Are modern conservatives insane?
It’s a legitimate question from a number of different angles but let’s just take one to start with.
In psychotherapy there’s a common saying, often used when dealing with addicts of various descriptions:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.
Well? Isn’t that exactly what conservatives do?
Take their constant, unbending rejection of any form of regulation – any – while at the same time demanding govt interference in other sovereign countries in order to protect business interests. Using a series of arguments that more or less boiled down to “You can trust us”, they convinced the country that the odious nature of “over” regulation was hurting our ability “to compete successfully in the global marketplace”, they convinced us that a Golden Age was right around the corner where everyone would be rich if we just got rid of those pesky regulations that were “choking” them.
The evidence that almost nothing in that argument was true was rejected outright by modcons even before they knew what it was. Deregulation was an article of faith with them but it has never worked, not from Day One and not now.
Ronnie [Reagan] sold the country on deregulation by avowing a “common sense” belief in the grown-upness of corporate executives who, he insisted, would never take advantage of weak laws to rip off consumers. The conservatives’ vaunted “free market” would effectively prevent dishonesty, price-fixing, and over-charging. Govt interference (read: “regulations”) just made things difficult for business by adding a layer of costly bureaucracy that forced them to raise their prices to cover all the paperwork they had to do. The Congress, with a Democratic majority led then as now by conservative Blue Dogs who were Pubs in everything but name, promptly began the destruction by deregulating the airline industry.
Well, we all know how that ended. The airline industry has been in chaos ever since. Airlines appear and disappear with the frequency of grrl/boy bands, cut maintenance budgets until their planes are ready to fall apart, cut service, squeeze 4 passengers into a space meant for 2, and underfund employee pensions or cancel them outright. Pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants have all had their pay cut drastically; layoffs are so common that many carriers are chronically understaffed and running skeleton crews; many of them wind up in bankruptcy, from which they have to be bailed out by…us, of course; and service is at an all-time low – meals so cheap they’re almost inedible (when they’re offered at all), more luggage lost than ever before, long lines at ticket counters, delays so common we assume them, and so on.
Those of us not blinded by the need to endlessly repeat mistakes rather than have to admit we made one knew that deregulation wouldn’t work because we knew why these industries had been regulated in the first place: to keep them from destroying themselves, our economy, and even our fragile democracy with their unrestrained lust for ever larger profits. As a country we saw it in the late 19th century, a time of the Robber Barons and massive corruption and theft that led to the Panic of the 1890’s, and then again during the Roaring 20’s when speculation was uncontrolled, greed was glory, and the lack of limits on financial institutions caused the ’29 Crash and the Great Depression.
Franklin Roosevelt restructured the banking industry, virtually forced, like a parent when a kid runs wild, to put the brakes on and set up boundaries to protect both the kid and his potential victims – in this case, us. Reagan was essentially arguing that the kid was all grown up now, knew better, and would never repeat those mistakes again.
What did he do when the cuffs were off? What everyone who knew the kid expected him to do. No sooner was he free then he ran right out and did it again. But this time his much more permissive parent, the one who thought it was cute when he stuffed the maid into the toilet to see if he could flush off her dress, had control and let him do whatever he wanted to do. The results were predictable.
Unless, of course, you’re a modern conservative, in which case you are:
- in denial that anything has gone wrong
- arguing that the reason it went wrong is because there are still regulations left – somewhere – and their very existence caused the screw-up
- blaming the victims
- pushing for more deregulation
Despite this long history of which every step proves the desirability, nay, the necessity of regulatory strength to protect citizens from pedatory business practices and the society from the damage such practices caused; despite the clear historical evidence that having such a regulatory presence does far more good than harm; despite all that, the modern conservative continues to pretend that deregulation works and regulation doesn’t.
Again, in psychotherapy when a patient refuses to recognize basic realities that conflict with his belief system, we suspect there is a serious problem involved, not just some passing neurosis with temporary or minor effects. We think there may be a pathology here, perhaps a psychotic personality living in his own private dream world, hallucinating the beneficial results he believes he deserves but has never received in ordinary reality.
Sound familiar? I thought so.