Gas prices are down, and so am I. No, I’m not some sort of environmental nut. It’s just that I know exactly what Susan Sontag meant when she said “I envy paranoids; they actually feel people are paying attention to them.” And only last month I, as a consumer, was the victim of a vast international conspiracy. Those were the days.
Back then I even had major politicians feeding my delusion. In September, Jack Layton called for a commissioner to review high gas prices; Stephen Harper told reporters it sure looked like gouging; and Stéphane Dion wanted more Competition Bureau powers to investigate price-fixing. Now prices are down, my political friends have gone silent and I’m a nobody.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that gas prices both rise and fall in tandem because of the highly competitive nature of the industry, not the reverse, and are driven by actual or anticipated changes in the price of crude oil. But how lonely, how terribly lonely, to feel that it’s all market forces, that I’m just a dust speck on the face of global trade. Of course politicians would rather be fearless crusaders against illicit plundering on an international scale than boring hacks mumbling populist clichés. And I’d rather be the target of such a conspiracy than just a guy struggling to make ends meet.
To get ready for Halloween our politicians are dressing as the ghosts of deficits past. I admit it’s scary. But it’s also in very bad taste.
It’s scary because spending money you ain’t got is unwise in good times and catastrophic in bad and, as Adam Smith warned, accumulating public debt “has gradually enfeebled every state which has adopted it.” And if Smith is too “right-wing” for you, how about that mad Jacobin Thomas Jefferson, who said “The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”
Such was the dusty wisdom of the ancients, blithely discarded in the 1960s and then painfully reacquired in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Strange that it should so promptly go out the window in the 2000s. Frightening, too.
If Barack Obama campaigns down to the wire it will be a courtesy to the Republicans, since he could now stop canvassing entirely and still win comfortably. Neither John McCain, Sarah Palin nor Joe the Plumber can hurt him on Nov. 4. It’s Nov. 5 he should be worried about.
Judging by his recent comments at the Al Smith dinner, he doesn’t believe his own supporters’ more extravagant flattery. But he must also resist the temptation, widespread in his party and among the chattering classes, to assume that the size and ease of his victory mean those vulgar middle Americans are no longer politically significant.
In fact what historian Walter Russell Mead in Special Providence calls the “Jacksonians”, and David Hackett Fischer’s invaluable though regrettably interminable Albion’s Seed calls “borderers” (for their origins in the Anglo-Scots border region), remain the largest single component of the American political community. These folks left a huge stamp on America, with their rough and ready egalitarian manners and robust, unapologetic self-reliance.
The Social Democratic Party of Canada is to blame for the dismal election result we just had. If such a party existed and had run, we’d have a majority government.
First, let’s back up.
The outcome last Tuesday is definitely not Stephen Harper’s fault. True, 143 seats out of 308 isn’t a majority. But 133 of 233 outside Quebec sure is. And it isn’t fair to ask, if Mr. Harper couldn’t win a majority against Stéphane Dion or Paul Martin, whom can he beat? His problem was Gilles Duceppe. Besides, the right went through a prolonged period of soul-searching in the 1990s, and even if you don’t like what they found, it’s reasonable to assume there isn’t anything else there they could go back and get.
With the election just days away, it’s not enough to declare that contemporary Canadian politics is disgusting. You need to show it. So allow me to empty upon you a bucket of slop from my e-mail inbox.
It contains a lumpy mess of campaign-driven press releases the parties send out to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in a concerted and largely successful effort to prove that they are as shallow as they are mean. They manage to hit one another with a fair quantity of well-aimed mud but rarely succeed in ducking what’s coming back at them, and not infrequently wipe their filthy hands on their own clothes without seeming to notice it.
For instance, the Liberals had every right to point out that Stephen Harper’s March 20, 2003 speech on Iraq contained an embarrassing amount of cutting and pasting from remarks by then-Australian prime minister John Howard two days earlier. But after a Conservative staffer confessed to having been “overzealous in copying segments” of Mr. Howard’s speech and resigned, the Liberals put out another, thoroughly revolting, press release saying “The story does not add up, and took seven hours to concoct” as though it were self-evidently the deliberate policy of the PM to plagiarize.
After the stock market crash of 1929, progressive Republican president Herbert Hoover claimed his long-serving Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon succinctly advised him to “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate.” He should have listened.
Instead Hoover steered huge tax and tariff increases through Congress, flattening his own re-election hopes along with the economy and paving the way for his “pragmatic” successor Franklin Roosevelt to impose an endless bewildering series of ill-advised interventions accompanied by bitterly anti-capitalist rhetoric. It worked so well that 10 years after the crash the United States was still mired in a massive depression.
As Americans ponder whether this is a bad time to panic or the perfect opportunity, it’s worth noting that after the earlier catastrophic slump of 1921, Mellon’s advice was followed. Instead of kicking the economy when it was down, Republicans let markets sort themselves out, cut taxes, paid down debt and launched a long boom. Some may say the 1920s witnessed false prosperity under laissez-faire. But it’s hard to deny that the 1930s witnessed real depression under intervention.