The decade of the Noughties is coming to an end. I have no doubt historians will consider it to be among the worst in American history. Juan Cole has written a fine essay on his blog, Informed Comment, where he describes the decade as the “Rise of the New Oligarchs”.
We have always had robber barons in American politics, but the Neoliberal moment created a new social class. At about 1.3 million adults, it is not too large to have some cohesive interests, and its corporations, lobbyists, and other institutions allow it to intervene systematically in politics. It owns 45 percent of the privately held wealth and is heading toward 50, i.e. toward a Banana Republic.
Thus, we have a gutted fairness doctrine and the end of anti-trust concerns in ownership of mass media, allowing a multi-billionaire like Rupert Murdoch to buy up major media properties and to establish a cable television channel which is nothing but oligarch propaganda.
They established ‘think tanks’ like the American Enterprise Institute, which hires only staff that are useful agents of the interests of the very wealthy, and which produce studies denying global climate change or lying about the situation in Iraq. Bush-Cheney were not simply purveyors of wrong-headed ideas. They were the agents of the one percent, and their policies make perfect sense if seen as attempts to advance the interests of this narrow class of persons.
It is the class that owns our mass media, that pays for the political campaigns of ‘our’ (their) representatives, that gives us the Bushes and Cheneys and Palins because they are useful to them, and that blocks progressive reform and legislation with the vast war chest funneled to them by deep tax cuts that allow them to use essential public resources, infrastructure and facilities gratis while making the middle class pay for them.
Dismantling the policies and structures implemented by the new Oligarchs is not impossible. It does, however, appear unlikely to happen anytime soon. As Cole points out, this new social class is comprised of corporate interests, lobbyists and media who have been able to systematically intervene in American politics in unprecedented ways.
Progressives who are unhappy because the economy has not been re-regulated, affordable health care has not been made available for all, wealth has not been redistributed, a green economy has not been established, foreign intervention has not been ended and the powers of the “Imperial Presidency” have not been revoked during the first year of the Obama Presidency need to take a deep breath. Even with hard work and committed effort on the part of Progressives, it is likely to take another decade to undo the abuses of the last.