Money is the oxygen in our political terrarium. And the political classes are running out of it. To be sure, we’re not talking about private wealth here, but the funds that politicians are able to award to win our votes.

Within 10 months, the first symptoms of political anoxia will be apparent. Politicians will begin gasping for air in public like beached sharks. {Right now, they are like emphysema patients, hiding their private O2 bottles and sneak-smoking in the bathroom.} Panic will break out in the terrarium. In due course, new taxes will be proposed. Shortages of essential goods (gasoline, fuel oil, natural gas, meat, milk, grains, and vegetables) will begin to drive up consumer prices, while new government spending will become a symbolic trickle.

“New” political strategies will be trotted out, but they will be tissue paper tuxedos made of the old, failed designs. Instead of courting political favor based on “what we can do for you,” the appeal of the ruling classes will shift to “remember what we did for you” then, in desperation, “fear what the other party will do to you.” If you think you’ve already heard those appeals, you are not hallucinating. The O2 has been running out of the terrarium for some time. But now we are entering the acute stage.

When the O2 first began to run out, the government elites were forced to curry favors by regulatory favoritism. This is fundamentally different game – and ultimately more dangerous – because free market economies tend to grow in spite of taxation, at least to a point. So the Political classes can cut up a growing pie, as it were. But the basket of freedoms that are curbed by a growing weed-network of rules, petty and otherwise, is a limited resource. Regulatory favoritism is truly a zero sum game, one in which the number of government-offended voters grows faster than the number of government-favored voters.

In a terrarium ruled by regulatory favoritism, almost everyone eventually moves into the group that has been negatively affected by some regulatory scheme that favors another group. Think, for example of the high achieving Asian families who were moved out of the affirmative-action line by other less qualified minorities; think of the small adults and children who are forced to sit in the back of the car, or face being threatened by mandatory air bags; think of the women, gays, elders and others who face muggings unarmed every day – those whose ability to defend themselves is impaired by urban firearms laws (see my footnote); think of the millions and millions of people whose basic fuel and transportation needs are priced out of reach because of draconian ‘carbon’ and ‘fossil fuel’ supply restrictions; and don’t forget all the rest of us who suffer in a thousand small ways because of the political load placed on ordinary commerce by “well meaning” politicians who license, deny, delay and redirect us at every turn, just to please somebody else.

In a seriously anoxic political environment, the party-in-power can only hold on by consolidating a fierce hold on a working majority, counting on habitual loyalty grounded in apathy and misinformation. The least educated, most easily manipulated voters are recruited; opposition is intimidated and blamed for the existing mess. As dispiriting as this sort of game can be, it has a natural end in the anger of those who finally discover they were lied to. We are in the end game, but it is promising and gravely dangerous in roughly equal proportions. As the oxygen runs out, will there be a game-changing alternative, or one more barely sufficient readjustment?

What happens next at this critical juncture depends on the presence or absence of a viable, widely supported game-changing alternative. Even when the airlock blows, and air rushes out of the political terrarium in a mighty torrent, and all of the political fish are flopping about on the sand, the elites will try to manage the situation in a desperate bid to hold power. Their game-changing alternative could be very ugly The Hugo Chavez model comes to mind.

We didn’t arrive at this “cabin depressurization” crisis overnight. Successions of democratic liberal congresses, abetted by a smaller cohort of passively of actively compliant republicans, have presided over a growing weed patch of interlocking dependencies, starting in the late 1930’s, ramped up in a marked acceleration during LBJ’s “Great Society” moment.

The sheer scale of the fiscal/credit collapse of 08-09 is unique. This is why the oxygen depletion metaphor is no exaggeration.

The crisis may resolve to two Great Alternatives and One Tipping Point. One is a post Argentinean-style collapse reversion into authoritarianism, Hugo Chavez-USA. The other is a Freedom Renaissance, founded in fiscal sanity and the liberation of the productive economy.

Peeling back the tangled layers of political control and production-punitive taxes to restart a politically overloaded free market system is possible, but just barely. The task is analogous to one of those Sci-fi horror flicks. Imagine the heroine is trapped in a giant spider-web over a yawning chasm. Those who say, “It’s too late” just aren’t thinking. The spider, ever hungry for more, is crawling out on the limb. Lady Liberty, though bound, is still alive. She is rescued, somehow, or she dies. It really is that starkly simple.

We freedom-friendly types have to think outside the web. Here are the four rules for any freedom-friendly game-changing alternative that will actually work:

  1. It must be a new game.

  2. It must be better than the old game for the productive people and institutions that generate real goods and services.

  3. The larger electorate must understand and agree to try the new game.

  4. The sacrifices needed to change games must be realistic, but short term enough that the benefits of the new game become evident within three years or less.

Our President’s personal popularity is a lagging indicator of popular opinion, which already running strongly against costly bailouts and staggering deficits. European voters are turning conservative. We’ll soon see governments in England, Germany and France all to the right of our own.

The first test of the American popular will take place in November 2010, when the entire House of Representatives and about 1/3 of the Senate are up for reelection. For thos who want this president to be well remembered by history, take note: Mr. Obama’s ultimate legacy depends on a conservative resurgence. Both Reagan and Clinton, among other presidents, did some of their best work when forced to deal with a real opposition.

We are swiftly approaching a tipping point. The left has a temporary, but fragile grip on power. A freedom-friendly game changing alterative will eventually emerge, but its real-world implementation will require two things: (1) The prevention of further irrevocable damage from the leftwing trinity (POTUS, Pelosi, Reid) that has made road kill of the opposition; (2) The formation of a new, bipartisan coalition.

Can this be done? That question hinges on political psychology: When will an alliance of realistic, tough-minded GOP leaders and Blue Dog Democrats arise from the ashes? When will the center-right rally to the cry, “Yes we can?”


Footnote – Feminists for firearms, gays for guns? This is happening under the nanny-state radar. As public protection budgets are savaged, savages will emerge from the shadows. Self-defense technologies are sharply restricted and, yes, there really are a growing number of self-defense libertarians, a diverse cohort indeed.

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