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Why (those currently in charge of the) Republicans are evil.

This is related to what I believe is the Republican strategy to break any positive connection between citizens and government. The appointment of “Constitution in Exile” judges and the stripping of government of all revenues is part of the strategy. Even the horrendous Medicare prescription drug bill fits this strategy, in my theory, because in its arbitrariness, its cost, its “donut hole” where coverage is needed most, it will, when fully phased in, create only anger and frustration, not the positive associations that people have with a reliable, sensible insurance program like Medicare or Social Security. It is an “anti-entitlement,” the opposite of the guaranteed protections that entitlements can offer.

The positive theory that accounts will make people excited, entrepreneurial, wealth-accumulating owners, and thus Republicans, expresses one idea about human nature. The negative, anti-government theory embodies another: that people, unless desperate, will not rise up to demand what they don’t have and have never known. Here it’s useful to remember that Karl Rove’s historical parallel is the 36 years of Republican dominance from the McKinley election in 1996 to Hoover’s defeat. That was a brutal period in American economic life. Government offered nothing in the way of benefits for workers, minimal widows’ pensions, no aid for children, monetary policies that were cruel to farmers and regulatory laissez-faire that was cruel to workers. And yet, year in and year out, people took it, without question. It was the natural order of things. Only the greatest economic collapse in our history forced change. People generally don’t demand what they don’t have. When Social Security is gone, it will not come back, no matter how badly the accounts do. And people will not respond to its absence by becoming Democrats and demanding the restoration of an economic safety net for seniors. Rather, they will forget it ever existed and vote Republican, confirmed in their belief that government doesn’t do a damn thing for anyone.

Mark Schmitt, the Decembrist

It is one thing to be mindful of the power of government; to use it carefully, perhaps sparingly, but to use it, realizing there are certain things that enrich us all that only collective action can accomplish.

It’s another to reject the power of government as water from a poisoned well—to say that nothing or almost nothing we do collectively is ever worth the price we all must ultimately pay. (Whether one says so adamantly or ruefully is really a matter of personal style.)

But to take the levers of that power yourself and do what you can to twist them, distort them, to cheapen and coarsen the lives of the people around you, to deliberately make us all worse off so that more and more will abandon the idea of collective agency and the common good? To poison the well yourself, merely so we’ll someday say that you were right?

(And so you might cadge a greasy buck or two. Or two trillion.)

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