Democracy? It's Greek to Paul Ryan and his sponsors.
Ryan's last resort
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is not often accused of having a taste for democracy. The Wisconsin Republican has always tended toward a top-down politics that dictates from Washington on issues such as bank bailouts, free trade and the dismemberment of social programs.
But Ryan sounded downright democratic in his response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.
Ryan put aside his Ayn Rand books and repositioned himself as something he has never been: an advocate for letting the people, as opposed to lobbyists, campaign donors and Wall Street hangers on, decide the direction of the country.
“We’re not deterred,” Ryan chirped on ABC News’ This Week, when asked about the Republican response to the high court ruling. “We think we can still repeal this law if we win this election. The American people will be the judge and jury on this law come November.”
This is the current spin of the Republican elites, who previously counted on the courts to block President Obama’s signature initiative. Proven ridiculously wrong in their claims regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Ryan and the GOP’s super PAC paymasters are suddenly all excited about throwing the issue to the voters.
But don’t be fooled. Ryan has not suddenly developed a taste for popular democracy. He has never been a fan of letting voters make fundamental choices about fundamental economic concerns. Ryan prefers a controlled democracy where results reflect not popular will but the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” combination of scare tactics and big-money media manipulation that makes elections manageable for the elites.
Americans did not favor — let alone need — the 2008 Wall Street bailout; but Ryan sold the idea that it was necessary to reward rather than punish the banksters who crashed the economy. Americans do not favor — let alone need — the sort of free-trade deals that barter off American sovereignty over everything from environmental protection to worker rights; but Ryan continues to claim that these Wall Street-dictated agreements are essential to the economic stability of a country that has been devastated by factory closings and the job losses associated with offshoring.
That’s the Ryan way. He is all for “democracy” if he thinks there is enough Koch brothers money on offer to pay for the negative ads and the fear mongering that are required to buy the desired result.
If you want a taste of the type of “democracy” Ryan prefers, consider the recent elections in Greece.
The budget committee chairman got a little too excited at the news that Greek voters had given a narrow plurality to a right-wing political grouping — the ironically named “New Democracy” party — that promised to work with European bankers to impose austerity measures on that country.
What’s unsettling is that Ryan and the other Americans who were cheering most ardently at the prospect that New Democracy would form a pro-austerity government were displaying their enthusiasm not for actual democracy but for the sort of political blackmail they would presumably like to bring to the United States.
Polls and election numbers have confirmed again and again that the Greek people are opposed to austerity measures that cut public services and protections.
Unfortunately, a dysfunctional election system made it possible for a pro-austerity party to win last month’s critical election with a mere 30 percent of the vote.
The people of Greece were blackmailed by foreign bankers, who threatened all manner of crisis — total economic collapse, abandonment by the rest of Europe, “Mad Max”-style chaos — if Greek voters did not do as they were told by the bureaucrats in Berlin and Brussels.
Most Greeks refused to bend to the threats.
More than 55 percent of Greek voters backed parties of the left and the right that opposed austerity — parties that said the foreign bankers (who had profited massively from inflation of the Greek economy) should pay their fair share before the Greek people are forced to sacrifice services, pensions and protections.
As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman and other serious analysts of the global financial scene have argued, the Greeks are neither lazy nor irresponsible. They are victims of financial speculation and “casino capitalism,” as well as austerity schemes of the sort promoted in the United States by Paul Ryan.
Ryan, like his European counterparts, seeks to preserve the incomes of bankers and speculators by cutting the wages, benefits and pensions of workers.
He has no other political purpose.
But like his economic acolyte Mitt Romney, Ryan knows American voters are unlikely to embrace the downsizing of their futures. Or the economic instability (unemployment, slow growth, recession) that invariably accompanies austerity.
So Ryan cheered on the Greek result for a reason.
He was excited to see that blackmail can create political results that are favorable to his political allies and their financial benefactors.
But no American who believes in the principle that the people shall rule — as opposed to the Wall Streeters — should be happy with the results from Greece.
When economic and political blackmail defines election results, it is not a new democracy that is in the offing. It is an end to democracy as the definers of the American experiment imagined it, or as the inheritors of that experiment have understood it.
Voters should have the power to define the economic choices made by a nation. Not bankers. Not speculators. And not political blackmail artists like Paul Ryan.
(A version of this article originally appeared in the opinion section of the Capital Times.)
July 15, 2012
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John Nichols is associate editor for the Capital Times in Madison, Washington correspondent for the Nation magazine, and a FightingBob.com contributing editor. He and Robert McChesney are co-authors of The Death and Life of American Journalism.