Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

No Way to Run an Empire

"Caligula had to appoint that horse. Here they are nominated by acclamation." - Roy Edroso

(This post was originally part of "American Political Insanity Explained," but I thought it might be better as a separate piece. So. Ahem.)

While it's not a surprise that there are evil bastards in the world, and that plenty of people in power are selfish and/or flat-out idiotic, I'll admit to being surprised at the ruling class' almost total lack of concern for basic competence. Is this any way for the business class to run a business? Don't the neocons have any interest in being competent imperialists? Where's the basic self-respect from our would-be Machiavellis and Neros?

While "enlightened self-interest," which generally points toward more liberal policies, might be too much to expect from an entrenched establishment, I at least thought that "savvy, evil self-interest" might win the day. When you're in the top 10%, or especially the top 1% (or 0.1%) of the population in the richest country on Earth – and you will remain so, even under extremely progressive policies – giving a slightly larger sliver of that wealth back to the country is smarter than becoming more greedy. One, it's revolution insurance (as Digby's called it), and two, as Paul Krugman and others have shown, the economy as a whole will do better, and this could easily make you, an evil rich bastard, even more money, which is in your view the goal - nay - the very pinnacle of human achievement. Alas, our evil rich bastards are letting their country down. They would rather fight for the best staterooms on the Titanic (and burn all the lifeboats reserved for the unwashed lower orders).

While the Democratic Party certainly has its problems (especially the Blue Dogs and the Larry Summers crowd), the current Republican dogma is incoherent and completely unworkable for actually running a country. The Bush years showed this, painfully. It's one thing to be a ruthless scumbag, but to be so reckless about everything is stunning. Over the past few decades, several conservatives have proudly adopted the nickname "the Prince of Darkness," (or something similar) yet none has been an evil genius – just evil. (Bush was more the Inspector Clouseau of evil.) No one's ever really doubted that Dick Cheney is a nasty asshole, but his fans mistakenly thought that he'd be their asshole, and that his nastiness would translate into tough, effective foreign policy and basic competence. Instead, even the would-be emperors seem more driven by psychological need than any steely-eyed realism.

The Emperor has no clothes, but in the Beltway, saying so means one isn't "serious." The Mayberry Machiavellis of the Bush White House thought policy was irrelevant and only public relations mattered, but driving all of this was the staggering hubris that they could not be wrong, could not fail, and could re-shape existence itself, unlike the reality-based community. They have plenty of company today in both politics and the press. Call this approach what you will: the fantasy-based community, inept McCarthyism, Tinkerbell thinking, the Green Lantern Theory, or perhaps the foam finger brigade. What's essential to them is to yell that America is the bestest country ever – and shout down anyone treasonous enough to actually work to make it so. It's hard to deal with a crowd that puts almost all their energy into tribal rituals affirming their inherent superiority and attacking those too "uncivil" to play along. Granted, not everyone actually bought into that revolution against the British Empire, or the whole principles of American democracy. Still - this is no way to run an empire.


The Minstrel Boy said...

oddly enough, i've just begun reading edward luttwak's "the grand strategy of the byzantine empire," about the single most successful empire in world history. the byzantines lasted almost twice as long as rome. they were not favored by geography or most of the other things that work to create empire.

they had a superb military, always equipped with the latest technologies, yet, they were not militaristic. they preferred to negotiate, or even buy, their way out of conflicts.

mercantile empires almost never last long. as we are about to learn harshly, corporations have no soul, certainly no conscience.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

The right-wing is basically like a crazed boyfriend who murders his girlfriend in a jealous rage because she doesn't want to go out with him anymore. They would rather the country be literally destroyed than prosper under non-right-wing rule. As you say, this goes far beyond evil self-interest and fully into satisfaction of some sort of sick pathological emotional need for domination.

Tony said...

Many of the architects from the previous administration cashed in ASAP. Only Cheney is out there still beating the rug about "the ideology". Some, such as McClellan, Powell, and others, have sought forgiveness.

Now, career pols-- Bayh is the latest-- who enabled many of these idiotic policies are "retiring"... probably hoping it's not too,late to squeeze a few nickels out of a lobbying gig before the hammer comes down.

Class warfare, indeed: http://kalamazoopost.blogspot.com/2010/02/class-struggle-closer-every-day.html