voting pubic is moving the presidential election into territory beyond what Floridian vote fraud can deliver.  Left holding the pro-business bag on the campaign trail are John McCain and his illiterate running mate, a woman now destined not for Dick Cheney’s secret bunker but back to Alaska to answer to charges of gubernatorial abuse of power.  The ticket’s foibles aside, unambiguous events in world finance are what will ultimately bar the Straight Talk Express from puling up the the White House.  The tens of millions of very grim 401(k) statements arriving in the mail across the country are doing more than Barack Obama or his campaign manager David Axelrod could ever do to blow this one wide open.

A windfall for one presidential candidate to be sure, but the Washington he will inherit is not one competent to govern.  This is because the aforementioned three decades were not merely the heyday of business interests at the expense of the pubic, they were the years that regulatory government itself was systematically destroyed by those business interests.  Attacked in policy.  Derided in rhetoric.  Pushed back again and again by deregulatory legislation paid for by those once regulated.  Handed, department by department, to leadership openly hostile to the public interest.  And finally outsourced wholesale in a bacchanal of privatization that has left the country unable to respond to hurricanes in timeframes shorter than years.

The same economic tsunami that is sweeping away McCain can be traced to the splashing of his party’s’ own most esteemed guru of the past thirty years.  Grover Norquist, the indescribably influential conservative lobbyist, titan of deregulation, radical libertarian and a thirty-year committed enemy of the public interest said it best when he quipped:

I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

Splish, splash. SEC regulation of credit markets?  Drown it in the bathtub. Bank regulations devised in the 1930s in the wake of the last depression?  Drown them in the bathtub.  Transparency on Wall Street?   Prudent oversight of over-the-counter trading?  Fines or sanctions against predatory lenders?    Budgets for federal supervision of the private market in mortgages?  All into the same very crowded bathtub over at least the last eight years.  And all absent when we needed them most – to check the runaway greed that free-market capitalism naturally takes to catastrophic extremes when unsupervised.

For so long has the government’s legitemate role in public interest been held under in Mr. Norquist’s tub that it will take a generation to extricate itself from the chokehold of his now plainly discredited philosophy.  Shaking off the Norquists, Reeds, Krisotls and Bolicks is of course only the beginning.  The more important step is reacquiring the proper role of legal and regulatory authority on behalf of the public.  This must be done in a Washington that has spent thirty years indulging in an individually profitable philosophy that what is good for business is what is good for the public, and never the other way around. “Size” of government must no longer solely be discussed in terms of how many dollars go into it, but in terms of what the public gets out of it — and what the private contractors may no longer run away with. The struggle to reverse course will be long and it will be ugly, but the return to a balance between public and private interest is as inevitable as it was in 1933 when the Norquists of that bygone era were banished to the margins of a society hobbled by the global economic disaster they wrought.

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