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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #112, December 2005. Copyright 2005, Left Business Observer.

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Rotting from the head

It's not often one gets to take a victory lap, so indulge LBO this one. In June 2001, an editorial in this space mused on the future of the George W. Bush administration, then less than six months old, and projected an energy policy based on drilling for oil everywhere but the Rose Garden, a return to 1980s-style income polarization, a provincial and xenophobic foreign policy (three months before 9/11!), and the use of the Bible as a policy guide. But, the polemic concluded, as depressing as that was, all was far from lost: “he also has great potential as a political disaster,” and his administration was “a multiply sited scandal waiting to happen.”

It took some time for these predictions to come true, but now true they've become. So now what?

Alas, the Democrats seem pitifully incapable of doing much with this situation, though they may benefit simply from being the only other choice in the political marketplace. The standard left explanation for this state of affairs would be to point to the weakness of organized labor and more radical social movements—which would all be quite true. But there's something else worth considering too: the incoherence of the American ruling class.

Power failure

For those of us who cut our teeth on the power-structure studies of William Domhoff, which saw the U.S. as ruled by an old WASP elite operating through institutions like the Ford Foundation and the Council on Foreign Relations, it's been quite a surprise to watch the Bush administration in action. Though it should have known better, it started a pointless war that's put U.S. power and prestige at severe risk, and it's driven the government's accounts deep into the red, and it's financed both reckless adventures with huge gobs of money borrowed from abroad. A serious ruling class might have reined them in long ago, but our elite has been too narcoticized by its tax cuts—your avearge millionaire got a $60,000 break, more than the pretax income of the average household—to complain. It's looking more and more like that elite shares many of the same characteristics often attributed to the couch-potato demographic: short-sightedness, political disengagement, distractability, and ignorance of the larger world. And since the Dems serve a dual role, as the "popular" party and as the party of an alternative elite, their dithering reflects a crisis at the upper levels of our society, as well as the disorganization at the lower levels.

A fascinating development, if true. Watch this space for ongoing coverage.

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