The Wrecking Crew

January 11, 2011

My apologies for borrowing the title of this post from Thomas Frank’s book from a couple years ago, but I use it consciously as I think it bears repeating. Why? Because of the pathological danse macabre we insist on performing regularly with our neo-conservative partners and the corresponding amnesia that accompanies it which renders us oblivious to the resulting ugly outcome.

How’s the step go again, you ask forgetfully?

Decrying the state of affairs, politically, economically and/or socially, brought on by overweening and ineffectual (not to mention, elitist) liberal rule, conservatives roll into power on a magic carpet of faux-populism, complete with an easy to remember and entirely meaningless slogan or two. Once there, they proceed to trash the joint, politically, economically and/or socially before the citizens fully comprehend what’s happening and chase them from office. They then “retire” to the private sector (which in all likelihood they’ve helped to enrich) where they lick their wounds, change their outfits and, sooner or later, head back to the political ball for another twirl around the floor.

There was Reagan’s Morning in America where he enticed a weary populace to join him in a foxtrot. Twelve years later, victorious in the Cold War but already mired into increased conflict in the Middle East, the country was eye-deep in debt and much of the FDR New Deal/LBJ Great Society accomplishments, gutted and left for dead, and the political environment toxic. Enter centrist Democrat Bill Clinton who managed to wrestle the burgeoning deficit bomb into a more manageable shape (largely on the back of his most vulnerable base) while, if not fully restoring social programs directed at the most vulnerable of his base, got them back onto life support. A semblance of order restored, give way to George W. Bush, neocon sweetheart, and 8 years later, Iraq, Afghanistan, surpluses ballooned into huge deficits, tax cuts galore and everybody for themselves. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Up here, a very similar pattern. Early-90s, Conservative debts and deficits reign (although to some eyes, strangely, it’s all because of Pierre Trudeau despite 9 years of PC majority rule), the country faces a constitutional crisis. Liberals are elected in a landslide and over the course of the next decade+, they bring the fiscal unruliness to heel (largely on the back of their most vulnerable base) and establish a semblance of political and social order. Hello neocons and… you know where this is going, right? Unnecessary tax cuts, financial crisis hits, here we are again, back in the red and the public sector’s going to have to tighten its belt and prepared to make do with less. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Ditto in Ontario with a slight variation. Left of centre government hit with a nasty recession seeks to spread the pain around (some of it on the back of their base) and is summarily drummed from office, crushed under the pleasingly simply Common Sense Revolution. These fiscally prudent Conservatives (some key members who go on to lay waste to Ottawa) don’t really clean up the economic mess they claimed to have found. They just sort of move it around a little, cut taxes (natch) and eviscerate provincial and municipal infrastructure for good measure. As usual, they’re chased from office two terms later having inflicted maximum public damage. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Now comes Rob Ford to Toronto. A career politician who never saw a tax increase he couldn’t rail about or a government expenditure that didn’t taste like gravy, he bellowed for months on the campaign trail about waste and fiscal mismanagement at City Hall. (Sound familiar?) Citing big numbers with little context and oodles of anecdotal evidence of ‘corruption’, he got himself elected on a vow to Stop the Gravy Train and to usher in an era of Respect for Taxpayers. Meaning? Cutting and/or freezing taxes. ‘Trimming the fat’ and uncovering ‘inefficiencies’ in the system. No more nickel and diming taxpayers to death.

But an altogether predictable thing happened on his way to his first budget proposal. The supposed fiscal ineptitude of his predecessor left Mayor Ford with a shit load of money in which to fill the cavernous gaps left exposed by all the tax freezes and cuts riddling the budget document. So much money, in fact, that any major slashing and burning of services could wait a year. Only a year, mind you. There would be a serious reckoning. You’d be foolhardy to think otherwise.

We know how this story plays out, people. We’ve seen it enough. The ending’s never happy and expecting this time it’ll be different, well, you’ve just defined ‘crazy’. Neoconservative politicians are incapable of leaving a place looking better than when they found it. It’s not in their nature. In fact, they can’t help doing the exact opposite of good stewardship. They are terrible tenants. So let’s stop expecting them to be anything but.

It’s almost as if we’re trapped in some lurid abusive relationship with neo-conservatism. It constantly lies to us, takes our money and spends it on its rich girlfriends. Whenever we speak up and complain, it smacks us around some to keep us in our place and issues threats about how good we have it. You think you got it bad, huh? How’d you like to be living somewhere in Africa instead? Huh?

Even when we break free of its grip for awhile, we’re eventually lured back in with its sweet song of contrition and promises of better behaviour in the future. I’ve learned my lesson, baby. Trust me. I won’t ever hurt you again.

We really have to break free of such a self-defeating and sadistic cycle before the damage inflicted becomes irreparable.

once more with feelingly submitted by Cityslikr