Teabag Truthiness

by digby
After watching that marvelously confusing video yesterday, you might wonder if the Republican Party, as opposed to "grassroots" teabaggers, might actually have the chutzpah to run as populists. Never underestimate the chutzpah of Republicans.

Today in the Wall Street Journal Thomas Frank echoes my harangues of the past year -- that the Republicans would run as populist heroes by conflating their tried and true anti-Government rhetoric with the bailouts (while raking in the big bucks from the very people who were bailed out.)
According to the demented logic of American politics, the world began anew with the Obama presidency, and so it is the Democrats who will have to go before the public this fall and defend the bailout of Wall Street. Similarly, it might be the Republicans who seize the opportunity to capture public outrage this time around, denouncing concentrated economic power, insisting on holding big business accountable, and promising to settle scores with the nation's erstwhile financial rulers.

Given the GOP's doings over the past 30 years, such a reversal may strike you as implausible, if not downright ridiculous. But it can be done. The first step in what could become a movement in that direction is the essay by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) that appeared in Forbes magazine in December. Its title: "Down With Big Business."

Paul Ryan is one of the GOPs fastest rising stars. He's a corporate stooge who's being groomed for very big things.

Now, Mr. Ryan seems at first like no more of a radical than do the editors of Forbes. The "philosophy of governing" spelled out on his campaign Web site rails against the New Deal, "class envy economics," and a federal "regulatory leviathan."

Mr. Ryan's fund raising also follows an unremarkable conservative pattern. According to the Web site maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, many of his donations come from people or Political Action Committees associated with insurance, banking and a certain private equity firm that invests in banks and insurance companies.

But the tone Mr. Ryan takes in his Forbes article makes him sound like the Jacobin of Janesville.

He savages "crony capitalism," pausing to note the "resentment" it is inspiring. He depicts the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP, as a well-intentioned measure that has become "an ad hoc, opaque slush fund for large institutions that are able to influence the Treasury Department's investment decisions behind-the-scenes." He complains about lobbying, offers the obligatory denunciation of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, and bemoans the economic disasters befalling small companies while the rescued banks enjoy "record profits."

Had he stopped there, Mr. Ryan might have become my favorite Republican since William Allen White.

It's amazing what you can say when you have completely retired the concept of hypocrisy, isn't it?

But the problem seems not to be that government made poor decisions over the past year; it's that government made any decisions at all. Government, in Mr. Ryan's view, is alternately the tool and the terror of big business, doing one firm's bidding as it crushes another one. The solution is to get government out of the game altogether, and Mr. Ryan fondly recalls the great deregulatory campaigns of the past (leaving out the embarrassing story of how he and his colleagues overturned Glass-Steagall and then watched the banking industry explode in a fireball of freedom).

He goes on to explain that this is actually an old argument about how free markets keep business from gaming government and forming cartels. Indeed, according to this concept deregulation is the only way to control corporations. Isn't that convenient? 

As Frank points out, that cracked notion is "twisted and counterintuitive" and you'd think that after three decades of a mass experiment in government deregulation, privatization and "free" market ideology people would realize how cracked it really is. But Frank rightly understands that to the Republican base, it will all ring true: the problem with big business is big government.

He goes on to say that for the disaffected Independent voters (the new electoral Holy Grail) the logic is less important than the sincerity of the emotion. I actually don't think sincerity is necessary at all and that the reason it will have salience is because all these DIVs will hear the comforting old saws about Big Gummint being the enemy and will breathe a great big sigh of relief that "somebody is finally talking some sense."

Frank predicts the future and I agree:

That's why we may be heading for the greatest burst of fake populism since those TV commercials 10 years ago that showed a mob breaking down the doors of a stock exchange—not because the revolution was on but because they wanted to trade like the pros, which the sponsor promised to let them do.

Democrats, for their part, will find it difficult to respond in kind, especially after having spent their first year delivering regal gifts to the insurance industry and dithering over the urgent matter of new financial regulation. Their friends in the labor movement, meanwhile, got a lump of coal.

No kidding.  And it wasn't difficult at all to predict the political landscape and see how their actions would play.  The only reason the Democrats didn't properly anticipate it is because they are obviously more afraid of alienating their Big Money allies than they are of alienating voters.  Either that or they are just stupid. Take your pick.

The Republicans have not yet recovered from their disastrous eight years and as long as they have jokes like Palin at the top of the pyramid they're going to have problems nationally.  But Ryan's incoherent message has, as Frank writes, "the ring of truth" because they've successfully indoctrinated much of the public in their nonsensical, Orwellian "up is downism" for decades.  But this time, it doesn't have to make logical sense, it just has to "feel right." If things keep going the eway they are going, they could surprise us.

Update:  if you want to know more about Paul Ryan, just click here to find Howie's entire series on him at Down With Tyranny.  In case you have any doubts about what he's all about, here's a little excerpt from one of the posts:
When the Republican Party's designated spokesperson is Joe the Plumber (watch the video below), even a shallow, blow-dried phony-baloney hack like Paul Ryan (R-WI) looks almost intellectual in his approach to slavish, even naive, adherence to right-wing dogma and, above all, serving the vested interests of the rich and powerful against those of ordinary American working families. So while a GOP front group paid the make believe plumber to go rile up celebrity-starved Pennsylvanians against their own rights, the Party Establishment arranged for the Republican ranking member on the House Budget Committee to write an essay in the party newspaper and on their MSNBC morning show. Poor, pathetic Ryan had to try to make excuses for his hapless party leader... he gave up and resorted to the same right-wing rhetoric that caused the Great Depression and the Bush Recession. If you hit that link you'll probably notice that Ryan sounds like a college freshman who was just partying with the Young Americans For Freedom and forgot to do his homework. Chris Matthews, when asked if Ryan makes any sense, said "No; he sounds very much like Hoover. This was a doctrine that was tried in 1932 and failed." Right afterwards, also on MSNBC, Austan Goolsby suggests Ryan's "plan"-- more tax cuts for the richest Americans and gutting Medicare-- is nothing but an April Fools' joke.

But it sure was truthy.