How Real is Versailles on the Potomac?
Chuck Spinney, 11 October 2011
I began using the phrase Versailles on the Potomac in the late 1990s as a metaphor for the ‘let-them-eat-cake’ politics of the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex or MICC. The MICC’s pervasive practices of front loading and political engineering evolved insensibly during the Cold War to create a dysfunctional majority faction in the Congress that undermined the checks and balances of the Constitution by gradually transferring Congress’s power of the purse to the President. By 1990, it was clear the insatiable greed of MICC would prevent a sensible adaptation to the end of the Cold War.1 In my view, which I think has been borne out by events, the MICC’s greed not only undermined our nation’s adaptation to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but drove the United States into a reckless policy of adventurism and war warmongering, a policy that benefitted a few at the expense of the many. I summed up this viewpoint last January in my essay, The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War, which is also the first chapter in the Defense Labyrinth, a short handbook written by insiders to help interested citizens understand how the Pentagon really operates.2
Fast forward to the fall of 2011: The economic crash that began in 2007, the government's response to it, and the moral collapse of a one of the most promising presidents in American history make it clear that the metaphor Versailles on the Potomac should not have been limited to the MICC, because the MICC is but one thread in a larger fabric of degenerate political mutation. Since the late 1970s, democratic governance in the United States has been mutating into what can now be characterized as an intolerant neo-fascist oligarchy, where an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth is destroying the American middle class by enriching a tiny minority with unprecedented wealth. It is also clear that this super-rich minority is using its wealth to entrench and perpetuate its power by destroying our traditional institutions.
Think my statement is a little too wild?
Read the essay Debt and Dumb, published by the current issue of Vanity Fair. The authors, Simon Johnson and James Kwak, are hardly radicals,3 but they end their essay on in the same place: on the larger question of the ongoing political mutation of the United States into a Versailles on the Potomac.
Are the current demonstrations triggered by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and more importantly, the Oligarchy's hysterical reaction to them, in any way indicative of pre-revolutionary instabilities similar to those that emerged spontaneously in France during the late 18th Century?
Only time will tell, but massive forces may be afoot, and if they are afoot, they may well spin out of control.
1 James Madison explained the dangers of a majority faction in Federalist #10, where he laid out the logic of the system of checks and balances in the design of the Constitution. My pamphlet, Defense Power Games (1990), explained how the gaming strategies evolved by the MICC during the Cold War undermined these checks and balances and explained why the end of the Cold War would not result in a real peace dividend.
3 They are editors of the influential financial blog, The Baseline Scenario. Johnson is a professor at MIT and a former Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund.<
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