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The Plutocrat's Coup d'Etat, Their Republican Allies and Their Democratic Enablers

For thirty years, now, Republicans have been yammering about small government, deficits, the glories of the free market, and the incompetence and wastefulness of government.

It’s all been a big lie, part of a well funded and cleverly executed coup d'etat, designed to enable the ultra rich and corporations to literally take power out of the hands of government and money out of the pockets of individual citizens.

Democrats have either actively participated in the coup or watched in near silence.  The press has been passively playing the part of a mute stenographer.  The basis of this coup is simple – money has become the lingua franca of political power, eclipsing the vote.

They’ve just about pulled it off.

Hyperbole?  Hardly.  Let’s examine their message against their actions.

Do Republicans Really Favor Small Government?  Nope.  Republicans and their corporate over lords were never really concerned with making government small.  In fact, the size of government exploded under Reagan and Bush II, and we didn’t hear a peep out of Republicans.  In the last thirty years, only Clinton reduced the size of government significantly, and he did so while declaring “the era of big government” to be over. 

What they really wanted was a weak government.

Government is one of the only forces capable of preventing the excesses of unconstrained markets, so step one of the Plutocrat’s coup had to be to thoroughly discredit it.  It began with Reagan’s famous quote, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” and despite massive and growing evidence to the contrary, it’s been repeated so often, that it is now accepted as revealed truth.

Don’t look for the Democrats to set things straight, though.  If Republicans are merely paid mouthpieces for corporate America, Democrats are wholly owned subsidiaries of it. As for the main stream media?  They are corporate America.

Are Republicans Genuinely Worried about Deficits?  Not so much.  Here again, deficits grew under Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II.  In fact, Reagan and Bush II added more to the deficit than all previous Presidents combined, and again, not a peep was heard.  In recent times, only Clinton reduced it.  If deficits were really an issue, we should have heard protests well before Obama took office. 

What the Republican Plutocracy has really been doing is to “…starve the beast down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  That’s why Republicans increased the budget while decreasing revenue – not a good strategy for dealing with deficits, but a great way to create excuses for selectively shrinking key government programs.

In Wisconsin, for example, Walker gave away $140 billion in tax breaks to industry cronies just weeks before declaring the compelling need cut government workers’ salaries and eliminate their right to conduct collective bargaining. The State’s Legislative Reference Bureau, the equivalent of the federal government’s non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, said that absent those tax cuts, Wisconsin would have run a budget surplus.

Talk about bait-and-switch.

The looming showdown in the House of Representatives over deficits is similarly a self-inflicted hot foot. Simply eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the rich, cutting back agricultural subsidies, closing a few corporate tax loopholes (including the infamous off-shore tax provisions which reward companies for moving jobs out of America), instituting a small financial trading tax  (something that would have the added benefit of reducing market volatility) and reducing the defense budget to reasonable levels would enable us to approach a balanced budget with relatively little pain. And each of these are supported by the majority of Americans.

So, if there are politically popular, pain-free strategies for balancing the budget that actually create jobs and help the economy, why aren’t we even discussing them? 

Because they don’t “starve the beast.”

The fact that Republicans are picking on the miniscule portion of the budget devoted to the poor and middle class shows they’re not serious. There simply isn’t enough there to make even a small dent in the deficit. But a large pool of unemployed workers with no safety net certainly helps the fat cats keep wages down.

How About the Notion that Unconstrained Markets Create Prosperity and Jobs?  Again, not so much. The fact is, laissez-faire, free market policies have failed miserably every time they’ve been tried.  It turns out they have a nasty habit of consistently causing grotesque income inequalities, huge market volatility and severe financial collapses.  In fact, the Great Recession we are now climbing out of should have been strike 3 for the Free Marketeers.  Strike one was the Panic of 1893 and the depression which followed it.  Strike two was the Great Depression of the 30’s.  In all three cases, these collapses were preceded by conservative, laissez-faire policies featuring deregulation, low taxes and weak governments.

Three tries – each resulting in a catastrophic economic meltdown. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this strategy doesn’t work.  But it does help the Plutocrats continue their policy of plundering the nation’s wealth.

Is Government Really the Problem?There was a time when people knew that government was a critical contributor to our nation’s prosperity.  Up until the 80’s many folks still remembered how government had won two World Wars. They knew that it had been instrumental in helping us out of a major Depression. They knew that it had built world-class infrastructure that created wealth -- including dams, public buildings, and the federal highway system. They’d watched as government R&D generated unprecedented prosperity and whole new industries, including the agricultural revolution, the aerospace industry, nuclear energy, the Internet, leadership in chip manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and many of the health innovations we enjoy. 

Until recently, people realized that government regulation of corporations and the financial sector had assured a level playing field, transparent markets, and international trust, creating the longest sustained period of prosperity in US history – a prosperity that was shared by all.

Portraying the government as a collection of bumbling bureaucrats who can’t do anything other than get in the private sector’s way and waste our tax money serves three purposes in the Plutocrat’s coup.  First, it provides a scapegoat for the increasing economic pain people will inevitably feel in a Plutocratic world. Second, it reinforces the desire to cut taxes – to starve the beast.  Why give incompetent boobs and wastrels more money? And third, it prevents citizens from looking at government as an effective solution to the problems created by a Plutocratic society.


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The Press as Mute Stenographer:At one time, facts would have been more important than slogans and the media would have given people those facts, exposing The Big Lie as a steaming pile of elephant dung in our collective national living room.

The fact that Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans health programs have an overhead of 4% or less, and produce better outcomes than private health insurance with it’s 30% overhead would have been known to folks, and lies about death panels wouldn’t have survived.

The fact that Social Security is not in danger, that it has nothing to do with current deficits and that it is far more efficient – and less costly -- than privatized systems would have mattered. For example, the US Social Security system has an overhead of less than 4% -- in Chile, the fully privatized system (which has since been abandoned) had administrative fees as high as 20%.

The fact that government programs are often cheaper and better run, than privatized programs in everything from healthcare, to transportation to water supplies to trash collection to prison administration to firefighting would have been more important than baseless sound bites about government incompetence repeated endlessly. 

But facts no longer rule.   Now, Plutocrats such as Rupert Murdoch control much of the media and rather than exposing the elephant dung for what it is, they shovel more into our national dialogue, piling it higher and deeper, obscuring the truth rather than revealing it.

The End-Game is Near:The thirty-year Plutocratic plan to take over America is reaching fruition.  The Republicans have cleverly played a game of divide and conquer and the Democrats have either been active participants or complicit in their silence.  The Plutocrats and their Republican allies have taken away workers’ rights, reduced their compensation and eliminated their benefits in the private sector, and now they’re coming after the public sector, turning it into an all-purpose bogeyman, responsible for all that ails us. 

At a time when all workers are getting screwed, the Republicans and the Plutocrats have managed to make them fight among themselves over a rapidly dwindling share, rather than joining together to demand their equitable share of the national wealth.

Here’s the deal. Worker productivity in the private sector has been going steadily up for three decades.  That means corporations are making more money off of each hour worked.  Yet wages have stagnated over that time, and benefits have shrunk. 

Where has the wealth from the increased productivity gone?  Straight into the pockets of the Plutocrats.  For example, in 1966, CEOs made about 50 times the minimum wage.  Today, they make more than 821 times minimum wage.

Now that government has been all but vanquished, unions and public employees are the last bastion of individual political power and equitable compensation, and there is a clear and concerted effort to break them and discredit them, once and for all.

But rather than protest this economic rape by corporations, too many citizens have been duped or distracted.  From flag burners, to immigrants, to gay marriage to abortions, to Technicolored terrorist alerts, to myths about incompetent fat-cat government workers, Republicans have been throwing up flack and creating scapegoats.  Public workers are simply the latest distraction.

The takeover has been generously funded, cleverly plotted, patiently played, and skillfully executed. 

Democrats, once the Party of labor and the middle class have either actively supported the Plutocratic coup, or stood idly by while it proceeded unopposed. Has Obama championed the efforts of the workers of Wisconsin?  Has he used his eloquence to capture their plight and halt this coup?  No. He’s squandered this week with empty platitudes about small business and he’s introduced a budget that essentially endorses the Plutocrat’s lies.

What Can We Do?  Citizens, we have a choice. We can confront this Plutocratic coup, or we can draft an apology to our founders, beg the forgiveness of the brave men and women who fought valiantly over the last two centuries to defend the ideals of this country, and then kiss those ideals goodbye.

At the end of the day, we have the three things that can trump money: truth, the vote and market power.  If we insist on candid, transparent discussions on the issues of the day; refuse to vote for dirty-money or mealy-mouthed candidates; and punish Plutocrats like Murdoch and Koch and Rove who intentionally distort the truth in the one place where it hurts – the market place – we can win this country back. 

It will take commitment, organization, a willingness to endure some hardship, and a passion for justice and fairness– the kind of things that animated exploited workers back when facts mattered, but it can be done.

The pieces of a resistance to the Plutocratic coup are coming together.

Russ Feingold has established a PAC called Progressives United with a mission to reverse the infamous Citizens United Decision and get the money out of politics. 

Bill McKibben’s has announced a campaign called the US Chamber doesn't speak for me

Van Jones and progressive groups are creating a movement to restore the American Dream – the notion that government isn’t a punch line – it is a contract between we the people; a vehicle that enables us to come together to accomplish that which must be done together; that which has, in times past, made us a prosperous, just, and noble nation.

If we back these efforts, we can prevail. If we don’t, then the words of Edmund Burke should haunt our conscience as we slide inevitably into a well-deserved Plutocratic dystopia:  “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.”

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a CA car accident in January 2020.

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