Tea Party’s shutdown lunacy: Avenging the surrender of the South

"The American elite has lost control," and may not rein in the Tea Party, economic analyst Doug Henwood warns Salon

Topics: Shutdown, GOP, Business, 1%, The 1%, John Boehner, Democrats, Barack Obama, doug henwood, Debt default, economy, Social Security, Medicare, Economics, Stock Market, interview, Editor's Picks, , , ,

Tea Party's shutdown lunacy: Avenging the surrender of the SouthA reenactment of the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa. (Credit: AP/Paul Vathis)

On Monday, Republican Rep. Charlie Dent told me that he could see himself voting to raise the debt ceiling at “the bewitching hour” if “the markets start getting real jittery”; while Tea Party Sen. Ron Johnson castigated the White House for “scare-mongering” rather than “trying to calm the markets” as the Oct. 17 debt ceiling deadline approaches.

While the question of market panic has highlighted the financial markets’ central role in American politics, the Tea Party’s role in pushing debt default brinkmanship has prompted new rounds of debate about the relationship between Big Business and the GOP.

To talk about both, I called up left-wing economic analyst Doug Henwood, the editor of Left Business Observer and the 1997 tome “Wall Street.” What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.

There’s a hope or perception from some in the media or Congress that eventually a change in the stock market will force some resolution before a debt default. What do you make of that?

That is, of course, what most people have been presuming. I think the markets have been a little annoyed, but still reasonably confident that things will be solved without a default. I think that confidence may be shaken somewhat, at least the way the bond market is behaving today. You would normally think that that would do the trick, that we would have some kind of game of chicken. But as Vincent Reinhart pointed out, the original game of chicken ended with somebody going over the cliff and dying.

It does seem like this group of really hardcore Tea Party types may not really be impressed. They seem to believe that the cause of justice is on their side, and that they are making some sort of glorious last stand or avenging the surrender of the South in 1865 or something. They may not listen.

I’ve been really impressed by the erosion of what I thought were the lines of class authority among the American elite. Normally you’d think that [Goldman Sachs CEO] Lloyd Blankfein et al. could go and sit these Republican backbenchers down and remind them of their class duty. But that doesn’t seem to be happening this time.

Why do you think that is?

A couple things. I do think that we have this broad kind of rot at the top end of our society: It’s devolved from a real ruling class, with some distance from day-to-day moneymaking, into something more just like a pure plutocracy, interested in maximizing its cash in as short a time as possible, and really not capable of thinking about policy in a serious sense. The Financial Times has been writing about how groups like the Chamber of Commerce, who normally would put pressure on the difficult Republicans, don’t seem to be willing or able to do that — and one of the reasons is that they’re so enamored of the tax-cutting side of the Republican Party that they don’t really want to stop things like the government shutdown, or they don’t have the capacity to stop things. It does seem like there’s a breakdown at the elite level of society.

But also, Michael Lind had an interesting piece about how the roots of Tea Party are in a Confederate, almost kind of a neo-Confederate structure of people who want to preserve their class privileges — very much articulated through race — and they are a very, very sizable portion of the Republican Party. And what they see — and this is also confirmed by the focus groups that David Greenberg et al. did — the core of this is a group of people that feel like the country is being taken away from them by a new minority-majority country. And all of their familiar touchstones are being smashed. They feel like they’re fighting a heroic kind of lost cause, and they’re willing to do a  lot of damage to try to get their way.

You’ll hear some conservatives argue that the Tea Party represents a different politics, less “pro-business” than the GOP we knew – instead, consistently committed to “limited government” in ways that can be counter to business interests. To what extent is that just spin, or a real divide?

It’s a kind of regional and inter-class battle. I think, to use the Marxist language, [the Tea Partyers] represent an enraged provincial petit bourgeois that feel that they are seeing society change in ways that they don’t like. They look at things like Obamacare and see that as a way of subsidizing a minority electoral bloc that will push the government in ways that they don’t like. These are the small-town worthies, like the local car dealers — people who are millionaires, but not billionaires. They are big wheels in their local communities, but not on a national level. And then you have ideological right-wingers like the Koch brothers who use these folks very effectively.

How severe do you think the tensions are between the perceived interests of that group and the business interests backing the GOP? Is that something that will intensify?

To some degree the Big Business interests are paying a price for having relied on these characters in the first place. The last thing that Big Business wants to see is something that threatens the status of Treasury bonds. They don’t want to threaten the status of the dollar as reserve currency. They don’t want to rock the image of the United States as the most stable capitalist power in the world. Even though the financial crisis essentially originated here, money still flowed to the United States then because it seemed safer than everywhere else. The big boys don’t want to endanger that status.

Even a technical default might not have immediately disastrous consequences, but it would certainly erode that perception of the U.S. as a safe haven. I think they understand it would reduce the status and power of the U.S. in the world, and they don’t want to see that. I don’t think the Tea Party people particularly care about that.

What does the apparent possibility of a default reveal about the state of our economy?

The fact that it’s even a possibility is just surreal. The American elite has lost control, or is losing control, of some of the core mechanisms of its power. And I think the rest of the world must watch with jaw hanging down. And I think a lot of the Tea Party types either don’t care about the risk of default, or don’t believe that anything serious can emerge from a serious default.

Which “mechanisms of its power”?

The Treasury bond market is at the core of American financial economic power. It’s the gold standard of the global securities markets. It’s the safe haven in times of trouble, and if that safe haven loses some of that safe haven status, something happens to U.S. power in the world. I’m no fan of empires — I’m not saying this would necessarily in the long term be a tragic thing.

But it would promote an awful lot of disorder, and quite possibly a global financial crisis, and another return to deep recession. So there’s that. The consequences of default could be quite tumultuous.

Are there consequences you think have been missed?

We don’t really know what the consequences of this thing are; there may be all sorts of mysterious derivative products that are dependent on the continuous payment of U.S. Treasury interests. And if they go bad, we could have a chain reaction of failure and seizure we couldn’t even forecast yet.

The discussion that’s gone on so far about the stock market being key to a resolution – what does that show about the role it plays in American politics or culture?

The financial markets are really core institutions of class power. The stock market doesn’t really provide much in the way of investment capital; it’s a way of organizing ownership and staking claims over the profits of large corporations. And bond markets as a way of exercising leverage over government policy, from the municipal level to the national level. When prices go down and interest rates go up, it’s generally a call for government to be more orthodox in terms of the financial markets.

We hadn’t really seen much of a reaction in the financial markets until very recently. I think they figured that everything would work out, but now they seem a little more nervous that everything won’t work out. So the financial markets are trying to exercise their leverage over power, but not quite sure if all of the backbench Republicans are going to listen to it now.

There’s been some media speculation amid these showdowns that we could see Big Business shifting some support and attention back to Democrats. Do you think there’s a real trend there?

If Boehner’s not able to rally the troops finally, or has a very difficult time doing it and has a lot of turmoil around it, I think business will look to the Democrats as more reliable partners, sure.

Look at what Obama would like to do: Obama would like to keep the government funded and keep us paying interest on our Treasury debt. But he would also like the old Bowles-Simpson “Grand Bargain” of cuts to Social Security and Medicare. He came into office talking about that, and he hasn’t really lost his drive to do it. So he’s got what is essentially an orthodox austerity agenda, which would please most of the mainstream parts of Wall Street and the Fortune 500.

And on the other side, you’ve got these Republicans. Maybe the leadership is fairly rooted in reality, but you have 40 or 60 of them who — to the business mind-set and many other people as well — look completely bonkers.

They will just begin to see the Republican Party as an unreliable partner — they’ve caused nothing but turmoil, and they may have outlived their usefulness. They were very useful in getting tax cuts and deregulation, but the Democrats are now pretty reliable on that agenda — not tax cuts, but deregulation and business-friendly policies and austerity and budget-cutting and all that sort of stuff that business interests like. It may just make the Democrats look more and more like a saner, more reliable partner. And people who are not allied with Big Business, the traditional Democratic electoral base, will have nowhere else to go.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...