Have you ever wondered what a tea party-ish plan -- if I may use that noun in relation to a brutal ideology of nihilistic anarchy -- for W.'s Depression would have looked like? In an interviewwith Hayekian serf Ron Paul, The Atlantic's Joshua Green satisfies our wonder:
"You would not increase spending, you would not increase taxes, you would not bail out anybody," said the Texas congressman. "You would have bankruptcy, liquidation of debt, and [you’d] wipe the books clean so everybody can go back to work."
Simple as that.
And therein lies the appeal to a growing number of dazed American voters, as well as an elongated branch of the tea party's genealogy. As Barry Goldwater preached in his 1964 presidential run, which previewed the libertarian message from the coming New Right: "The big trouble with the so-called liberal today is that he doesn't understand simplicity"; that is, liberalism won't accept that there are indeed simple answers to complex problems. (When Goldwater first uttered this on the campaign trail, the NY Times' Tom Wicker opined that he spoke as a "child" would.)
Green -- gently dancing around Paul's hands-off voodoo -- does his level-headed best to point out the most recent, sadly complex Keynesian record: "Most experts" -- did you hear the soft throat-clearing? -- "think the government’s intervention [of 'deficit-funded fiscal stimulus, bailouts, and a broad easing of credit'] was, technically speaking, successful (although probably too small). A recent study by the economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi concluded that it likely prevented a depression and saved 8.5 million jobs. A Congressional Budget Office study reached a similar conclusion. In other words, the intervention validated Keynes."
That of course is the real world. "But lingering high unemployment and economic weakness," notes Green, "along with the relentless Republican effort to undermine Obama, have led most people to conclude the opposite, that Keynesian intervention failed.... Tea Party outrage appears to have ended the Keynesian consensus that had obtained since the Great Depression."
Yet there's another, far deeper consensus that "tea party outrage" seems to have ended: our once general agreement that facts matter.
This national pathology of denial has been long in the making, though; tea partyers and their ideological spokesmen such as Ron Paul have but yet again capitalized on it. In rebuffing OMB Director David Stockman's warning that he couldn't cut taxes, increase defense spending and balance the budget, Reagan had absorbed Goldwater's exhortations to shun complexity. Well, let's just see how it goes, Reagan, almost word for word, instructed Stockman. The nation cheered. Reagan then ignored the factual outcome -- those predicted, massive deficits -- of wishful, ideological economics. From there we ultimately traveled to Dick Cheney's defensive rumination that "Deficits don't matter." The nation cheered again.
In a way, deficits didn't matter -- not, that is, during his boss' reign. W., Dick & Co. simply dumped them on the succeeding administration. And now the dumpers at large are lecturing the dumpees in office on the apocalyptic evils of those deficits that didn't matter then, but could actually benefit us now.
For decades we've been entombed in the Goldwater-Reagan-Bush-Paul-Tea Party's upside-down bubble of blind ideology, in which complexity is foe and facts are nuisance. Just "wipe the books clean so everybody can go back to work," urges Paul. Simple as that.
President Obama's greatest challenge over the next two years? To somehow simply reintroduce the American electorate to the complexities we face. And God knows he should have plenty of time to do just that. Except for taking a moment now and then to veto some monumentally inane piece of legislation passed by the incoming Keystone Cops of Congress, he'll have the bully pulpit from which to educate -- and it seems he now appreciates just how badly that pulpit is needed.