Noam Chomsky used to say that the United States was ruled by one political party with two tendencies: a socially liberal wing and a socially conservative wing; both of them pro-business. The current shutdown of the federal government by Tea Party Republicans, however, seems to have thrown that previously useful assessment into question. Although the radical anti-government forces are still being fueled by oil barons Charles and David Koch, the true heavyweights of organized big capital – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, and the National Association of Manufacturers – have decided that things have gone too far. As Doug Henwood points out in an interview in Slate, Tea Party anti-government radicalism may have been useful in securing tax cuts for the rich and gutting regulations, but big business doesn’t really want government destroyed or U.S. Treasury bonds in default. Ironic, indeed, that big business can no longer control the attack dogs it spent years raising on raw meat and gun powder.
The Republican Party of the Reagan era was built to take back the gains won by organized labor from the 1940s through the 1970s: wages were driven down, pensions and health care benefits drained, job security abolished. But for all of Reagan’s bluster that “government was the problem” the Republicans of his era never seriously imagined that steering the federal government into the rocks was the first step toward a bright, new tomorrow. Today’s crop is clearly different. The Republican Party’s crazed, obsessive, often racist campaign against the Obama presidency is now so far off the rails that even the party’s old guard business elite appears unnerved.