Unfortunately, We Don't Have Enough Cynicism

Noted Republican apostate David Frum has a long essay in New York magazine entitled "When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?" that liberals will nod their heads at vigorously, but this one point is worthy of note:

When contemplating the ruthless brilliance of this system, it’s tempting to fall back on the theory that the GOP is masterminded by a cadre of sinister billionaires, deftly manipulating the political process for their own benefit. The billionaires do exist, and some do indeed attempt to influence the political process. The bizarre fiasco of campaign-finance reform has perversely empowered them to give unlimited funds anonymously to special entities that can spend limitlessly. (Thanks, Senator ­McCain! Nice job, Senator Feingold!) Yet, for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they’re gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base. In funding the tea-party movement, they are ­actually acting against their own longer-term interests, for it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable.

This is really important to keep in mind. The fact that someone is a billionaire puppet-master doesn't necessarily make him a clear-eyed political genius. Yes, interests usually line up with ideology — rich people and corporations get richer when they don't have to pay taxes, and so they are against taxes on rich people and corporations — but ideology also exerts its own independent force on people's actions. If corporations truly cared only about their bottom line, then their collective weight would have been thrown behind single-payer health care long ago, because it is without question the cheapest health care system we could have. They would have been able to get rid of half their human resources staffs and taken a huge expense off their books if we had a government insurance system and not an employer-based insurance system.

But corporations never advocated for single payer, despite the financial benefit it would have given them. Why? Because, as Mitt Romney would say, corporations are people, my friend. Individual executives make their companies' decisions about what to lobby for. And corporate executives are, for the most part, conservative. They had an ideological objection to single payer, not one based on their financial interests.

And yeah, a lot of them watch Fox News and believe the tsunami of lies and madness that issues from it. I'll bet that the Koch brothers, rich as they might be, actually believe deep in their hearts that climate scientists have conspired to perpetuate a massive fraud on the public and convince us that global warming exists. Does that belief have its origins in their financial interest? Probably. But that doesn't mean they don't really believe it. Everyone, Machiavellian billionaires included, thinks the world would be a better place if their preferred policies were enacted.

Of course, this makes rational discussion of policy even harder.