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Miles Jaffe Headshot

The Republican Heist

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I, like millions of others, watched the eight years of GWB government, appalled by its errant policies, incompetence and greed, but, I confess, I entirely misunderstood the plot. This was not the gang that couldn't shoot straight; this was the most highly competent group of bank robbers since the Lavender Hill Mob.

They not only robbed the bank. They changed the bank so that even under new management, it would not detect future heists. Moreover, the bank would not have the ability to redesign its security, nor to undo changes that make future heists themselves a part of the bank's business itself.

The Bush Administration succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. While leaving the opposition in control, it created "favorable" economic and political circumstances that even its most clever architect, Karl Rove, could not have intended.

I, of course, am aware of the "starve the beast" theory that holds that Republicans have run up huge deficits intentionally to make "Liberal" domestic programs "irresponsible." This is only a tiny fraction of the scheme.

I owed this revelation to Thomas Frank and the publication of his recent book: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. The mass firing of federal prosecutors, the placement of industry insiders in post that regulate those industries, "the pallets of shrink-wrapped cash 'misplaced' in Iraq," the outsourcing of traditional government work to private contractors and the broad practice of awarding contracts without bids, are the products not of incompetence but of deliberate, core conservative policies. This was not the "flood of mismanagement as part of a culture of corruption" as Democrats might have it, nor was it the product of a "few bad apples," as Republicans might suggest.

"This spectacular episode of misrule has coincided with both the political triumph of conservatism and the rise of the Washington area to the richest rank of American metropolises."

The Bush Administration not only rewarded its buddies with policies favoring oil, with no-bid contracts to its friends: it created a fiscal situation that makes private outsourcing a necessity in the future. The bank is open for business and the large corporations will be first in line using their strong elbows to prevent major competition.

As almost a sidelight, Frank points to ironic aspect of the scheme: not only have the conservatives devised ways to reward their corporate supporters. They have developed a political process in which the participants (talking heads, news outlets, lobbyists) themselves become rich. Conservatives, formally bored by or indifferent to politics and to life in Washington, can now participate as entrepreneurs! Politics has become like oil: a fecund soil for profitable businesses. (See Fox News) Thus conservatives are drawn to Washington to influence government while in and out of power, making Washington, as Frank notes above, America's richest city.

Frank concludes: "The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action."

Even the Iraq war has done yeoman service in keeping the bank open for future corporate plundering and government incapacity. It has increased the power and importance of the military but more importantly, right out of Orwellian fantasy, it has created conditions for the "Long War" to which Republicans are so devoted. It has established in practice the Orwellian ideal of a war that has no ending and can never be evaluated. And who benefits from an endless war? And what institution is crippled by its continuance?

Then one might talk about the closure rules in the United States Senate where we now have learned that states with 11 percent of the population can control 41 votes to prevent any significant policy change.

And perhaps the final nail, the ultimate product of the Bush Administration: The Supreme Court five member majority in last week's ruling in Citizens United has invalidated restrictions on corporate political speech. The Chief Justice has given up all claims to taking a narrow approach to matters coming before the court. Under his leadership, the Court has stretched its reach to throw out 100 years -- if not 200 years-- of distinguishing between human and corporate political speech. Even Karl Rove did not dream of this, I presume.

So the conservatives have taken the money and left the bank, leaving the bank both destitute and encumbered with endless, unchangeable obligations. And upon looking back at the bank, these same conservatives are venting their feigned anger at the inability of new management to rebuild the structure, not even acknowledging their role in its incapacity. And the final irony: the other bank customers are angry at new management and apparently oblivious to the existence of a heist. Some of us might ask, with reference to Frank's earlier book, What's the Matter with Kansas, what's the matter with America?