Karl Marx once commented that voters’ choices in a democracy constituted little more than deciding which bourgeois party would oppress them the most. The old misanthrope’s views on such matters are usually worth ignoring, but he had a point with regard to American elections since the New Deal, because our two- and four-year rituals in choosing officeholders have affected only the rate that progressive-socialist policies have been enacted, and little more (except in foreign policy, which is a different matter).
Thus, during Democratic administrations, such as those of Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama, federal government expansion speeds up; during Republican administrations, like that of Ronald Reagan, the rate of growth slows a bit. But trend lines remain the same, until finally the progressive dream of rendering elections irrelevant becomes a reality. Of course, political theatre will continue—the hoopla, marches, banners, balloons, and puerile advertisements—but none of it will matter. Indeed, elections already have about as much relevance to domestic policy as the two-minute hate in Orwell’s “1984,” in that they siphon off some of the mass’s rage without having any effect on changing the social or political system in the direction that voters want.
This means that all the progressives have to do is to remain patient for a few years. They can snub their noses at those periodic voter rants that are ostensibly about “sending a message to Washington,” to a cast of characters who issue commands but hear nothing and care only about their own jobs. Thus a Republican victory in November 2010 means that the progressive agenda is postponed a short time, perhaps giving American business a small window of opportunity to recover from two years of assaults against free enterprise by the federal government. The economy may recover enough for President Obama to take credit, enabling him to win a second term in 2012, possibly with new majorities in Congress. Then round two begins, with additional huge increases in the size and scope of the federal government, all supported by increased income taxes and a new Value Added Tax to stave off national bankruptcy.
So, the progressive establishment loses a battle—the 2010 election—but wins the war, which is ownership of a gargantuan central government that hovers over a defeated and dispirited population.
For their opponents, the sequence is win-lose, and for America and the world it’s the extinguishing of the last best hope on earth. American exceptionalism dies, and the country becomes just another senescent welfare state in decline, only bigger.
An apocalyptic scenario for many Americans, to be sure, but one that is based on political realities that many adherents to constitutional government need to learn. For instance, political scientists often refer to an “iron triangle,” which consists of a public agency, a private interest group, and a congressional subcommittee. The American social and political system is a colossal version of this, embracing government, media, and academia, a combination that is virtually impervious to change—absent, that is, a political revolution that replaces 90 percent of Congress instead of the paltry five or ten percent turnover that usually takes place. Then the transformation would have to be huge, not marginal, involving, for starters, a reduction of the federal establishment at the same rate of its explosive expansion over the past decade—in trillion-dollar hunks.
Resistance would be massive and vicious, employing the panoply of public-sector unions and the enviro-IRS regulatory complex, which are to the progressives what the Communist Party and KGB were to the Soviet leadership, and used for similar purposes—mobilization and intimidation. Media and academia would do their part, accusing progressives’ opponents of being heartless, radical, and mentally deranged. And likely this establishment would win, because of its superior organizational skills and virtual monopoly of power at the heights of the American social and political system.
Of course, there’s always another election in the offing for the country’s disenchanted subjects who still wish to “send a message to Washington.” Two-minute hate, anyone?