10 October 2013

Shutdown

It’s not the role of the neoreaction to get too occupied by current affairs. The day-to-day obsessions of domestic and foreign policy are mostly irrelevant to our concerns; we must set our sights on a larger scale and a longer term.

The US Government shutdown, however, is a somewhat larger event, in which the actual forces shaping events ought to show themselves, and which we must be able to account for as a test and a demonstration of our theories.

I have not seen such an account, except for James Donald’s tightly constructed argument that, on the part of the Republican Congressional leaders at least, the conflict is a sham.

Even accepting Jim’s thesis, the wider story still needs explaining and putting into context.

There is a kind of dynamic equilibrium of politics under the Modern Structure. The Cathedral moves left at a controlled pace. It drags the political establishment behind it. The parties and the media drag the backward mass of the people behind them.

The last 15 years, under the Bush and Obama administrations, have seen an increase in the rate of expansion of the economic activity of the Federal Government beyond the previous rate. We can think of the old rate of leftward drift as the equilibrium rate, though of course that’s oversimplifying a complex situation.

That departure from the equilibrium rate of advance produced the Tea Party, by damaging the illusion that flyover country could oppose what was happening simply by supporting the Republican side of the political class.

The belief of the political classes in Washington today, received from the Cathedral, is that the White House is the government, and the House of Representatives is somewhere between a historical curiosity and a large lobbying firm. The motive for this is that the Presidency is easier for the Cathedral to control (particularly when it is in the hands of a leftist of weak character).

Leading Republicans, accepting the Cathedral position that the President is allowed to make domestic policy, but with their lucrative jobs threatened by the Tea Party, are adopting the fake-aggressive position described by James Donald.

Once they lose, the right of the Presidency to rule alone will be established. Congress will be a dead letter.

It is still just possible that the Cathedral could attempt to revive Congress at some later time if they need to restrain an uncooperative president. But I would consider that unlikely — for a start, there’s no indication where an uncooperative president would come from.

The change in the constitutional roles of Congress and the Presidency that we are looking at the middle of is a prime illustration of the way the Modern Structure achieves major advances. There is plenty of noise, but no meaningful debate: the case for the new constitution consists primarily of shocked outrage that anyone could consider retaining the old one.

From a European perspective, it looks most like the situation when a new Treaty extends the powers of the European Union. In those cases at least there is a debate at the time, but once it is accepted, it is done for ever, and can no longer be considered negotiable. If a country like Denmark or Ireland votes down a change, then there is a much-resented delay while a new vote is arranged, and then finally the new consititution can be considered finished. It is then beyond any challenge. To suggest in France at any time since 1993 that the Maastricht treaty be rolled back would be utterly extremist, though it passed in a referendum by a vote of 51% to 49%, and Denmark needed two attempts to get the right answer.

From the American standpoint, it more concretely resembles the McCarthy period. McCarthy believed that the permanent US government was following a foreign policy at odds with that publicy avowed by the elected government, and that that was a crime. The facts and the law were on his side, but the Cathedral wasn’t, and his defeat meant that the question was settled: elected bodies no longer had any claim to control the State Department. The current conflict is about taking the power to control the Federal Government’s spending policy out of the hands of the elected body.

(Correction: according to Congressman Devin Nunes, the president does not have the power to spend as much as he wants on whatever he wants — he can be stopped if a supermajority in both houses of Congress opposes him. So that’s all right then.)

None of this makes much difference in the long run. It is not as if Congress was ever a serious constraint on the steady march towards communism. I just think that it’s a big enough change in the system’s own terms to require an explanation.

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