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Today’s reading: “Let Them Eat Dogma”

21 March 2010

This excerpt is just an hors’ dourves.  I recommend reading the article in full, a valuable perspective on today’s events:  “Let Them Eat Dogma“, Chris Lehmann, The Baffler, 25 January 2010 — Excerpt:

Not so long ago, the lead theorists of America’s conservative revolution hymned it as a thing of unparalleled vitality and intellectual rigor. The Republicans ruled the policy world as “the party of ideas,” President George W. Bush famously pronounced, and all sorts of his erstwhile enthusiasts on the right, from tax-cutting think tank impresario Grover Norquist to Weekly Standard Warmonger-in-Chief William Kristol, lustily seconded the notion.

But then a funny thing happened: The conservative utopia of shrinking government, financial deregulation and upward income distribution became a hulking disaster. Major investment banks teetered on the brink of oblivion in the catastrophic Panic of 2008; pension funds spiraled into free-fall; the auto industry went on federal life support; and home foreclosure after home foreclosure has rendered many onetime boomtowns virtual diorama showcases for the wreckage bequeathed by alchemical works of market triumphalism, such as credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and the efficient market hypothesis.

And just like that, the idea-intoxicated American right vanished. As the federal government stirred out of its decades-long regulatory slumber and started to meet the financial calamity with urgently needed deficit spending, conservatives of the Gingrich vintage, who had long advertised their fealty to the high-tech, low-tax future, morphed seemingly overnight into the intellectual equivalent of historical re-enactors. Much as the Mormon faithful trek annually to the upstate New York festival in Palmyra to see their faith’s creation myth in a lavishly produced pageant, so have the conservative faithful repaired en masse back to the musty site of their modern genesis, the 1930s New Deal.

But this pageant of faith is a disorienting spectacle indeed. Instead of reckoning with a starkly transformed global economy, or the crucial ways in which their core precepts have been rudely upended, conservative thinkers are reviving 70-odd-year-old talking points from the Liberty League — the network of rock-ribbed Roosevelt haters who clustered in corporate boardrooms and Chamber of Commerce lobbies during the Thirties — thereby, one supposes, to finish the job their ancestors started: discrediting the New Deal and its legacy once and for all.

… “Socialism” is now the liberal thought crime du jour, supplanting the anemic Nineties scourges of “political correctness,” tree-hugging and the like.

Consider the case of Jim DeMint, a U.S. senator from South Carolina, who has denounced President Obama as “the world’s greatest salesman of socialism”—and in the promotional rounds for his jeremiad Saving Freedom (subtitled—yes—“We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism”), this free market solon also suggested that counter-cyclical deficit spending was putting America “about where Germany was before World War II when they became a social democracy.”

… This, of course, is more than just chronological addlement. New Deal denialism, much like creationism, entails blotting out whole swaths of contradictory evidence — not merely the bulk of FDR’s contemporaneous record, but also the decades of growth and comparative stability that succeeded it. To get laissez-faire completely off the hook, however, the true New Deal denialist must go further, must strive to remake Roosevelt’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, into a mad, wage-inflating social planner.

No thesis this woolly can gain much of footing without a semi-respectable parentage, and most of the denialists’ big ideas come courtesy of Bloomberg columnist Amity Shlaes’ bestselling revisionist chronicle of the New Deal, The Forgotten Man. The 2007 book has launched an entire industry of New Deal denialism on the right … Shlaes remains the center of the New Deal denialist movement, and The Forgotten Man, for all its overt intellectual folly, bears close investigation, in the same way that None Dare Call It Treason is essential reading for chroniclers of postwar paranoia.

In its main outline, The Forgotten Man tells a very old story, a litany of complaint unaltered since Roosevelt’s heyday. …

Notes

President Bush Jr. was the both a big spender and big regulator — despite Republican disinformation — see “Bush’s Regulatory Kiss-Off“, Veronique de Rugy, Reason magazine, January 2009.

For more about conservatives’ attempts to revise the history of the Great Depression — and esp Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, see An important and politically significant guide to the Great Depression.

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Afterword

Please email me if you have a correction to this post.  Or email me if you wish to make a comment and either have expertise in this field or are mentioned in this post. Send messages to fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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