GOP and AOL: AWOL, or DOA?

Posted by admin on May 31st, 2009 filed in Politics

If I had to sum up the link between the GOP and AOL, it would be that gravity is a constant.

The un-merging of AOL and Time Warner marks the inevitable crash of that deadly combination of hype and ignorance. By the time AOL had duped MoneyLand into thinking it was worth enough to buy Time Warner, it was already dead in the water. For the success of AOL had existed with its ability to bridge the (up to that point, tech intensive) internet with the masses. That was it. Unmysteriously, AOL had no staying power once that bridge became obsolete (ahem, ubiquitous wifi). But don’t tell AOL that. They still fervently believe that what they have to offer their membership is worth $20 a month (or whatever their monthly rate is these days). In a test for the greater fool theory, they still have a few million suckers subscribers who either don’t know that AOL is associated with people who don’t know much about the internet, or they don’t know much about the internet. But either way, I’d say that AOLs days are numbered - their pool of users is getting older and the younger web-literate generation does not want to be associated with the training wheels.

AOL has depended on hype of past accomplishment and ignorance on the part of their user base to defy gravity and remain big despite not being able to fill much more than a dumptruck or two of staying power. Too bad for those intrepid Wall Street investors. And so, AOL is on its own, tasked to “sink or swim”. Indeed.

Which brings us to the GOP. Again, hype and ignorance. Here is an organization devoted to conserving power (concentrating it, actually), but billed as the exact opposite - the protector of the individual.  For when we speak of “conservativism”, we can speak of conserving the past, of traditions, promoting self reliance, perhaps a return to simpler times, etc or we can speak of conserving power. Under the guise of protecting the individual (small businesses) they write laws and advocate on behalf of big business (with plenty of help from Democrats). But as many conservatives have discovered over the past eight years, these (”values” vs reality) are two sides of a seesaw. Guess where the elephant is seated?

The problem of the GOP is significant. They need to re-brand from “Greedy Old Pricks” to something other than Greedy Old Pricks, but they are run by greedy old pricks, who unsurprisingly look, sound, and act like greedy old pricks.

The listening tour is smart. That is a beginning. It’s an admission on par with “man we screwed up so bad, we don’t even know which end is up anymore. We need your help to: 1) find, and 2) communicate, our message.” This comes across as sincere, and I think is the single best action the GOP could have taken to restore their chances at maintaining the two-party system. Props. Keep listening to whoever suggested this, and keep that tour going forever.

However, some serious change will have to happen. For the Republican party has been defending the interests of the uber-rich for decades. And here’s the dirty secret that no amount of spin in the networked age will kill: the GOP is responsible for the current crisis more than any single organization. Partly in deed, but mostly in culture - the GOP loved to attack government oversight as an attack on freedom itself.

But guess what happens when you give bankers the keys to the printing press? They just don’t know when to quit, not unlike those studies of monkeys given cocaine.  They will need to re-tool that definition of freedom, they will need to accept that there IS such a thing as “enough money”, because their adamant insistence that the individual should be allowed to make as much money as possible, taxation is evil, etc; ALL of it makes them sound like the problem all over again. Republicans *must* learn to accept that the frame of reference is some form of government supervision over markets, period. This is no longer “liberalism”. Republicans are forewarned: you insist otherwise at your electoral peril.

But beyond getting used to new frames of reference (ie regulation is not an assault on “freedom”, “responsible wealth creation” is not a liberal fantasy, and “transparency” is not a joke), they must think a little more before jumping to one position after another, with the usual outrage. For it is becoming steadily more evident to the average American voter who does anything but watch Fox news that to NOT bail out the banks would have led to *massive* bank runs. When people can’t get their money, they get scared. When people get scared, they get irrational. Cue Martial Law.

Bearing in mind that that if the goal of 9/11 was to disrupt the American Way of Life, how is it that Republicans can sincerely push the position that *not* keeping the banking system afloat would not effectively end America as we know it? Either they: 1) believe that it does not follow that massive bank runs would occur with no bailout. [For my part, I think it’s impossible] Or, 2) believe that riots would not result from the massive, widespread, and virtually simultaneous bank runs nationwide, or 3) feel the system is so corrupt that this course of action (bank runs, riots), while certainly risky, is preferable to the course we are presently on. Say what you will, Republicans are not revolutionaries. (Or are they? Change hurts sometimes.) So I honestly do not see how you can call yourself a patriot and argue that Obama should not have intervened, or argue against the bailout in general. Which scenario is it of the three above?

But even bigger example of hype decay and the fog of ignorance lifting is that very few people are buying the Republican line anymore - that all business is the same, so there is no difference between small businesses and Big Business, and therefore government is the enemy. To hear a Republican tell it, America has no giant monopolies that dominate every industry. There are only small businesses - US! The people, the farmers, the paperboys etc. While it’s a great image, it’s also old and busted. More and more people know that defending Big Business makes a mockery of the claim of upholding the constitution, as BB effectively owns and operates the government. To state you are against the concentration of power while defending the interests of concentrated capital is becoming an increasingly obvious contradiction.

Furthermore, Reagan’s phrase that government itself is the problem no longer echoes as it once did. This is not to say that government magically has morphed into a corruption-free juggernaut of efficiency, but that simply the public is discovering that compared to dealing with monopolies who can buy political influence at will, there are far more available channels of redress through the networked public sphere than anywhere else. So making the government out to be this perpetually inefficient, bumbling corrupt monster will not hold up over time, especially as Obama seems to be paying attention to some of the more interesting conversations occurring globally pertaining to how IT can improve government performance around the world.

This is a cue for Democrats - the more the government performs efficiently and intelligently, the more the Republicans must abandon their argument that government is evil and needs to be drowned in a bathtub, etc. What does “smart government” look like? If Democrats pay attention to innovating in this area, this alone could redefine the American political landscape, as this is one of Republican’s chief points. It would be a huge point of convergence, perhaps to the detriment of the Republican party, but certainly for the good of the American people. And as for a one party nation, I am sure enough differences will surface over time to splinter the Democrats within 1-2 election cycles, and off we go again! Ain’t politics grand?

Disclaimer: these are just my opinions. Do not go home and bake them into your pancakes and eat them.


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