Photo by Matthew WilkinsonIn referencing Obama’s budget, I noted that he agreed fundamentally with the GOP on the need for cuts…this is because both Obama and the GOP embrace the fundamental thirty years “new” idea of how the economy works. The most important goal is not reducing unemployment but rather reducing deficits. Of course the funny thing here is that the GOP really isn’t interested in reducing deficits, only in creating the conditions that make Democrats feel they have to do so to be “responsible”.
But that’s another story.
In both preparing for my graduate course tomorrow, and in working on my second book project on neoliberalism I’ve been reading a set of works that examine the relationship between ideas, interests, and institutional change. Mark Blyth–whose video on austerity I linked to about a week or so ago–is important here. He argues that in crises, ideas work in five different ways–they work to reduce uncertainty in the face of crisis, they work to create conditions for coalition formation, they work as weapons to deligitimate countering ideas and programs, they work as blueprints to establish new programs, and finally they generate stability once they are put into place.
When Blyth argues that “ideas are weapons” he’s stating that in something akin to a free marketplace of ideas, a set of ideas that posits the economy works in ONE way can be used as a weapon to reduce support for the idea that the economy works in some OTHER way. And he’s right….but his argument here is incomplete. What we’re witnessing is not simply an attack on ideas, but an attack on the individuals willing to promote the ideas. The INDIVIDUALS are delegitimated before their ideas are even placed under public scrutiny. Under this premise I link the attempt to destablize Wiki-leaks (by among other things spying on Salon.com columnist Glen Greenwald) Andrew Breitbart’s media assassination of Shirley Sherrod, and the birther movement. What we need to contest this move is at least a three-pronged response–first actively contesting current common sense, second training a new group of intellectuals for the purpose of creating new narratives, and third…and this is the most controversial idea…using a variety of tactics to delegitimize our political opponents.