There is No Compromise with Conservatives

“So, the Heritage Foundation said let’s do an individual mandate because it keeps it (health care reform) within free enterprise. The alternative was single payer. And they didn’t want that, and I’m in sympathy with that. So now all of a sudden the free-market alternative becomes unconstitutional and terribly intrusive where a government imposition and government-run project would not be? I don’t get it. Well, I do get it. It’s politics” Liberal-conservative Charles Fried commenting on the the Randy Barnett-led conservative campaign, which aims to use the Supreme Court to kill Obamacare. 

Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, PPACA 2010) requires, on pain of fines, individual Americans to buy health insurance from private health insurance firms. Why conservatives hate it is because it is a progressive redistribution of wealth, and so an enlargement of power and freedoms. Further, millions of Americans cannot afford food or shelter, let alone buy expensive health insurance; so their insurance costs must be socialized. Conservative states and conservative business organizations filed lawsuits (and amicus brief), and the Supreme Court agreed to hear their arguments.

Say you want to get something done: Address the problem of the predatory, unregulated health care industry which is sapping the economic strength of responsible employers and the working class, causing crisis within the working class and foisting the costs of an unhealthy, traumatized populace upon the state, capital productivity, and society.

If you wanted to do something, you would have had to coordinate a massive protest + polity campaign, first to get a President who would and could appoint progressive judges to the Supreme Court, and then to press for universal  Medicare, with the state being a single buyer of services (to negotiate medical rents down). Given the judiciary is conservative, this is a long-term project at this point. There is no other road. If you wanted to get social reform accomplished, you cannot compromise with class warrior conservatives, because even though they own Congress, they own the judiciary more. Ideologically, Republicans and other class warrior conservatives will not tolerate the idea that any policy that strengthens the working class strengthens the capitalist class or economy.

Illustrated: the difference between Fried (a Reagan-era conservative = Democrat) and Barnett class-warrior conservatives is that the former agree that something had to be done about health care cost and access in the US–and something could be done that would benefit capital. Whereas the latter are “Let them eat cake” Malthusians. The Barnett class-warrior conservatives believe that the working class should be miserable, in crisis, and dead young (The elitist Supreme Court judges laughed merrily at the idea of working-poor families booted off health insurance.), and on principle no state should stand in the way of that proper “market”/god-given outcome. Following feudo-capitalist British tradition, as long as US military troops and mercenaries are competitive in imperial war, there is no need for class compromise or social amelioration in Malthusian conservatives’ view. Might makes right.

And when I’m finally old enough to learn to play the game, 
Oh the dinosaurs will roam the earth, and resume their bloody reign. 

Political Problem: The Supreme Court is a Fundamental Enemy of Democracy

Robin plumbs another depth to conservative strategy: The reason why the Supreme Court agreed to hear this challenge to Obamacare as a matter of constitutional law is because that conservative court has been using the Constitution’s commerce clause to work toward constructing the class-warrior legal interpretation: broadly, the interpretation that the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to create working class-supportive social institutions (eg. Medicare, food assistance, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.). This conservative constitutional interpretation would illegalize all institutions of the welfare state, making the US a night watchman state.

Doug Henwood and Daniel Lazare argue that with one exception-that-proves-the-rule (post-FDR) period, history has shown that the Supreme Court is hopelessly anti-democratic. Robin explains the  elitist Supreme Court problem for democrats: The commerce clause hasn’t always been an obstacle to progressive social change. Iff you had a social movement in place, and iff you ALSO had a president who was able to appoint Supreme Court justices who wouldn’t strike down all progressive legislation, the commerce clause could be turned to freedoms expansion.

So after Roosevelt’s liberal judicial appointments, and with social movement pressure, for a couple decades justices used the commerce clause to authorize Social Security, the Wagner Act, the Civil Rights Act, and more. But  social movement is not enough. There were social movements in the US for many decades that managed to pass legislation, and it all got struck down by the Supreme Court.

Unless you struggle to abolish the Supreme Court or pass an amendment that radically restricts its authority, it’s going to wield that authority and strike down freedoms-expanding legislation.

The only temporary alternative is if a social movement can over time both advance a President who will appoint new progressive judges and maintain the disruption and pressure needed to advance progressive, freedoms-expanding legal interpretation.

Liberalism or Racism?

On the feeble accusation that Obama’s (the Dems’) much-abused base is unsupportive of his capitalist policies because the Democratic base is racist, in “Why Liberals Are Lame” (Naked Capitalism):


Choice cuts:


If anything, the fact that it took his diehards this long to figure out the Obama bait and switch is a proof of white liberal guilt, not bias…It took most people far too long to get that Obama was a phony because the presumption that a black man would be sympathetic to the fate of the downtrodden is a deeply embedded but never voiced prejudice (and this bias is exploited successfully by the right in depicting Obama as a socialist). “


“So (in a two-party system, the Dem Party’s) desperate need to maintain its increasingly phony ‘be nice to the rainbow coalition’ branding places a huge premium on appearances. It thus uses identity politics as a cover for policy betrayals. It can motivate various groups on narrow, specific issues, opening the way for the moneyed faction to get what it wants.”


“(T)raditional iconic symbols of liberalism – secular urban elitism, blackness, technocratic skill, micro-issue identity based political organizing groups – have been fully subverted in the service of banking interests. Obama is the ultimate, but not the only, piece of evidence that these symbols are now used simply to con the Democratic base out of their support and money. 


…The task of moving forward will require …(t)hose engaged in that effort … to become skilled in dealing with these liberal McCarthyite identity smears.”







Besides the rampant (not just by Dems), corrupt deployment of identity politics as cover for policy betrayal, the thing to bemoan is our hapless longing for a big daddy magical redeemer who will deliver us from intra-systemic conflict, and the capitalist politician’s opportunistic willingness to drape himself in the robes of the Great Populist-Black Hope to tap that longing. 


Obama is a lawyer; that is, he is specially trained to defend capitalist property.


In Black Obama’s defense: Despite the fun populist speeches that get penned from time to time, there has never been a national political regime in the United States that has had the power, the vision, and the autonomy to adequately oppose capitalists to defend the economy.


Roosevelt made the political class look strong when foreign war + communist threat semi-disciplined the capitalist class and rescued the economy. But because in capitalism, capitalists always hold the political reins, Roosevelt’s policy reforms were forged too weak to endure capitalist restoration. In contrast to Keynes’ proposals, the Roosevelt regime’s semi-disciplining policies were never strong nor built to last. They were just designed to rescue the economy so that American finance-and-military capitalists could dominate. 


Upperclass concessions could restore the economy; but it is capitalism, so once the economy is restored, the upperclass will have more power than ever to jettison the class concessions. At the consequent economic (just post-) apex, Nixon’s conservative regime then followed up with a full capital-appeasement strategy (progressively augmented by Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama) with a 30-year economic lifespan ending in a capitalist economic supernova. 


Unalloyed capitalist incentives, social stratification and culture geared to wealth appropriation by any means necessary cannot produce a healthy, sustained economy except under exceptional, temporary circumstances. Late 20th century American political leaders took advantage of those rare circumstances. Now they are over and done, and they will not be back for a long time, and not without global working class insurrection.
Now politicians and technocrats can do nothing but support economic collapse, because the fundamental capitalist interest–wealth appropriation (Not investment, which is simply one wealth appropriation strategy, along with the various forms of primitive accumulation (If you’ve got sufficient social power, hedge betting on the stock market and then having the state force the public to pay your losses+ is one famous form of PrimAcc.))–is not aligned with economic health, and there is no organized global political opposition–that is, there is no global socialism. There will be continuing economic collapse.


No overblown military-financial complex, and no liberal, and no conservative can deliver us from due economic collapse under the wealth-appropriating crush of the military-financial complex, and all politicians who must labor under the capitalist yoke are de facto liberal-conservatives. 


Without socialism (and unlike the iconoclast elite Keynes), no one in polite society today can intellectually or psychologically consider a critical, non-conservative political-economic analysis of Western economies. That’s why Rastani’s perspective was such a public scandal (It took a few minutes for the chattering classes to declare him not a member of polite society, and so irrelevant). That’s why we’re stuck with zombie economics, and why there will be no semi-bold policy innovations that could combine with fortuitous external events to restore the economy. That’s why China can play the West, but itself is hogtied by the arc of capitalism’s entropic appropriation of the environment.


The creative human labor (mental + physical) of everyone in an economy is the ultimate source of the economy in human societies. There are radical implications to this. Because they encompass both wealth appropriation and social legitimacy, capitalists are never disposed to let the radical implications see the light of day. This is a profoundly non-trivial, endemic problem that collective human agency is abjectly failing.

Social Compact Failure

As Rousseau theorized in 1762, the social contract would automatically facilitate “legitimate and reliable rule”…unless humans somehow developed social tendencies, like organizing (and being organized) into groups. Then the whole social compact thing, and the general will just wouldn’t work.

In a twist of fate, it turned out after all that humans were social. Who knew?
So in order to redesign, fight for, and build a form of governance that wouldn’t devolve into tyranny–as both rule by force and the social compact (in the context of human sociability) do, you would have to take into account the human social tendency. I think we can do that, and I don’t believe history has ended. Even proportional representation is an adaptive institutional start.
But first, let us look at some recent examples of how the general will fails to translate into policy, given the absence of institutionalized processes that can offset the reasonable and natural human tendency to combine:
Three policies supported by the public (general will), but feared by politicians, regarding 1) energy & pollution, 2) tax cuts, and 3) money-in-politics.