Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sheep's clothing

As the old Vulcan proverb says, only Nixon could go to China. His reputation as a devoted Cold Warrior meant no one could plausibly accuse him of being soft on Communism for opening relations with China, whereas a dove who attempted it would have been.

I was put in mind o that by the recent $700 billion dollar bailout passed by Congress. The bailout had more support from Democrats than from Republicans. Barack Obama voted in favor of it, as did McCain. If the economic situation gets worse, the next president will be in a position to further expand the state's role in the economy, perhaps significantly so.

I wonder if Democrats felt more comfortable giving hundreds of billions of dollars away to banks precisely because of the public perception that Democrats are opposed to powerful business interests (something even many opponents of the Democrats believe.) Consider Obama himself: he's been accused of being an extreme liberal, a Marxist, a terrorist sympathizer, and a secret Muslim, but how often does anyone accuse him of being a tool of powerful business interests? To the overwhelming majority of the American people, the idea is too absurd to even entertain, even among people who hate Obama.

Thus, I wonder if a Democratic president and legislature might actually be more prone to being a tool of politically connected plutocrats than Republicans would be. To a great extent, legislation intended to aid particular economic interests can fly under the radar, because almost everyone (conservatives included) buys into the myth that interventionism is bad for big business. People might attack a proposed regulation for being innefectual or misguided, but the idea that regulation might be what the major players in the field being regulated want is quite foreign to most people. Nevertheless, being excessively blatant about it can still make people notice, as the public's anger over the bailout shows.

A Democratic government could probably push the envelope farther than the Republicans could- the widespread presumption that Democrats are hostile to the wealthy and powerful would mean that the Democrats would have to get really blatant about it before people started asking questions and catching on, whereas everyone expects the Republicans to be on the side of big business.

On the other hand, the false perception of McCain and the Republicans as devoted supporters of free markets- promoted by the dishonest and the ignorant on both sides of the political spectrum- would provide Republicans with cover as well. After all, if even the Republicans think that the government should intervene, you know something needs to be done!

I'm not sure which factor would be stronger in an economic crisis. I should note that the Democrats' image as enemies of plutocracy would probably make it easier for them to get away with passing genuine pro-market reforms- not that it would ever actually come up, of course.



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