John Weeks: The right wing elite think if they can make a major breakthrough, they can end the last vestiges of the welfare state.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And we’re continuing our conversation about Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as vice president and the significance of this choice. Back in 2000, when George Bush and his advisers decided how to pitch their campaign, they decided to call it “compassionate conservatism”, kind of—what’d they say?—a velvet glove over the fist. Well, Romney sits down with his advisers, decides how they’re going to pitch their campaign and who’s going to be their vice presidential choice, and they give no thought at all to a need for a velvet glove. Why’s that?
Well, now joining us to help us answer that question is John Weeks. He’s a professor emeritus at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. He’s the author of the book Capital, Exploitation, and Economic Crisis. He writes at JWeeks.org. And he’s originally a Texan. Thanks for joining us, John.
JOHN WEEKS, PROFESSOR OF DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, UNIV. LONDON: Thank you very much for inviting me.
JAY: So what do you make of that choice, unmitigated hard-right message, and they do their math and they think they can win with that?
WEEKS: My interpretation is the following. First let me state what I would say is the consistent interpretation that’s given to it in the newspapers here in Britain, such as The Guardian and The Independent. That interpretation is that Romney is not of the hard right, he’s a little bit of a centrist, and that he’s nervous about his hardline Republican base, and therefore, in order to enthuse that base and get them out, he chooses this far right winger with the strategy being that there’s not a lot of enthusiasm for Obama this time around, but Ryan will give him enthusiasm and so help him win.
I think that’s wrong. I think that Romney has no principles. I think that the people behind him, the big money behind him, you know, like the Koch brothers and others, have decided that they’ve reached the point where they can take the gloves off and make it an open confrontation. This time you might say, I think, that they think they’re looking at the final battle and that if they can win with this spineless opportunist, with this far-right near-authoritarian behind him, they can win with those guys, they can make a tremendous breakthrough, and [unintel.] Social Security [unintel.] Medicare, and this incremental rewriting of the U.S. welfare state will be over. It’ll just be brought to an end. And I think that is the strategy that led Romney to make his choice.
JAY: And to what extent do you critique President Obama for opening the door to that?
WEEKS: Yes, I mean, it’s painful to say, because I do think that we are in almost like a Weimar moment. You know. I mean, these people aren’t—I mean, Romney and Ryan are not overt fascists, but they’re pretty far right-wing. And no question now about, you know, possibly saying, let’s elect these people and it will get so bad that next time things will be better, and at least from my point of view.
I think that I regret to say that Obama has to be supportive, though this is to a great extent of his own doing. I mean, beginning from the day he was elected, he should have been more aggressive [unintel.] Perhaps it could have taken him a month to realize that there were going to be no compromise with these neo-authoritarians. By that point, he should have used every legislative trick he had to get health care through as quickly as possible. He should have withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq, though those involved separate issues. Maybe he was never inclined to do so. He should have pushed through banking reform. And then, when he came up to the midterm elections, his health care system would have been operating at least a year, and we came up for reelection, he could say, look, Americans are healthy, the banks have been—they had their wings clipped, and now we’re on our way to a decent society, which we weren’t before. But he didn’t. He didn’t do that. He’s drifted. Various—.
JAY: And because, I mean, he represents a section of capital that really doesn’t want all those things. I mean, he was there to, essentially, manage the crisis and make sure Wall Street wasn’t devastated. He accomplished that. And on these other things, his heart just never seemed to be in it. But I guess that’s because of who he really represents—their heart’s not really in it.
WEEKS: I think that’s true. I mean, I think—I mean, I’m I’m very pessimistic, because I think that this financial elite, which considers itself urbane and sophisticated, which supports Obama, I’m sure they find the Tea Party offensive to them. They would never have them over to their houses. They probably find Paul Ryan a bit of a—you know, a sort of unbelievable buffoon. And I’m sure they think that Romney is just, you know, completely empty.
But perhaps for the first time in the history of the American financial elite, they’re overmatched. There’s new money, there’s new big money that’s not interested in any form of liberalism, that’s not interested in any gesture towards some type of safety net within the capitalist system.
The big money behind Romney has a strategy: rejuvenate the power of the United States by transferring as much income to the wealthy as possible. They’ve done—under Obama a pretty good job was done of it, under Clinton a pretty good job was done, and under Bush. But I think if Romney is elected, it will accelerate, you know, beyond what we can imagine.
JAY: And, I mean, at the moment, Obama still seems to be ahead, but the money that’s being poured into Romney—it’s not that the other side, the Obama side and that section of the elite that supports Obama—I mean, they’ve got as much money. They could throw it at it as much as the other side is. But they don’t seem as committed to it.
WEEKS: I think that’s true, though, Paul, I think that we have to recognize that the financial elite runs on duplicity. So if they begin to get a hint that Romney might win, you can be sure that they’ll start pouring money into him. You know.
There are now, at this moment, I think, two fairly clear factions. There are the neo-authoritarians and the Koch brothers who want to bust the unions and want to get rid of any form of social provision, and there’s this financial elite that is prepared to tolerate some of the rudimentary protections that are necessary for a market system. But I think that that financial elite would be prepared to switch sides if they thought Romney was going to win and they would say—I mean, I hesitate to make these comparisons, but the comparison is obvious, right? Early 1930s, when the German industrialists switched sides, they didn’t like Hitler. They thought he was dangerous and so on. But when it was clear that he might win, well, it became a different story. So if it’s clear, if it began to be a real possibility that Romney was going to win, I think you would see money flowing from Obama to Romney.
JAY: And as disastrous as the Bush presidency was for America, the financial elite did very well. I mean, there was—as—their hands in the cookie jar as often as they want. The top never really went back on the cookie jar. And I suppose it’s not like Obama’s been, you know, that—I mean, he’s been very weak on the issues of regulation. But with Romney, he’s already saying he wants less regulation.
WEEKS: Yeah. I mean, I think that the financial elite at some point now soon will begin to say to themselves, yes, these people are nuts, and it would be a rather dangerous world if actually somebody like Ryan were vice president (and God forbid that he would become president). But on the other hand, there’s no talk of financial regulation there. And all of these wealthy billionaires out in California and other places, yes, they’re a bunch of, you know, vulgar creeps, but on the other hand, we share the same basic interests. And so I think that we are in a very dangerous period.
JAY: Right. Alright. Well, thanks very much for joining us, John.
WEEKS: Well, thank you very much for having me, and I look forward to joining you again.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.