The Washington Post says the two big winners of the first Republican debate were Ron Desantis (29%) and Vivek Ramaswamy (26%).
In DeSantis, we see the GOP going full fascist with his assertion that he’s going to leave people at the border “stone-cold dead,” his unilaterally removing Florida elected officials, intimidating teachers, replacing college administrators, declaring war on Black History and queer people, and attacking corporations that call out his extremism.
But Ramaswamy is a different kind of cat. Instead of wanting to transform the agencies of government to dominate and control the American people like DeSantis promises, he wants to simply destroy them.
Call it the “scorched-earth end-America strategy.” And it has a following in the GOP that’s growing by the day.
During the Republican debate, he repeated his call to devastate the American government, to turn us into a failed state like Libya, Afghanistan, or Haiti. Fox “News” notes this is nothing new: he’s previously called for an end to “the Department of Education, the FBI, the ATF, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the IRS, [and] the Department of Commerce,” among others.
This goes way beyond Rick Perry’s call for closing three federal agencies (one of which he couldn’t remember): this is a wholesale evisceration — no doubt much to the delight of Vladimir Putin, who Ramaswamy embraces in his call to abandon Ukraine — of the world’s leading nation’s systems of governance and the stabilizers of our economy.
Ramaswamy isn’t the first morbidly rich man (he’s worth around a billion dollars) to promote the idea of totally gutting the federal government, and then turning virtually all those functions (from fire departments to schools to roads) over to private for-profit enterprises owned by billionaires.
That would be David Koch, who ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980.
He once led the modern project to turn control of the US government over to the morbidly rich, which started with Lewis Powell’s infamous Memo in 1971 and gained serious traction through the late 70s and into the 80s of the Reagan Revolution.
Rightwing billionaires and foundations funded by them created hundreds of think tanks, policy groups, publications, and radio/TV programs to move the Overton Window toward the far right. Their ultimate goal was to completely reinvent America in their own image, with greed as our central cultural and political organizing principle.
Step one to that end is replacing, agency by agency, function by function, every part of government that can possibly be turned into a profit-making venture.
Public schools, for example, are great opportunities for entrepreneurs to make money: this is a project that’s moving quickly toward fruition in Florida and Arizona, where Republican administrations have offered vouchers to every child in the state to leave public schools and enroll in private ones.
Public roads would be turned into toll roads, fire departments would become fee-based services, Medicare and Medicaid would be turned over to big insurance companies (this is already underway with the Medicare Advantage scam), Social Security would become the property of one or more major banks, UPS or FedEx could take over the Postal Service, programs to aid poor people like food stamps and housing support are handed off to the nation’s churches.
The premise is that anything that can be done for the public good can be done better for a profit. While actual experience proves this a massively stupid idea — there’s a reason America dumped for-profit schools and fire departments over a century ago — America’s richest people are still enamored of it.
It’s quite literally a religious belief in a mythical thing called the “free market.”
At first, they were viewed as the fringe. When David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, his platform included a whole series of positions that were then merely considered rightwing fever dreams:
— “We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.
— “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.
— “We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.
— “We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.
— “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.
— “We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service.
— “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.
— “We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.
— “As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.
— “We support repeal of all laws which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.
— “We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.
— “We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.
— “We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.
— “We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.
— “We support abolition of the Department of Energy.
— “We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.
— “We demand the return of America’s railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.
— “We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.
— “We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.
— “We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.
— “We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.
— “We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.
— “We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.
— “We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
— “We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
— “We support the repeal of all state usury laws.”
Koch’s ticket drew only a bit more than a million votes, but that era was just the kickoff for the billionaire and corporate campaign to seize control of the Republican Party and, ultimately, America herself.
In the years since then they’ve built a formidable political infrastructure that has a larger budget, more employees, and more offices and locations around the nation than the GOP itself. If the Republican Party is the puppet, these networks of billionaires and the corporations that made them rich are the puppet masters.
And now billionaire Ramaswamy wants to carry the torch, presumably as Donald Trump’s vice president.
It’s not like it’s a new idea, even in the 20th century. Executing the Koch/Ramaswamy/GOP plan would take America back to the era before the creation of our modern system of government, what Donald Trump calls the “deep state” and Republicans derisively term the “welfare state.”
It would put the final nail in the coffin of America’s shrinking middle class, which was two-thirds of us when Reagan came into office and today is just 43 percent of us as a result of 40 years of Reaganomics.
Most Americans, having never studied Civics in school since Reagan stopped federal support for it, don’t realize that a middle class is not a normal thing. It has to be intentionally created, by law, by having government “interfere” in the so-called “free market.”
What we today call the middle class — the ability to raise a family, buy a house and car, take a vacation, put your kids through school, save for old age — was, until FDR created it in the 1930s, typically very small in the United States, as it was in much of the rest of the developed world.
Most Americans today have no idea that Charles Dickens’ descriptions of life in England were also pretty accurate depictions of life for the working class here in the United States around that time, as well.
That era in the UK and the United States reflected the normal “resting state” of capitalism when it has not been regulated by government. You see it, literally, all over the world today in countries where governments are run to the benefit of the morbidly rich instead of average working people.
In countries without a functioning, complex government, there is a very tiny number of very rich people, with a small professional middle class (doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers) supplying them, and a huge mass of the working poor.
Remember Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit in Dicken‘s Christmas Carol? Scrooge, as the owner of a small two-employee business, was part of that tiny middle class.
Bob Cratchit was part of the 90+ percent of people who are simply desperately poor and live most of their lives in debt. (This is true of virtually the entire so-called developing world today, too, as most don’t have a complex and functioning modern government.)
It was like that here in America, too.
We practiced largely unregulated capitalism until the 1930s, and the tiny class of morbidly rich people (that unregulated capitalism always produces) largely controlled our political system through most of our nation’s history, particularly from the early Industrial Revolution 1870s through the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt directly challenged those he called the “Economic Royalists.”
As recently as 1900, for example, women couldn’t vote, senators were appointed by the wealthiest power brokers in the states, and poverty stalked America. There was no minimum wage; when workers tried to organize unions police would help employers beat or even murder their ringleaders; and social safety net programs like unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, food and housing supports, and Medicaid didn’t exist.
There was no income tax to pay for such programs, and federal receipts were a mere 3 percent of GDP (today its around 20 percent). As the President’s Council of Economic Advisors noted in their 2000 Annual Report:
“To appreciate how far we have come, it is instructive to look back on what American life was like in 1900. At the turn of the century, fewer than 10 percent of homes had electricity, and fewer than 2 percent of people had telephones. An automobile was a luxury that only the very wealthy could afford.
“Many women still sewed their own clothes and gave birth at home. Because chlorination had not yet been introduced and water filtration was rare, typhoid fever, spread by contaminated water, was a common affliction. One in 10 children died in infancy. Average life expectancy was a mere 47 years.
“Fewer than 14 percent of Americans graduated from high school. … Widowhood was far more common than divorce [because of the dire economic consequences to women of divorce]. The average household had close to five members, and a fifth of all households had seven or more. …
“Average income per capita, in 1999 dollars, was about $4,200. … The typical workweek in manufacturing was about 50 hours, 20 percent longer than the average today.”
This is the America to which Vivek Ramaswamy, large parts of the GOP, and his billionaire buddies want to return us. One of the GOP’s major billionaire funders has already noted that:
Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.
Republicans like Ramaswamy want to convert America into, essentially, a feudal state, with them as the lords and you and me as the serfs. And if we don’t work like hell to elect progressive Democrats up and down the political spectrum, they may just pull it off.
Forewarned is forearmed.