40 years ago our country still had a bad case of anxiety over communism. At the time the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled, America gave credit to President Ronald Reagan for dealing death blows to communism worldwide. Reagan’s economic and social policies are heralded by the political Right as paragons of freedom and common sense. Conservatives ever since Reagan have tried to capitalize on the magic of a man who chirped happily about the freedoms of capitalism and its peptic benefits, namely trickle-down economics.
But the further we go down the Reagan path, the stranger and more divided our nation seems to become. Conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert and George W. Bush were supposedly bright enough to bring Reagan-style conservatism to full bloom. Instead they over-fertilized, and for 20 years we’ve been forced to watch extreme forms of conservatism mushroom across the political landscape. And what once seemed like a brilliant political ploy to undercut communism has turned into a doctrinal fungus that conservatives ingest to keep the hallucination of validity going.
See, Reagan was effective because he had the clear enemy of communism and primarily one nation to combat. The perceived enemy that replaced communism of course, was terrorism. But as many level-headed politicians and pundits have pointed out, fighting terrorism is not a matter of combating a single ideology, but many. Terrorism wells up even from within our own nation, and sometimes (often?) from essentially conservative political sources. We must recall the example of right-leaning Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombings. But Islamic terrorists are also essentially religious conservatives. That means fighting terrorism is always a problem of identifying and blocking sources––wherever they may be, liberal or conservative–– from acting on their violent instincts.
We missed the ball big time on the terrorist watch back on September 11, 2001. The fact that hard right conservatives were in charge when terrorists hit us raises all sorts of questions. Were they simply asleep at the switch? Preoccupied with their own agendas? Incapable of doing the job of protecting the nation? In fact conservatives seemed so little concerned about terrorism when George W. Bush took office they apparently either chose to ignore or simply missed connecting information about pending attacks, until 9/11 came along to remind even the people who claimed to hate government they had a job to do. Which was to run the country.
What follows is an analysis that at first glance might simply seem like a partisan slam on conservative ideology. But one cannot possible be against all forms of conservatism, which like the balance of yin and yang, holds and protects many of our most important values. So we must concede that our conception of truth, especially political truth as it exists, carries elements from both ends of the spectrum. It is the expression of conservatism that is at issue in this analysis, not its merit or existence. What you are about to read is a critical analysis of the extremes to which this expression has led our country in terms of economics, war and social issues, and why.
After the fact with 9/11, the Bush administration attempted to get wise in a hurry. Most of what happened as a result of their new zealousness amounted not to a strategy to liberate America from the grip of fear cause by terrorism, but instead resulted in net loss of personal liberties for Americans, furthermore using fear as a political weapon on our own citizenry. The ugly effects of this approach was compounded by bad behavior overseas, where American operatives carried out secret tortures and condoned acts in Iraq that were ultimately exposed by military whisteblowers uncomfortable with the nature of criminal directives handed down from the highest offices in the land.
Here at home personal privacy was repeatedly compromised in the attempt to create a comprehensive terror strategy. The personal phone data of everyday Americans, for example, was given over to the government by telecommunications companies. This practice was verbally justified as a necessary course of action in fighting secretive enemies.
But all our enemies tend to be secretive. It is an enemy’s nature and need to be secretive, especially if the enemy is small by comparison to a nation so large and powerful as the United States. But we squander our moral confidence and bring on unintended consequences by thrashing around like we did after 9/11.
Conservatives proud of claiming that we are the greatest nation in the world undermined that reputation while they were in near total control of our government, forcing the nation to live under their umbrella of fear and aggression. That turned some of our international friends such as France and Russia into secretive, uncomfortable allies as they sought to continue trade with nations we deemed unworthy. Our greatness as a nation was diminished during this period by both our words and actions. Worse yet, internal dissent was discouraged as being unpatriotic when it was clear that 1) we had failed to capture the #1 perpetrator of terrorism in Osama bin Laden through bungled operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and 2) we misled ourselves into a war in Iraq that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on our country on 9/11.
So given that these supposed strategies and results were driven primarily by conservatives, where is the moral high ground of the party these days as our nation struggles with massive debt and deficits, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and no exit strategy from either the debt or fighting?
Even now, as billions more dollars and thousands more troops flood into Afghanistan, we are in a no-win situation that can reasonably be credited to policies driven by an aggressive conservative agenda and an unfettered form of capitalism whose behind-the-scenes appetites for resources in Iraq (oil) and in Afghanistan (minerals and more oil) keep us nuzzling at the trough of international nation-building and imperialism.
Remember: All these objectives were funded through borrowing and spending money the federal government did not have. Meanwhile our infrastructure crumbled during the Bush years and our educational system continues to struggle for air. Yet we continue to escalate our efforts overseas.
Okay, so terrorism’s a big problem. We need be ever watchful and monitor (legally) all that we can to prevent further attacks. But our obsession with terrorism has led America down a dark and furious path of misdirected angst. Now President Barack Obama is in office and he’s having a tough time getting us even back to center in terms of foreign policy and economic balance. We are starting to see corrections in protection of personal liberties bubbling around Congress. But the balance of power in America has been tipped so far to the right that corporations have more rights than individuals. The rich are getting richer while the middle class quickly sinks toward the bottom of the economy. Yet conservatives have the gall to call any adjustment toward equity on these grounds a move toward socialism.
Well that, my friends, is a load of crap. And it’s going to take a while to shovel it away. But it won’t happen if the nation votes in a bunch more conservatives––some arguably even more archly doctrinal than the last batch who pushed the nation this direction. We need to be suspicious of people whose only concern seems to be gaining and securing power, using religion, economic threats and thinly veiled racist threats to get there. There’s a word for that brand of hyper-political control. It’s called fascism.
To review: It took 8 years of an increasingly strident brand of doctrinal fury to make Americans appreciate that the current brand of conservatives has no real clue about what makes America great. So the country voted in Democrats who, faced with the worst economic recession since the Depression, were forced to play along in a quasi-conservative (in terms of protecting national interests) role with moves to correct the economic downslide.
Some say the stimulus bills simply weren’t even big enough to have full effect and do what was necessary to right the nation’s tipping ship. The Democrats have done themselves few favors with their seeming lack of communication skills and spine. But conservative pundits like Limbaugh and Hannity and O’Reilly and the lot make big money labeling all governmental intervention in the economy “socialism” because they know the word sets off alarm bells among rabid constituents and independent voters swayed by classic use of political keywords. Pity the fools.
At this point we have to ask: What is the Tea Party bitching about? It’s like they farted in the living room and are blaming the dog. Everyone knows that conservative policy has wrecked the country, abetted by Democrats too fearful to act with conscience. What the country needs is a keen dose of good old rationalism, common sense politics free of so-called “social issue” baggage like abortion rights, gun laws and prayer in the classroom. And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that there is plenty of religious freedom left in America. To push Christianity or God or Wiccan worship any further to the forefront in society amounts to establishment of religion, which violates important points in our history and Constitution. At this point in time what we need is cool-headed logic, not hot-headed values voting. That’s how we got where we are, stuck with a batch of moralizing hypocrites on both sides of the aisle.
Here’s the jarring truth: Our worst problem is not socialism. Our worst problem is complete economic imbalance in favor of corporate authority, including funding of elections. Our nation’s affairs are now governed by a system entirely dependent and driven by corporate power and money. Our social systems are governed by a corporatocracy. Yes, we all know America does not exist right now without big companies serving as nannies for our prosperity. But we’ve gone so far in that direction that we don’t even recognize the problems this corporatocracy creates. Our entire medical care system is grafted onto corporations, and that means both our health and livelihoods are welded to corporate largesse. That’s why Obamacare proposed a government-run alternative to corporate-run health care. It provided a potentially affordable alternative for people who don’t work for corporations. The alternatives that now exist are expensive and offer less quality care options than plans offered through corporations. That, my friends, is a discriminatory practice not in keeping with the meaning or guarantee of equal rights to freedom, life and liberty in America.
Meanwhile corporations now demand more and more information about our private lives and spending habits as if they owned the very lives of citizens in America. There really is something wrong with that picture. It is not to propose that we abolish corporations or pass Draconian regulations against business in America. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and like-minded organizations have simply lost their senses when it comes to how much control they want to accord business over society as a whole. Must we re-learn that business is just one component of life in America? Our work is important to society but it does not define the entire individual. Are we forgetting, since so many conservatives like to quote Christian values, that there is more to life than making money? “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” quotes 1 Timothy 6:10.
Don’t get me wrong: Corporations by themselves are not the expression of evil. I rather like many corporations and the things they create, services they provide and cool stuff we can buy. We need corporations because they are productive, creative forces for industry, economics and life improvement. But corporations do not need some of the things we have given them in order to thrive. Sure, they’ll willingly take all the data we can give them and put it to use in making profits. Corporations are good at that stuff. We all know many of the greatest inventions in society have been created under the investment and supervision of corporations, such as Post-it notes, almost everything by Apple and even a few Microsoft and Ford products are looking pretty good these days. As some people might say, God love corporations for what they do. But let’s not blur the lines, for God’s sake.
Our admiration for corporations and the people who run them does not mean we are obligated to turn our entire lives over to the corporate machination of our lives, political systems and privacy. So it’s time to take a hard look at where we’re headed.
It seems strange to say, but if anything our existing corporatocracy hews a bit closer to socialism than most conservatives (and liberals) might like to acknowledge. Because like socialism, the current system amounts to an controlling form of government that harbors resources in a centralized fashion. Signs of this imbalance are all around. We’ve already mentioned that people who don’t work for corporations cannot afford decent health insurance. And competition from large corporations has killed off thousands of family businesses and family farms. Meanwhile billions of dollars in funding pour into a military that dominates our nation’s expenditures. This same military profits powerful international corporations. All this military spending arrests the direction where our economy can go. See, General and President Dwight D.Eisenhower was right. We do indeed need to fear the military-industrial complex. George Orwell was also correct about Big Brother, the invader of personal privacy, echoed loudly during the Bush administration reaction to 9/11. But the impact of these issues does not end there.
Now President Obama must temper his own instincts to retain power by catering to powerful lobbies that claim to have America’s best interests in mind, but often do not. He must also free himself from the captivation of his own mystique, for that is what seems to drive the hatred of his most fervent enemies. That and the closet racism that still plagues America.
The America conservatives think they know and love, the America where free enterprise by individuals is still practical and possible, is disappearing in a fog of confusion over what business really is, and what it is meant to do. Some blame regulatory restriction for stifling small business development, and they have a point in many regards. It should be easier to start up businesses and not collapse under the weight of corporate taxes.
But should we also consider that corporate control of health care is the single biggest deterrent to Schedule C and startup companies who can’t risk inferior health care coverage? The single payer option suddenly looks like a major player in economic future of America from that perspective.
More insidiously, the America where individuals maintain rights of personal privacy and liberty has been insanely corrupted by money, greed and governmental policies encouraging these values to a fault. It will take great courage and clear-headed insight to fix what’s wrong with America. But calling these worthy acts a move toward socialism is the worst kind of cynicism because it is simply distractive name-calling that obscures the very real problems––and their cures––behind the politics of partisanship.