Romney/Ryan and the Republican Reverie
by Benjamin Studebaker
In recent postings, we’ve discussed a broad swath of planks in the Romney/Ryan belief system, and found many of the ideas and assumptions upon which they are reliant to be rather lacking in their fidelity to empirical truth. Further than that even, we have found them to be demonstrably and provably false, and that’s a problem–not for Romney/Ryan, who are more or less being allowed to get away with it by a friendly media that wants to paint Romney and Obama as equally prone to lies and fits of unreasonableness, but for American democracy, and, perhaps even more importantly, democratic theory more broadly. Today, I aim to criticise this shift toward a politics of delusion as a sophiarchist, illustrating how this is not merely a momentary issue, but a profound problem deep within the foundations of the democratic state.
First, let’s go for a jaunt through some of the demonstrably false ideas submitted by the Romney/Ryan campaign and its supporters, with each bullet linking to my argument intending to disprove:
- The United States is in a debt crisis
- Medicare is going bust
- Obamacare hurts small business
- The Romney tax plan will give the average voter a tax cut and balance the budget
- Paul Ryan is not an extremist
- Stimulus doesn’t work; we need to cut spending
And yet, even though facts exist that can prove unequivocally the falseness of these claims, the average American voter believes at least one, if not more than one, of them. How can we expect voters who think that we are in a spiraling debt crisis caused by the Obama stimulus and dysfunctional entitlements, who think that the recovery has been weakened due to said stimulus and Obamacare, who imagine that the Romney tax plan proposes a credible solution that will reduce debt and reduce their tax rate, who think Paul Ryan is a serious contributor to the debate, how can we possibly imagine that such people are going to know what set of policies will resolve our economic crisis or who to vote for to get said policies? We cannot.
This is how the United States has come to this pass, where 45% consistently poll in favour of the Romney/Ryan ticket, a ticket that proposes economically illiterate “solutions” to the nation’s problems. The voters simply do not know enough about macroeconomics to make this choice based on their own knowledge, or even to sort out when other people are telling them the truth and when disinformation is being spread. It has become convenient, for busy voters with jobs and family responsibilites, to simply embrace the economic theories and agendas with which their emotional leanings are most comfortable.
The voters are not to blame. Economic policy is complicated and frequently counter-intuitive. It is a full-time job to gain a comprehensive understanding of the global economic crisis, the tools available to solve it, and which tools are likely to work and which aren’t. Even a well-meaning person who has other employment and other responsibilities cannot be expected to know or understand all of it. We should naturally expect voters to have an unclear understanding of this problem, and our structure should accommodate those knowledge gaps. Instead, our political structure has allowed and encouraged the exploitation of those knowledge gaps to the detriment of the interests of the voters themselves. As I write, there are Super PACs enabled by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision slandering good economic policy in the name of getting voters to vote for a tax plan that will raise taxes on 95% of them in order to give the 5% that have the money to bankroll Super PAC ads tax cuts. As I write, there are people in the media writing that Paul Ryan is serious, writing that the United States needs to get serious about its debt, knowingly or unknowingly misinforming the public, with no serious comprehensive effort made to fact check. Our voters’ lack of expertise is being taken advantage of by propagandists who seek to manipulate them for their own purposes.
There’s a famous intellectual hero of the right, Friedrich Hayek. In his The Road to Serfdom, he argues that one of the greatest evils in the world is the use of a human being as a means to someone else’s end, that people should be ends in themselves. The Republican Party and its financial backers are using voters as a means to their end–lower tax rates on themselves and their businesses, and reduced state spending to fund it. They either do not understand or do not care that these policies will have a negative impact on these very same voters, reducing their Medicare provision, raising unemployment, raising taxes on 95% of the population, and so on. If they do not understand, they are themselves dangerously misinformed bumblers. If they do not care, they are malevolent and are acting against their own philosophical foundation.
In any event, our society cannot and must not rely on the judgement of voters with incomplete or even negative information. The consequences are too high. Even if Romney/Ryan fail to win this upcoming election, 45% is far too large a percentage–we have come too close to the brink. Four years ago, a ticket with Sarah Palin on it won 45.7% of the vote. How many more times can we get lucky and dodge an administration that believes in stone economics? We already have a congress that believes in such things, and the consequences have been deadly–the last two years have seen one of the least effective congresses in history at passing legislation, at a time economically in which state policies have been badly needed. Even a Romney/Ryan defeat is likely to lead to a continuation of this stalemate at one of the worst of all possible times. Deep structural reform is required.
This is why I agitate for a sophiarchist system of government, one in which genuine policy experts make the calls. It is a radical idea, it is difficult to implement. It is by its very nature an idea that is difficult to convince people to embrace because of its elitist nature. It is however a necessary idea to ensure long-term continued political development, and so a way must be found. Political decisions have become too complex, too grounded in theory and myriad webs of facts and relationships among facts, to be taken as a hobby by amateurs. Just as there came a time when surgery was too complex and difficult a task for an amateur to pick up the scalpel and perform, so there has come a time when our politics is too complex and difficult a realm for amateurs to manage. America is on the table for open heart surgery, and children are playing with the knives.