The World of Economics and Politics According to 'Animal House'

by FRANK HILL May 16, 2012

This is the first in an occasional series of insights into the complex inner-workings of our democratically-elected government at every level in America and how it impacts the free enterprise system from the perspectives of various characters in that political philosophy treasure trove of information, 'Animal House'.

‘Democracy is the worst form of government there is...except for every other' as Sir Winston Churchill supposedly once said.

Well, if the actions of Congress and the past two presidents since 2000 are any indication of just how 'bad' democracy can be, then we have adequate empirical proof to be able to use 'Animal House' as an analogy, don't we?

We find that most everything in political life as it relates to our free enterprise system can be reduced to the mundane, funny and sometimes profane acts and quotes from this movie that seems to have captured the Zeitgeist of the Boomer Generation from beginning to end in its simple but insightful prognosticative transcript.

Looking back on the passage of time over the past 30 years since ‘Animal House' came out to mixed reviews in 1978, it is fair to say that political life in America has more closely approximately ‘life' and ‘philosophy' in this one single movie more than art has imitated the real world of Congress and the state legislatures around the country.

Come along with us and see for yourself:

‘Grab a brew...don't cost nothing!' 


Isn't this the prevailing attitude in America today in the 21st century?

We are ‘wandering freshman' new to a college campus trying to figure out ‘who we are' as a nation and society.  We are just looking for some way to ‘fit in' aren't we, not only as a nation but on the international stage?

Are we the 'John Wayne' version of rugged individualistic America that Ronald Reagan so ably channeled during his two presidential campaigns of 1980 and 1984, thereby ushering in the ‘Reagan Revolution' that promised 3 things and 3 things only:

1) smaller government by devolving responsibility to the states in the New Federalism model
2) lower taxes by balancing the budget through spending restraint
3) a very strong national defense to deter and then defeat communism?

That was it.  We remember.  We were there for the entire campaign in 1984 as candidates for Congress and advisors to those who did run. We lived through the first 4 years of President Reagan's term and worked on Capitol Hill for his  last 4.

These were the 3 legs to the stoolchair that Ronald Reagan and the Young Turk Republicans such as Newt Gingrich, Bob Walker, Vin Weber and Trent Lott stood upon.

Or are we the Bill Clinton version of America where we ‘feel each other's pain' and try to alleviate the suffering and heartache of all of our fellow neighbors and citizens?

It was Bill Clinton, you will remember, who declared with some gusto that ‘The Era of Big Government is Over!'

Oh, really?  You coulda fooled us here in 2007-2012 then, President Clinton, we gotta be honest.

(It was also Bill and Hillary Clinton who declared their intention and desire to see that ‘Abortion was Safe, Legal and RARE!'. Not a lot of progress on the ‘rare' part of that dream when roughly the same number of abortions are performed each year in America now as in 1977, 1.3 million)

Fast forward to the Obama years and see if you can define which America stage we are now in.

It is most definitely NOT the John Wayne-era of American swagger and confidence amidst growing prosperity in the 1980's, is it?

It is more 'most definitely' not the era of ‘small government' that President Clinton declared as the American economy boomed during the internet boom during his watch and the budget was balanced with the help of Erskine Bowles negotiating in good faith the Republican Congress of grown-up 'Older Turks' like Newt Gingrich, John Kasich, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.

No, to us, it appears as if the prevailing paradigm of thought in America today under President Obama is best exemplified by a video from his very own re-election website that has been a big hit on the internet, both pro-and-con, called simply ‘The Life of Julia'.

In it, the President's image-makers and handlers seek to shape President Obama and his philosophy as being the Benevolent Benefactor of everyone in America who seeks and/or needs his beneficent help.

At every stage of life, ‘Julia' is taken care of by President Obama's policies: Headstart paid for by the government at age 3; more federal funding for what used to be the purview and responsibility of the states, public education through the 'Race to the Top' program; student loans guaranteed by the government at below-market rates of interest; and coverage under that dream of any government bureaucratic lover's dream, all-encompassing health care coverage paid for by the federal government;

Isn't this just almost exactly the same sentiment stated by Bluto Blutarsky in the Delta House in 1978 when he says bluntly but precisely:  ‘Grab a brew. Don't cost nothing'?

Hardly anyone in college or post-collegiate America today seems to make the crucial connection anymore between: 1) someone getting a government benefit/check/subsidy/bailout and 2) someone paying for it in taxes!

Only about 1% of them even know what a FICA tax is!  They will learn soon enough, or at least as soon as they are one of the 50% of the college graduates who are lucky enough to find a job within the first year of graduation or so.

Paying taxes to pay for government services and programs is the way it always has been in civilized societies and that is the way it will always be in civilized democratic republics, ‘as long as we can keep them' as Ben Franklin replied to Mrs. Powel after the Constitution was signed in August, 1787 in Philadelphia.

But when younger Americans see:

1.      The Fed ‘expanding its balance sheet' (making up money out of thin air); 

2.     The federal government borrowing money from the Chinese and foreign sovereigns to the tune of almost $100 billion PER MONTH!! to pay for our lack of fiscal restraint, prudence and common-sense in Congress for the past decade now and running;

3.      The US corporate and individual income tax system that just doesn't work very well anymore to collect revenue to pay for the essential services of government as delineated in the US Constitution we all say we ‘revere'

It is no wonder they think it is ok to just ‘grab a brew' (government program and check) since it really does not cost them anything!'

Just yet, that is.

Wait til inflation hits and the dollar gets whacked hard one day.  It may not come tomorrow but if and when it does rear its ugly head, everyone including Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and the GOP Congress from 2001-2007 will wish they had balanced the budgets and paid off the national debt when we had a chance to do so.

If we are now living in an America where the prevailing attitude and zeitgeist is this...

Don't worry about anything, the federal government will take care of your ‘needs' (which in some cases we agree, poor people for example); your ‘wants' (not sure if we agree with most of them here) and/or your ‘mistakes' (as in Wall Street or Detroit running for bailouts for mistakes THEY made on their very own with their eyes and brains wide-open which we do not agree with at all)

...then how do we get back to the ‘free enterprise/capitalist system based on self-reliance with a premium on hard work, risk and inventiveness?

That is a question that perhaps future clips from ‘Animal House' will help disclose.

Contributing Editor Frank Hill ran for Congress at the age of 28 and served as chief of staff for former Congressman Alex McMillan (NC-9) and Senator Elizabeth Dole (NC). He was a budget associate on the House Budget Committee for 4 years and worked on the 1994 Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina where he does some consulting and lots of worrying about federal spending issues.


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