There is a link below to an article on Politico, entitled “Republican Healthcare Monstrous Healthcare Fail Might Just Have Saved the Party,” which strikes me as interesting for the following reason: If what the Republicans in Congress just did or didn’t do will help “save the Party,” why does Matt Latimer call it a “failure?” Does Latimer mean to say that if the Republicans in Congress had acted in another way, thereby condemning their party, this would have constituted “success?”
The issue here is an important one insofar as Latimer looks at politics in terms of policy-making. As a result, when politicians fail to make policy or make bad policy, they have failed.
On the other hand, Latimer cannot help noticing that the Republicans “failure” to repeal and replace “Obamacare” has benefits for the party, that is, “saves” it. Sometimes, even quite often I will say, the failure to make policy or making bad policy helps or benefits politicians in the sense of preserving their power as well as maintaining the status quo.
Richard Nixon, for example, when he was trying to extend the Vietnam War so he could “settle” it just before the 1972 presidential election, invited Congress to vote against the war, which they did. Although this seemed like a “failure” or “loss” for Nixon, it was not because it allowed Nixon to later blame Congress for “losing” that war, a war that Nixon knew was lost from the time he was elected in 1968, if not before. So, by “failing” to stop Congress from voting against the war, Nixon strengthened himself, making himself look like a president who would do anything to gain “a peace with honor,” even though he got neither peace nor honor when he “settled” the war.
Ever wonder about the durability of what is called “supply side economics,” that is, why this brand of “economics” sticks around despite its obvious failure to balance the budget and erase deficits while boosting the economy? As policy, supply side economics is clearly a “failure.” But as a way to keep conservatives and other “neoliberals” in power, it is anything but a failure as it allows them to maintain their power by maintaining the status quo. Any alternative is said to be “socialism” and, hence, to be unacceptable. The fact that such economics is, as George H.W. Bush said in 1980, “voodoo economics” is meaningless, just as it was meaningless that Nixon’s “peace with honor” was neither.
What politicians – and a few others – know is that politics revolves around not only staying in power but in maintaining that arrangement of power that legitimates and preserves their power, that is, the status quo. Policy making, whether successful or not, is subordinated to this agenda. Nixon could “lose” – no, he knew we would lose – the war in Vietnam provided he did it in a way that preserved his power and the national security state that allowed him to rise to the presidency. Any policy whether successful or not, such as “Vietnamization,” that advanced this agenda he would and did support. In this way, Nixon helped to defeat those who were proposing an alternative kind of politics, that is, an alternative to the embedded “realistic power politics” that existed then and still exists today.
Similarly, if it takes the failures of supply side economics or neoliberalism or neo-conservatism to solidify the status quo, than those invested in that status quo will embrace those failures, while pretending of course they were powerless to prevent them or that their success was undermined by “socialists” like Bernie Sanders or other “radicals.” As was noticed a very long time ago, there are different and contesting “regimes,” that is, ways of being politically. And these regimes are not like buildings, once constructed and then able to stand on their own. Rather, they are always fluid and their existence is always uncertain. Doing politics is like more like sailing on the seas than it is like building on land.
This is, I believe, what Latimer’s analysis both reveals and obscures. Making policy and doing politics are two very different activities and, these days, the former, proposing and making policy is used to obscure, to hide the latter, maintaining a status quo that is no longer acceptable to most of the American people. As several have pointed out, our politics of “failure” is a politics of smoke and mirrors.
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