The Shock Doctrine 2.0
© Josh Sager – August 2011
In politics, there is a tactic of pushing unpopular legislation through the legislature by way of using a crisis. The use of a catalyst, such as a disaster, to push legislation that would otherwise be impossible to pass is called the “Shock Doctrine” (as popularized by Naomi Klein). The perfect modern example of the shock doctrine in action is the Patriot Act of 2001, where, if it had been proposed on September 10th, the entire country would have had a collective seizure. Once the seizure subsided, the American people would respond with something along the lines of, "Let me get this straight, you want to spy on everybody, have the ability to rendition people to other countries and to torture anybody regardless of evidence? Are you insane?” followed by a mass call to tar and feather the offending politicians on the House/Senate floor. The catalyst of September 11th, 2001, allowed the passage of the Patriot Act because it made the American public believe that there was no other option.
The Republicans have found a new and novel way of utilizing the shock doctrine: creating a potential disaster, then forcing the Democrats to capitulate before the time runs out and the country suffers the disaster. The Republican strategy is the equivalent to the Austin Powers spoof villain, “Doctor Evil”, threatening to crash the moon into the planet unless he is given what he wants. Only two questions remain in this situation: How are the heroic Democrats (I know it’s a stretch, but it fits the analogy) going to stop the evil geniuses (also a stretch) and secondly, between Mitch McConnell and John Boehner which one is Mini-Me and which is Dr. Evil.
Examples of the shock doctrine 2.0 during 2011:
- In order to get the Bush tax cut extensions for the rich last December, the Republicans held the unemployment benefits and tax cut for the middle class hostage. A decrease in money flowing to the middle class at this point would reduce their buying power and harm the recovering economy.
- During the budget fight, the Republicans pushed the country to the brink of shutdown in order to cut spending and defend their corporate supporters. A shutdown would cost many government workers their jobs and require cuts in drastic shutdowns of services; everybody in the country would suffer.
- The debt ceiling debate was essentially won by the Republicans (they wouldn't say they won because the US government still exists) through the use of hostage taking tactics. They created the debt crisis by refusing to simply accept a debt ceiling increase and forced cuts by the threat of default.
- The FAA shutdown is a particularly disgusting situation where FAA workers are not only working for free, but are being forced to pay for their own expenses; they are being held hostage in a Republican effort to cripple their ability to unionize.
The Democrats have no ability to truly defend themselves and the country from the hostage tactics of the Republicans. Since the Democrats care about the middle class and fear retaliation from a hurting country, they cannot gamble with the USA’s economic health, while the Republicans have a perverse incentive for the middle class to fail—if the country fails, they can simply blame it on Obama and use that to get back into power.
One of the major predictors of the results of an incumbent presidential election is the health of the economy, thus the Republicans have a very real incentive to intentionally crash the middle class. The Republicans will either force the complete capitulation of the Democrats, or destroy the middle class and blame Obama. With the shockingly low collective knowledge level of the electorate (these are the people who re-elected Bush II) and a lack of media fact-checking, there is a very real chance that the voters will blame Obama for a Republican-created crisis.
The shock doctrine 2.0 has been pioneered primarily by the tea party freshman as well as the Republican Party leaders Boehner and Cantor. The senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has been a voice of reason relative to the others, which should indicate just how insane the rest of the right wingers are. In my opinion, the shock doctrine 2.0 pattern began when Cantor was making a very real attempt to oust control over the house from speaker Boehner, but Boehner responded with a hard line shift and Obama caved. What started out as a matter of political survival by Boehner became a powerful new Republican tactic that they have used in every debate since. Obama and the Democrats cave every time, which reinforces the bad behavior of the right.
Honestly, I have no idea what the proper response to the Republican tactics is, because I don't think they are bluffing when they attempt to blow up the economy. The Tea Party politicians are either ignorant or crazy enough to play chicken with a stuck steering wheel, thus the Democrats can do little but mitigate the damage when they eventually cave. While hostage taking is an effective tactic in the short term, I hope that the voters will remember and respond in 2012.