Delusions at CPAC
Watching CPAC is never great fun for progressives. It wasn’t last year, when Rush Limbaugh made his now notorious call for President Obama to fail; and it wasn’t again this year, when Marco Rubio brought the conference to its feet with his denunciation of the direction of White House policy.
The Obama administration, he told delegates in his keynote address, “is using this downturn as cover, not to fix America but to try and change America, to fundamentally redefine the role of government in our lives….They are asking us to abandon the very things that separate us as a nation from the others…And so now, we must decide, do we want to continue to be exceptional, or do we want to be like everyone else? It is a clear choice between two very different futures.”
The future that Marco Rubio wants is one full of social mobility and entrepreneurial spirit: America as the “one place”, as he put it, “where the individual is more important than the state…. where people with a better idea and a strong work ethic can put rich people out of business in the competition of the marketplace.”
The future he does not want is one in which “a guardian class in government [forces] us to accept what is good for us” and turns America into “a submissive member of the international community.”
And the route to his preferred future lies – predictably, given the gathering – through cuts in taxation on incomes, corporations and capital gains, the removal of government energy mandates, the taking of government out of health insurance, and the re-establishment of tight control of the national debt. Apart from the latter, that is, a return to the policies of George W. Bush.
Oh that it was that simple. But it is not. Remember what eight years of tax cuts and lack of government mandates on business have left us with.
- Unemployment stuck officially at around 10%, and in reality for many sections of American society running at least twice that rate. (Currently the rate of unemployment among African-American men aged 16-24, for example, is a staggering 34.5%)
- Foreclosures and personal bankruptcies at record levels, with no immediate easing in sight. Currently 23% (10.7 million) households have negative equity, more than 7 million households are behind on mortgage payments or facing foreclosure (one in eight borrowers), and a further 2.4 million foreclosures are expected in 2010 among households already more than 90 days behind on their payments. Rates of personal bankruptcy were up 32% nationally in 2009 over 2008,
- Poverty back to levels not seen in a decade – 39.8 million Americans, 13.2% of the total, the highest level since 1997 – with one in eight Americans, and one in four children, using food stamps in 2009: 36 million Americans using federal funds to buy such basics as milk and bread. It wasn’t just the economy that grew in the Bush years. The number of poor Americans grew too: by at least 5 million between 2000 and 2008!
- Inequality now at 1920s levels, with at least two-thirds of the prosperity generated in the last trade cycle accruing as income to just the top 1% of US income earners. The diminished social mobility brought on by that inequality is currently giving the US a lower capacity to deliver the American Dream to its citizens than “socialist” Canada, Denmark or Finland can deliver to theirs! Only a third of modern Americans can anticipate doing better than their parents did; and the proportion is falling year on year. An American male born in the lowest income bracket currently has a 40 percent chance of staying there. The equivalent figure for “overly-regulated” Denmark is just 25%.
- Lack of health care cover for one American in seven – making us the only fully industrialized nation not to achieve universal health care cover, even though many of those countries (Germany, France and Switzerland to name but three) use insurance companies just as extensively as we do; and, additionally
- state budgets in free-fall, with large scale unemployment looming among essential public servants such as teachers, police officers and firefighters, as state governments struggle to square rising unfunded mandates with diminished income flows from personal and corporate taxation.
The Rubio route will keep us exceptional alright. He is correct to say that. It will keep us exceptionally divided by social class and ethnic origin. It will keep us with exceptionally low levels of individual social mobility. It will keep us exceptionally unable to provide health care for all our citizens; and it will leave us exceptionally exposed to libertarian delusions in high places. Across the entire industrialized world, governments of all political colors have realized the vital role that their spending currently plays as a counterweight to a financial crisis triggered by entrepreneurial excess. Across the entire industrialized world, governments of all political colors have realized that this is a time to strengthen the underlying welfare net, not to cut it back. Across the entire industrialized world, that is, except at CPAC.
The bigger danger here is that the Obama administration will not try hard enough to change America. We need more change, not less; and it is time to say so.
David Coates is the author of
Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments,
New York: Continuum Books, 2010.
Details are at http://answeringbackdavidcoates.blogspot.com
David Coates teaches political science at Wake Forest University.
He writes here in a personal capacity.
He can be contacted through Carol Cirulli Lanham at
David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments, New York: Continuum Books, 2010.
He writes here in a personal capacity.