I know, it's hard to believe. But contrary to what you may have presumed from constantly hearing about the hijinks of Glenn Beck, Michael Steele and Michelle "I only stopped ranting against the US Census after a census worker was murdered for doing his job in Kentucky" Bachmann, there are still serious conservatives out there making smart, intellectually honest arguments. They've just been completely marginalized. But Tyler Cowen describes one of the most disturbing trends in our polity as skillfully as any progressive:
FOR years now, many businesses and individuals in the United States have been relying on the power of government, rather than competition in the marketplace, to increase their wealth...Lately the surviving major banks have reported brisk profits, yet in large part this reflects astute politicking and lobbying rather than commercial skill. Much of the competition was cleaned out by bank failures and consolidation, so giants like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan had an easier time getting back to profits. The Federal Reserve has been lending to banks at near-zero interest rates while paying higher interest on the reserves the banks hold at the Fed....
...finance and health care are two separate issues, of course, but in both cases we’re making the common mistake of digging in durable political protections for special interest groups. One disturbing portent came over the summer when it was reported that the Obama administration had promised deals to doctors and to pharmaceutical companies under the condition that they publicly support health care reform.
As Cowen points out, Robert Reich has been doing excellent work tracking these frustrating and secretive special interest side deals. And of course it would be unfair to lay all the blame for the process difficulties of health care reform on the shoulders of the Obama Administration. The US Senate is now a completely dysfunctional and antidemocratic institution that needs to be radically reformed or outright abolished as far as I'm concerned.
But for the first nine months of his presidency at least, Barack Obama seems to have found that taking on the special interests was more useful as campaign rhetoric than it is as a governing strategy. That's quite disheartening for the idealistic among us. And yesterday's vote on the public plan in the Senate Finance Commitee demonstrated that Max Baucus and Kent Conrad are willing to use a more pernicious mutation of the tautological argument deployed by Rahm Emanuel last week on Charlie Rose to oppose a policy that is great for most Americans but very bad for Big Pharma and the health insurance lobby.
But I'm not a cynic yet. Nancy Pelosi, for one, appears ready to kick some ass. And that could be a very good thing.