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January 1995
Volume 13, Number 1

The Revolution Comes Home
Murray N. Rothbard

The election of 1994 was an unprecedented and smashing electoral expression of the popular revolution that had been building up for many months: a massive repudiation of President Clinton, the Clintonian Democratic Party, their persons and all of their works. It was a fitting follow up to the string of revolutions against government and socialism in the former states and satellites of the Soviet Union. The anti-government revolution has come home at last.

An intense and widescale loathing of President Clinton as a person fused with an ideological hatred of Washington D.C., the federal Leviathan, and centralized statism, to create a powerful and combustible combination in American politics. So massive was the repudiation that it even changed many state governments away from the Democrats and the Democratic ideology of government intervention in the lives and properties of Americans. Formerly effective attempts to alter the meaning of the elections by Clinton and media spin artists (e.g that it was "anti-incumbent") were swept away as laughable by the patent facts of the electoral revolution.

After Leon Trotsky was sent into exile by Stalin, he wrote a bitter book famously entitled The Revolution Betrayed. In the case of the Bolshevik Revolution, it took about fifteen years for Stalin's alleged betrayal of the Leninist Revolution to take place. (Actually, despite the fascination of Western intellectuals with the Stalin-Trotsky schism, it was far more an intra-Bolshevik personal and factional squabble than any sort of ideological betrayal.)

In the case of the magnificent free-market revolution of November 1994, however, the betrayal began to occur almost immediately. Indeed it was inevitable, being built into the structure of current American politics.

The basic problem is the lavishly over-praised "duopoly" two-party system, cemented in place by a combination of the single-district, winner-take-all procedure for legislatures, and the socialized ballot, adopted as a "progressive reform" in the 1890s. This reform permits the government to impose onerous restrictions on the public's access to the ballot, to the expression of its electoral will. Before the adoption of the socialized, or what used to be called "the Australian," ballot, voting was secret but was achieved by dropping a card supplied by one of the candidates into the box. There was no "ballot" to worry about.

Because of the two-party system, the only way that the electorate of 1994 could express its revolutionary desire to throw out the hated Democrats was to vote Republican. Unfortunately, the controlling elites of the Republican Party have long had views very similar to those of the Democrats, thus depriving the American public of any genuine philosophical choice.

The ideology common to the ruling elites of both parties is Welfarist, Corporatist Statism; whether it's called corporate "liberalism" or "conservatism" is largely a question of nuance and esthetics. Essentially, the corporate and media elites have long been engaging in a shell game in which the American public are the suckers. When the public is fed up with one party, the elites offer an alleged alternative that only turns out to more of the same.

All is not hopeless however. The inner-tension with the system comes from the very fact that the public has been led to think there is a genuine choice, and that there are strong ideological differences between the two parties. As a result, the rank-and-file, both among the voting public and among the respective party activists, tend to have clashing ideologies and to pour forth severely contrasting rhetoric.

The rank-and-file, as well as party militants, tend to believe the rhetoric and to take it seriously. And while the American public, especially the conservatives, tend to be satisfied with the rhetoric of their political leaders and not to bother with the reality of their deeds, they are also more likely now to turn their attention to what is really going on, with the American public rising up angry against the ever-burgeoning Leviathan State fastened upon them by Washington, D.C.

By this time, conservatives at the grass-roots have caught on to Robert Dole, who is now well-known for his accommodationist devotion to ever higher taxes and spending. The real danger is Newt Gingrich, who has cultivated a firebrand rhetoric that has seduced the conservative masses into placing trust in Newt to lead their revolution.

Even rhetorically, Gingrich is all too reminiscent of the erratic Clinton, blowing hot and cold, changing from day to day, one day calling for a revolution (what David Broder of the Washington Post recently called "the bad Newt"), alternating with pledges of "cooperation" with his alleged arch-enemy in the White House ("the good Newt"). The much-contested Gingrich "contract," for example, far from an expression of roll-back of Big Government, is either trivial or phony. Let us go down some of the crucial aspects of the anti-central government revolution, and see how the Republican elites, including Gingrich, shape up.

Taxes. Forget the piddling and minor cuts in capital-gains taxes, the increase of the child deduction, etc. The crucial point is that Gingrich and the other leaders are committed to the disastrous Bush-Clinton-bipartisan (a dread word that itself signifies duopoly and sellout of principle) concept of never reducing total government revenue, so that any tax cuts anywhere must be compensated by tax increases (or "fee" increases) somewhere else. In particular, until drastic cuts in the monstrous income tax are at least proposed, let alone passed, by the Republican elites, the leadership's alleged embrace of small government will continue to be a fraud and a hoax.

Repeal the Brady Bill and gun control in general. Not a word by the leadership or in the "contract."

Repeal of affirmative action. Not a word.

Deregulation, i.e. repeal of OSHA, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, etc. Not a word.

Immigration control. On opposition to floods of illegal immigrants, immigration in general, or welfare for immigrants, not a word.

Abolition of foreign aid. Not only not a word, but the entire Republican leadership, including Gingrich, is deeply committed to an American foreign policy of global intervention, economic and military.

Withdrawal from the UN, IMF, World Bank, etc. Ditto, since the entire leadership is committed to a continuation of the global interventionist foreign policy both parties have pursued since World War II.

Gatt and WTO. In this crucial drive toward managed world trade, with the public, insofar as they know anything about it, solidly against it, Gingrich, Dole, and the entire Republican establishment are fervently for it, and heedless of the public's opposition. The exception is Jesse Helms, who has begun to rediscover his Old Right roots.

Government spending. No real cuts advocated by the elites; instead, the contract pledges increased military spending in a world where the Soviet threat has disappeared. Again the public's desire for a foreign policy strictly in the national interest is thwarted.

Abolition of the Federal Reserve. Ha!

Abolition of the Departments of Education, Energy, etc. Ha!

Instead, the Republican elite serve up hoaxes such as the Balanced Budget Amendment, and increasing Executive power over Congress with the line-item veto. There will be no real devolution of power to the states, or restoring the 10th amendment.

So why isn't the situation hopeless? Because of angry anti-government fervor at the grassroots. Because a lot of the new Republican Congressmen were not thought to have a chance of winning, and therefore were not stifled in their political cradles by the party elites. A lot of these freshmen backbenchers reflect the hard right sentiments of their constituency.

If the public is alert and keeps up the pressure on the weak-kneed and unprincipled party elites, they might be drummed into and kept in line. Furthermore, the revolution is a polarized reaction to the advent of Clinton and the Clintonian movement. What the professionally "bipartisan" elite wants above all is almost identical major parties.

The elites dumped Bush for Clinton in '92 because they thought that Clinton was a safe and centrist "New Democrat." Instead, Bill, and especially Hillary, turned out to be hard left ideologues who push the entire political conflict in America many leagues leftward, too far for the centrist Social Democrats who want the political dialogue confined to such "moderate" Democrats as Al From and Al Gore in perpetual dialogue with "moderate" Republicans like George Bush and Bob Dole. Clinton's sharp move leftward upset the applecart and created a gap within which an anti-government populism could develop and flourish.

Clinton's move leftward polarized American political opinion, and generated a massive reaction in the opposite direction. Genuine libertarians and conservatives must keep up and intensify the pressure from below on the Republican leadership, give heart to the back-benchers, and threaten to walk out and sit home should the leadership follow its instincts and betray Republican principles to the Democrats.

The peoples' revolution is not a one-shot proposition; it is an ongoing process, of which the grand sweep of November 1994 was a notable instance. The new populist revolution is multi-pronged, and necessarily takes place both inside and outside the machinery of elections.

Note the war for whatever is left of the soul of Slick Willie since the election. The Republocrat elites are pleading with Clinton to move toward the center and fuse a coalition with "moderate" Republicans. The main hope for liberty and small government paradoxically, is for Clinton to follow Hillary and the ideologues and go left instead, appealing to his core constituency, and polarizing and mobilizing a still more intense and massive populist reaction against his rule. If that happens, Clinton will be left with Jesse Jackson and ACT-UP, while anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government populism rises up and topples his rule.


The late Murray N. Rothbard was head of academic affairs for the Mises Institute, contibuted numerous articles for various publications and authored several books


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