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More Elitist Snob Advice: Make the Blue Beast Work for the People

Walter Russell Mead hits the problem squarely on the head:

Back before the global warming mess blew up, I wrote a post about the breakup of the ‘blue social model‘. Not to regurgitate the whole post, but the mid-twentieth century saw the US (like most advanced countries at the time) develop an economic and political system based on large and stable entities in the public, private and mixed sectors of the economy.

The private sector was dominated by large, regulated and mostly unionised oligopolies and monopolies like the Big Three auto makers and the AT&T telephone monopoly. Government had a large and growing civil service protected cadre of professionals and bureaucrats and provided ever-increasing public services. The public schools and the universities were also built on the blue model: they provided lifetime employment to those who worked for them and were expected to provide more and better services each year. College education was expected to become more and more affordable for more and more people, with government subsidies making up the difference. Politics was a process of negotiation between large, organized interest groups: the Big Three auto makers and the UAW hammered out the division of the industry’s revenues at the bargaining table, but also negotiated through the political process to enhance the position of the industry as a whole and to shape government policy to the marginal benefit of either the unions or the companies…

The breakdown of the blue model is the core problem of American society today and the key to the troubles of the Democratic party. Blue states really are blue; the ‘progressive imagination’ remains staunchly blue, and blue model interest groups like public school teachers, government employees, the remnants of the private union movement and the much healthier labour movement among public employees shape and mostly fund what Howard Dean famously called ‘the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.’

There’s no doubt that the “blue model” was popular, even in “Red state” regions like the South.  (Just look around at institutions like TVA and all of the Corps of Engineers lakes for starters.)  The core problem with the “blue beast” once you get past issues like basic societal change is that the “keepers of the beast” aren’t what they used to be.

As I’ve said over and over again, the “blue beast” is basically a patronage scheme.  Franklin Roosevelt and his colleagues understood that, to be enduring and popular, the beast had to benefit a broad number of people.  He had the advantage of a populace that was cheaper to buy off than it is now, but his plan worked.  The keepers of the beast were also, in general, closer to the people then they are now, so they were more responsive to the people’s desires.

Today the keepers see the patronage scheme primarily as the direct beneficiaries: the public sector trade unions, the rest of the bureaucracy and all of the other paid hangers-on, which include the various “special” groups of the population which have come to depend on the government for either their financial well being, their legitimacy or both.  They talk about public service and benefit but their focus is themselves, which means that everyone else gets the short shrift.  They are led by elitist snobs (including the First Elitist Snob himself) who, by education and social association, are out of touch with most of American society.  They are too sophisticated to make that connection and yet too provincial to get past hoary American ideas such as bipartisanship and begin their European-style method of governing by the way they pass legislation.

The result, right at the moment, is the Tea Party.

One of Geraldo Rivera’s great remarks during the early stages of the Afghan war was that you couldn’t buy the loyalty of the Afghans, but you could rent it.  (Subsequent history there has proven him correct.)  Given the large Scots-Irish element in the Tea Party, that could apply to this movement as well, as it has in the past.  A permanent buy-off is too much to expect but, as long as a rental or lease can be kept up, the keepers of the beast could be in the driver’s seat for a long time to come.

But the current keepers of the beast aren’t up to putting together a lease agreement with the American people.  Until they bring themselves to that point–and current trends don’t bode well for that happening–we’re going to have problems, especially since the government’s ability to dispense patronage diminishes as its debt increases and dollar hegemony recedes.


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