© Reuters/Mal Langston/John KuntzRonald Reagan and Bill Clinton
In his short story "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" (1845), originally published as a hoax, Edgar Allan Poe described a dying man who was hypnotized precisely at the moment of his death. The hypnosis preserved him for some time, until the hypnotist broke the spell. As a result, "his whole frame at once -- within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk -- crumbled -- absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome -- of detestable putrescence."
At the moment, the American body politic resembles the body of M. Valdemar. To be more precise, both American conservatism and American progressivism in their familiar forms are dead, but decay has not caught up with them yet, because both are in a state of suspended animation.
The world changed radically when the global economy crashed in 2008, but the news has not yet reached Washington. The Republicans are giving long-discredited Reaganomics another good old college try, while Barack Obama, having surrounded himself by veterans of Bill Clinton's economic team, is practicing, or malpracticing, 1990s style neoliberalism, or "Rubinomics," named after Democratic Party fundraiser and Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
Reaganomics and Rubinomics were both toxic political byproducts of the generation-long asset inflation of the late 20th century in the United States. As long as the bubble lasted, their exploding wealth permitted Wall Street "bundlers" or fundraisers to capture both national parties by dominating campaign finance. Financialized conservatism differed from financialized progressivism, but the two schools of thought were both based on cheerful happy-talk scenarios in which there were no deep conflicts of interests between the rich and the rest in America.