Government spoils

by Rob Horning

7 December 2005


Ed Kilgore, a DLC operative who writes the New Donkey blog, has a pithy assessment of the fundamental problem with the kleptocrats currently running America. Tracing it back to the Grover Norquist “starve the beast” idea of forcing governement spending cuts by giving magnanimous tax cuts to the wealthy, Kilgore argues the following:

“I believe the endemic corruption of conservatives in power we are witnessing today is not just a morality play about power’s corrupting influence, or about the descent of ideologues into the practical swamps of politics. Worse than that, it’s about the consequences of entrusting government’s vast power to people who can’t think of it as a force for the common good, and thus, inevitably, treat it as a force for private gain.”

It is not the bureaucratic system or the trials of power that have made them corrupt; it’s their entire ideology, which is steeped in the corrupt notion that the only point of power is spoils. This, “conservatives” may argue, is rational self-interest in action, an extension of the principles of rapacious individualism that Ayn Rand’s gospels of greed advocate—social good is an inevitable by-product of ethically unbounded personal ambition, which is the only motivating force leading to accomplishments of any kind. They believe that government exists not to protect and enforce a “level playing field” and thus enable freedom—to allow those “who work hard and play by the rules” (in Clinton’s phrase) to prosper—but instead think it serves to extend pre-existing advantages of education, patronage, connection, access, wealth, and so on to reinforce an unequal society and reinforce an existing stratified social structure. That is a trait of conservatism through the ages, but what makes it so galling with this current crop is how they crow about their beliefs in social mobility, something their policies intend to prevent. And lo and behold, they work.

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