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"The Freer the Bureaucrats, the Freer the People"
Corruption, more than Wokism or Socialism, created the Democrats' Self-Sabotage in Virginia
The pre-Trump GOP, for thirty or so years, was taken fully by a pathology dictating that “the Freer the Markets, the Freer the People”. Consumed in a post-Soviet vigor, they attacked even moderate restrictions on business and support for unions as “socialist”, all while promising greater-than-imaginable freedom for those who acquiesced to the fickle demands of the market. A few decades later, amidst a rising China, opioid crisis, and left cultural domination, the right seems to have changed its tune. Maybe they changed their mind far earlier, but since the people-pleasing pablum within right-wing circles still revolved around market fundamentalism, their politicians held steady until they were disrupted by Trump.
A common story of my writing is “same pattern, different side” and today’s piece is no exception. Republican intellectuals have turned the page on market fundamentalism, finally facing the problems their class have ignored for too long: colleges, the HR bureaucracy, and public education. In response, the Democratic party has, as usual, stepped on a rake in defending the least likeable people in all of society.
Take the case of the Virginia governor’s race between Glenn Youngkin (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D). The Youngkin campaign could be summed up by an attack ad quoting McAuliffe: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach.” McAuliffe later denounced the quote as being out of context, but not without defending it to some degree and continuing with the policies the quote was referring to. Consequent polls found overwhelming support for Youngkin among parents, including up to a 17-point gap. Youngkin won.
With administrators being so seemingly unpopular among the public, you might wonder why Democrats are so eager to defend them? Perhaps they are key constituents and special interests? Maybe they are more well connected with establishment media and politicians? In my view, these explanations are not only dubious, but also cannot possibly fully explain this effect. No amount of corruption could be the single cause of adopting such politically self-destructive policy and rhetoric. Instead, what I see is a dogma: one that is a crude mimicry of the Reagan Republicans. The Democrats’ figure of affection, dare I say worship, is the administrator, the bureaucrat, the middle-manager — the good ol’ insider who knows how an institution works and is everlastingly tied to it. And the public really, really hates them.
This is best exemplified by the hyperbole often deployed when Republicans push for actual policy change. Whether it's trying to win school board elections, setting curricula, reining in corporate trainings, or giving elected officials more control over COVID measures, Democrats cry “attack on democracy”, “fascism”, and “coup” as easily as the Reaganites called government programs “socialist”. Of course, it’s possible to oppose these policies without being hyperbolic, and plenty of individuals do. But an influential faction, if not a majority, of influential Democrats seem to have lost all distinctions.
This is because for too many Democratic politicians and media figures, bureaucracy and democracy are no more distinguishable than free markets and free people were in the eyes of the Reaganites. An attack on the sometimes public, sometimes corporate accessories of typically left-leaning regulations is an attack on democracy itself, even if it’s done using the exact same legislative process that passed those regulations in the first place. It’s impossible to determine a causal link for sure, but the following is a hypothesis that I find strongly matches recent trends in elections and media. In a sanitized political bubble, there is very little necessity to engage in formal democracy. Sure, there are primaries and general elections, but that makes up little of a policymaker, activist, researcher, professor, think-tanker, or journalist’s life. Instead, their engagements with ‘democracy’ are purely relational — filling out paperwork, checking boxes, writing arguments, arranging meetings, et cetera. And they’ve gotten positive feedback from engaging in this version of ‘democracy’. Their idea of democracy is shaped not by the democratic process itself, but by an artificial and unnecessary appendage (a simulacrum, even) of democracy.
Consequently, when movements push policy that circumvents this appendage, it is completely true that this is an existential threat to their way of life. They call this way of life ‘democracy’. But it is existential not in that it throws the United States into tyranny, but rather in that it overturns a very profitable hustle surrounding the democratic state. This mentality, more than “wokism”, “neoliberalism”, or any other democratic worldview, cost Terry McAuliffe his chance at office. Just like Republicans, Democrats have baked this false equality into their institutions and their way of life. Just like Republicans, they will continue their pablum long after it fails them. And just like Republicans, they have created a coherent narrative about themselves that blends together the worst of their policy failings, unpopular rhetoric, and structural weaknesses.
This isn’t to say that zero Republicans pose a threat to actual democracy. Capitol riots and bills to make it easier to overturn elections impede or in the latter case, actively subvert elections. I’ve made it clear that I find the Stop the Steal movement to be in and of itself, an enormous fraud. However, Democrats and never-Trumpers only hurt themselves by unconditionally crying wolf over legislation that takes power away from bureaucrats. The clear-minded Democrats are in a race against time. The “Freer Markets are Freer People” Republicans begot Obama and Trump as their party’s nominee. The “Bureaucracy is Democracy” Democrats risk re-electing Trump, or worse.
In the coming years, the Democratic party will have to choose between protecting an ever-weakening, sclerotic bureaucracy and making a real attempt to win at democracy. Choose wisely, my friends.