The defeat of Eric Cantor – GOP House majority leader and a leading light of the party’s neoconservative–corporatist wing – has the pundits in an uproar. They are flummoxed: what could have led to one of the biggest upsets in American political history? After all, a party majority leader hasn’t been defeated – let alone in a primary! – since 1877. And who is this guy, Dave Brat, anyway – who raised around $200,000 total, but only spent half of it, while Cantor – the Chamber of Commerce’s best friend – raised and spent millions?
They settled on a neat little narrative early on: the election was all about immigration, they told us, and Brat is a "Tea Party" politician with "nativist" tendencies. That explanation, however, soon fell apart when it was revealed that the Tea Party groups had done exactly nothing to help Brat: indeed the leader of Tea Party Patriots, one of the biggest national groups, wouldn’t even take his phone calls.
Furthermore, it turned out Brat had campaigned not only or even primarily on the immigration issue – which only came up in the last few days of the campaign – but on what he called "crony capitalism," hitting Cantor over and over again on his subservience to corporate interests. And it wasn’t the typical left-wing egalitarian demagogy that condemns any successful business for not putting "people before profits," as the old Communist Party USA slogan puts it. Brat was steamed that businessmen were going to Washington asking for special favors – subsidies – in order to boost (or maintain) their profit margins, and Cantor was a major cog in their political machine.
As news of Brat’s stunning upset made headlines, Boeing’s stock fell on fears the Export-Import Bank – a major source of federal handouts to the corporate sector – might not be reauthorized. A few liberal commentators, such as Ryan Lizza over at The New Yorker and John Nichols of The Nation, got this much right: but there’s much more to it than that.
A trip to Brat’s modest campaign web site tells a good part of the story. Here he is on the National Security Agency’s spying on Americans:
"Dave believes that the Constitution does not need to be compromised for matters of national security. He supports the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA, IRS, or any other branch of government."
Not only that, but he went after Cantor for being one of the Surveillance State’s biggest defenders:
"Eric Cantor voted for the National Defense and Authorization Act (H.R. 1960, 6/14/13) which authorizes the unconstitutional bulk data collection by the government under the PRISM program. Congressman Cantor voted against an amendment offered by Justin Amash that would have prevented the NSA from collecting phone records of individuals unless suspected of terrorism (H.R. 2397 Amendment 70)."
Take a gander at Brat’s answers to a questionnaire sent out by Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty: he opposes US military action in the absence of a declaration of war, and he’s against all "foreign aid." Cantor – a neocon on foreign as well as domestic policy – is reliably hawkish: he opposed the US withdrawal from Iraq, says we should stay longer in Afghanistan, and supported the President’s scheme to bomb Syria. Cantor was a major supporter of Israel, and indeed once told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the GOP House majority would "serve as a check" on the Obama administration, which in Cantor’s view was insufficiently appreciative of the Jewish state’s value as a US ally.
These aspects of Brat’s views didn’t make it into the media narrative, and that’s hardly surprising: the "mainstream" media and their favorite "mainstream" politicians are in cahoots. Anything that doesn’t fit into their red-blue conservative-liberal dichotomy gets left on the cutting room floor. Yet it won’t be long now before they’ll be forced to recognize what is happening. As I put it years ago:
"The American elites are on trial in the court of public opinion and the verdict is just about to come in. The world economic system based on central banking [.pdf] and floating fiat currencies is crumbling beneath their feet, and the return of populism on both sides of the political spectrum has them in fear of losing their grip on power for the first time since the 1930s. While American troops are occupying Afghanistan, the folks back home are occupying Wall Street. For the plutocrats and kleptocrats – otherwise known as the Republicans and the Democrats – the jig is up, and the day of judgment looms. The political class is close to panic: those peasants with pitchforks are getting awfully close to the castle."
As Iraq disintegrates and our elites scramble for a "solution," the political system here at home – carefully designed to tamp down any significant dissent – is coming apart at the seams with the same rapidity. The coming storm threatens to overturn the entire unwieldy and top-heavy bipartisan apparatus. Built atop a foundation of debt and fueled by the unlimited hubris of our political class, the Empire is on increasingly shaky ground – and those of us who dream of its overthrow may yet live to see our dreams come true.
It’s interesting to note that all the dissident energy in American politics is being generated on the right side of the political spectrum, at least for the moment. One can’t even begin to imagine a similar revolt occurring in the Democratic party: say, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi losing their primary. The reason is quite simple: the "left," or what passes for it these days, is in power. Even their ostensibly "right-wing" opponents operate within a series of assumptions defined by the Powers That Be: that the governmental Leviathan is a permanent accretion, that any variety of populism is a dangerous phenomenon to be crushed in the cradle, and that the Empire can and will endure as long as we have the will to maintain and expand it.
Blinded by hubris, our elites are living in a fantasy world, but ordinary people are waking up to the fact that the long American afternoon is over. As night descends we’ll see many more casualties among the ruling class – and that, dear readers, is something to look forward to.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.