Sunday, January 08, 2006

Brezhnev Republicans

The metastasizing Jack Abramoff scandal exposes the Republican Party as a centralized cabal of apparatchiks and commissars. They are a monolithic greed factory oozing with corruption and contempt for public service. Once upon a time Republicans were guided by firm ideological convictions: reduce the size of government, strengthen national defense, and develop a culture of personal responsibility. Those convictions are now mere slogans designed to preserve the party’s brand label and maintain power. They have about as much meaning as the Communist Party’s rhetoric of being a “workers party” did under Leonid Brezhnev. Indeed the purpose of today’s Republican Party is the exploitation of power for privilege and enrichment by those who are sufficiently networked into the machine.

To achieve this perfect nexis of money and power Republicans exploit the symbols and rhetoric of patriotism and values. The hard working laborer in Arkansas truly believes he’s supporting a party that represents his values of hard work, God, and patriotism. In reality he and others like him are empowering an indecent enterprise that wages ruthless class warfare on behalf of mega corporations who profit at his expense. He’s told that supporting corporate power means jobs and growth. Instead his job is either downsized or he’s asked to work longer for less. Furthermore, the super rich who finance the “values” propaganda campaigns are frequently enjoying a hedonistic and decadent life style.

The resemblance between the Republican Party under George W. Bush and the USSR’s Communist Party during the Leonid Brezhnev era is instructive. Brezhnev followed the tumultuous eras of Joseph Stalin and Nikita Kruschev. Stalin made the Communist Party elite uncomfortable because he had a chronic habit of “liquidating” any perceived threats. Kruschev wasn’t in the habit of killing people on the Central Committee or Politburo but his “reforms” threatened the privileged status of the nomenklatura. Under Brezhnev the party elite was allowed to get fat, enjoy state sponsored corruption, and rape the Soviet Union’s treasury as they lived the good life in dachas. For these people the Brezhnev Era was a golden age.

They successfully exploited the rhetoric of nationalism to hold onto power and enhance their wealth while Moscow’s competence, international prestige, and economic well being of their citizenry deteriorated. The factory worker in Stavropol was supposed to believe he was a vital cog in an emerging society of proletariat supremacy. Work and talent were devalued at the expense of those privileged enough to be wired into the apparatchiks class. Dissidents who challenged this system were of course imprisoned as traitors while Soviet society lived in a police state at the mercy of big brother. Ultimately, the Soviet regime overreached with the invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 and under Gorbachev, the Chernobyl disaster exposed the rotting incompetence of the ruling class. The status quo wasn’t sustainable and Gorbachev launched glasnost and perestroika. The rest is history.

Similarly, Bush’s Republicans represent a culture of mediocrity rewarding wealth over work and loyalty over talent. The Grover Nordquist types never wanted government to work well because effective delivery of services might persuade the public that taxes had merit. Hurricane Katrina powerfully illustrates the legacy of Republican rule. “Starving the beast” resulted in a government lacking professionalism and institutional infrastructure to come through in the clutch from the embarrassing analog information systems at the FBI to disaster relief. In the past year school systems in Oregon were forced to reduce their school year because of insufficient funds due to tax cuts for the super rich. Prisons in Oklahoma had no choice but to release violent criminals because tax cuts for the super rich required subsidizing. Were jobs and benefits in either state sufficiently enhanced to justify these policies? Republican governors in Colorado and Alabama courageously stood up to the machine on behalf of their citizens, only to face a torrential counter attack when they dared to raise taxes for important services such as education. Then in the aftermath of the Katrina disgrace, numerous Republicans had the temerity to boast that the hurricane illustrated how incompetent government is when it is they who deliberately set out to replace dedicated civil servants with Republican commissars lacking professionalism or competence such as “Brownie.”

During the Brezhnev era all sorts of statistics were cited to demonstrate how successful the Soviet economy was. Five year plans published propaganda boasting of prosperity that most did not experience. Moscow subsidized state sponsored “enterprises” that allowed Communist elites to prosper while the rank and file work force received mere crumbs regardless of their talent or output. But Pravda and TASS continued to boast how their policies spread the wealth across the entire spectrum of society while Brezhnev’s cronies dined on caviar. Similarly, the Bush Republicans boast of a robust economy through their stenographers in the corporatist media. Two million jobs were created they say! But that doesn’t keep pace with the increasing number of people who enter the work force. Hyper inflation in health care continues to erode the purchasing power of everyone’s paycheck that is further outpaced by the cost of living. Meanwhile the Republican machine cuts student loans and Medicaid benefits for the poor to make tax cuts permanent for the super rich in the name of their “pro growth” policies benefiting a select few.

Finally, neither the Bush Republicans nor Brezhnev Communists ever had any respect for a civil society based upon laws, checks and balances, and accountability. We see our President shaking Senator John McCain’s hand when forced to retreat on legislation banning torture. Only to say days later that he can disregard the law as he sees fit. The explicit laws governing the FISA protocol are violated as domestic surveillance is under taken without required court warrants. Habeas Corpus is treated with contempt even as Republicans claim they want to nominate justices who “strictly interpret” the Constitution. Then they nominate a man in Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court who appears to have lied on previous job applications. All this emanating from the party that advocates personal responsibility. I had to laugh when Newt Gingrich lectured his party about ethics this past week. This coming from a man who was fined $300,000 by the House Ethics Committee nine years ago! A lecture from him is bit like the former head of the KGB and Communist Party General Secretary Yuri Andropov rising from the dead to lecture Vladimir Putin about civil liberties.

While Communism collapsed under the weight of its' indecency and incompetence in the USSR, what has replaced it is a corrupt oligarchy. It is not the atrophying system we saw under Brezhnev but it benefits a select few at the expense of those without access or funds to “work the system.” Essentially, a mafia don in Vladimir Putin governs Russia today. Likewise, I have little hope for what comes after this gilded age under the Republicans. Even if John McCain turns out to be a Republican Gorbachev and become President, history shows that Gorbachev was a transitory figure between Communism under Brezhnev and the current oligarchy.

The Democrats may well benefit, as the public appears to be waking up from the anesthesia of Republican rule. The polls indicate the public generically prefers Democrats to the Republicans in the mid-term elections this November. And if enough Republicans go to jail it will mean more “open” seats to target further diminishing the advantages of incumbency and increasing the Democrats chances. Unfortunately the Democrat’s efforts to seize the reform mantle are lethargic and I have little optimism that they will be anything but a corporatist party themselves. A pro-choice party with nice rhetoric about the environment but a corporatist party nevertheless. Even so, I hope the Democrats prevail on the small chance that we progressives may influence them in the right direction on public policy. A few Democrats such as Senator Russ Feingold do “get it.” Democrats as a whole are incoherent but a change is worth a try after this era of Brezhnev Republicans.

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