Sunday, October 19, 2008

An East Coast Liberal Angered About What’s Left of the Right.

Yes that’s a pun at the end of that title, indulge me... it’ll make sense near the very end of this long rambling post.

Somebody’s going to have to raise taxes on somebody, unless we’re all totally cool with letting the whole damn country fall apart and get bought up by China and the EU. Anybody who’s saying any variant of helping the “big guys” (Corporations and individuals with net worth in the millions and billions) with either tax breaks or subsidies the so the rest of the country can be; someday, somehow, (when and if they feel like it), helped in turn, is just repeating the same trickle-down-free-market-deregulation nonsense that is currently washing all of us down the drain… except for the Rich of course.
How’s that for a run-on sentence?

The Rich, the banks, the investment houses all have a secure safety net in our tax dollars now. Those same tax dollars that the Conservatives and the Right said shouldn’t be ever be used for education, healthcare or crazily enough… for a financial safety net for taxpayers themselves. I want you to really think about that philosophy for a moment: the taxpayers’ own tax dollars can’t be used to bail them out, but the taxpayers’ own tax dollars can be used to bail out banks and corporations. Thank you President Bush for this new iniquitous wrinkle in the Conservative ethos.

Conservatives and the American Right are the folks who most often and most audibly rail and moan about welfare and affirmative action. They complain about social programs and any spending that help the working class and poor outright, citing a philosophical and ethical refusal to give “handouts” for lack of a better umbrella term. I don’t agree, but I accept the Conservative and American Right’s positions as valid opposing, (and frankly necessary), counterpoints that inform our civic life in the United States. I do really mean that; it’s not just some pluralist impulse leftover from my college days that makes me “acknowledge” the opposing side's right to be. I don’t have to agree with all the specific things I value about the Conservative viewpoint and Right wing posture on economics as a citizen to know they are necessary parts of a conversation about our present and our future. In fact I’m still waiting for the return of fiscal responsibility on the national level, something only a bipartisan, Progressive and Conservative coalition can bring about in Congress, regardless of who has the upper hand as a majority. This is not condescension on my part: there are many Republican Mayors, Governors and officials who have and are doing a fine job of steering their states and counties through troubled Economic times and putting the people first. None of them are currently running for President however… I’m talking about people like Christine Todd Whitman, Bob Barr, and (someone I made the butt of an unfair joke on this blog) Linda Lingle, who has unfortunately had to rescind her healthcare program for children in Hawaii in the last couple of days. Healthcare programs are not something we associate with Republicans, and that’s too bad for all of us.
Lack of coverage will kill you, or ruin you financially regardless of who you voted for.

When I was invited to write on this blog back in February, I neglected to eulogize one of the most important American voices in politics. When I see what passes for a Conservative today; intellectually inferior hacks like Glen Beck who I could shut down in seconds -not by making any points but by pointing out their hypocrisies and illogic- I’m embarrassed for the whole of the Right wing and by extension I’m sad for American politics, and deathly afraid for myself.

David Brooks (in the interest of full disclosure, is someone we have sometimes skewered viciously on this blog), made an excellent point about this strange anti-intellectual populism, posted and commented on at Huffington Post:

When I first started in journalism, I worked at the ‘National Review’ for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he'd rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn't think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the Conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other Conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.

Although I disagreed with him on just about everything, the death of William F. Buckley was a loss for everyone in America back in February. I feel his absence even more now in these recent months. I think his perennial adversary (and one of my personal heroes), Ira Glasser would agree, given the hyper-parsed articulation that their exchanges on 'Firing Line' brought about every Friday back in the late eighties and early nineties. Buckley often posed questions that were abominable to Liberals like myself, but his sheer eloquence and the rational power of his argument demanded their consideration and answering. He liked to talk, especially if he didn’t agree with someone and God damn it he was fun to watch. He didn’t pride himself on the insularity of his upbringing and education, nor did he ever put stock in simplicity or willful folksy ignorance. He never, ever pretended not to know something, the way Ronald Reagan did and now George W. Bush does: preferring to appear stupid or oblivious rather than answer a question truthfully or concede an inconvenient fact. He was a serious puzzle of a man in anyone’s estimation; few knew that Spanish was William F. Buckley’s first language. He spoke French before eventually learning English from his British tutors. God rest him. If he’d made his entrance on to the American political scene today, the Conservatives and Republicans would be suspicious of him... he probably wouldn’t come off as “American enough”.

Anti intellectualism is not healthy for this nation. I’m not suggesting everybody run out and read McLuhan, Spinoza, Jefferson, Althuser, Derrida, Marcuse and Hegel before November 4th but rather that the dialectic of American politic must be kept strong by visible populist articulators who can remind the public that not only is discourse and compromise vital to progress, but that ideas and convictions matter. They matter more than the slogans and catch phrases that attempt to invoke them. But we the people have to want more from candidates than familiarity, ease, or comfort. The appeal of the “average Joe” politician must die if we are to get the kind of representative government that actually works in our best interests. There is a big difference between someone resembling you, and someone being concerned about you.
Just ask the people who voted for George W. Bush. Those people who’ve watched their jobs go overseas and their local plants shut down throughout the Midwest and South in the last eight years.

Our two political corners, the Left and the Right, are principally defined by fundamental disagreements elaborated during and after the era of the French Revolution between 1789-1796. “Left and Right” was a literal reference to the seating arrangement in the legislative bodies of post revolution France. Aristocrats sat on the right side of the Speaker and the plebians and commoners sat on the left side: the terms "Right wing politics" and "Left wing politics" come from this arbitrary seating arrangement. This perpetual opposition chiefly concerns what and how much government is supposed to do. When I talk to a so-called Republican today who doesn’t know what the Federalist Papers are, I don’t feel some great sense of victory or smug superiority. I feel like I’m looking at a dummy who is bringing the country down around our ears. To be fair, there are plenty of dumb asses among Democrats… but they don’t vote against their own economic interests the way Republicans frequently do (Working class voters in unions who voted for George W. Bush for example, or Hispanic voters in Florida and in the Southwest). Democrats and Liberals don’t pretend that not knowing something, not being informed on world events, that not knowing the histories of other countries and cultures is a virtue. Dense folksiness, obtuse pride, intellectual weakness and lack of sophistication as represented by someone like Sarah Palin is appalling. Republicans should never be okay with any of their candidates not being smart, or acting in contradiction to the core values of their party and its ideology. The Right’s embrace of the “moral majority” at the end of the 20th Century is a big problem in this regard, as the socially conservative religious leaders in our country insist on advancing “faith based” initiatives and Christian social issues that have no place in a Republican agenda that is supposed to reduce government interference in our lives and protect central American doctrines like the separation of Church and State. Remember, the Republican/Conservative creed historically meant a concern with simplifying and reducing government, promoting small business and commerce thereby ensuring freedom for all to compete fairly and prosper by their own device and commensurate to the quality and ingenuity of their efforts. Where are any of those ideals in today’s Republican leaders?

These days too many Republican politicians appear to be less people than the creations of a marketing team and its focus groups. Look at our sitting president George W. Bush, a man who has all the affectations of a leader with none of the qualifications or capabilities. What George W. Bush has done is not to manage an administration but pretend to manage an administration. He left us vulnerable to sinister players like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who made their big entrance into national politics under President Richard Nixon.

On principal, Conservatives and Republicans should have opposed this recent bail out presented by George W. Bush and also rejected the renewed attempts to put forth any plans that give bigger tax breaks to corporations. I should be able to count on the American Right to oppose unfair trade agreements with foreign countries that impede the true reciprocity of goods, services and trade. I should be able to count on them to keep jobs from going overseas. But all we’re hearing these days is John McCain’s repeated insistence that lowering the already slashed tax burden on corporations and the Rich is somehow good for the country. Is this really the Right wing? Is this really what Republicans represent? I’m asking because as a person born in 1968, I feel like talking about Republicans is like talking about a deep-sea animal:
We’ve seen evidence of their existence, but have never seen one actually moving around doing its thing.

I’m not hearing outrage regarding this new wave of corporate welfare; with the exception of Rep. Hensarling of Texas and a few others he’s banded together in Congress. To date, neither Welfare nor affirmative action, have cost the United States taxpayers 700 Billion dollars… but bailing out the financial apocalypse probably will. I’m not coming down on Conservatives and Republicans because of their economic philosophy, I’m criticizing them because they won’t apply it to the wealthy and the… let’s call them the investment class for the purposes of this conversation.
So if I play along with today’s narrative of the moment, I’d have to ask this question: Who are the Republicans trying to help? Joe the investor with a 401K? or Joe the Plumber?
The real bind is, they’re actually aspects of the same person, screwed over by the same dynamic. Except Joe the Plumber has lost his house, his retirement savings and may eventually lose his job. President Bush, the Democrats and now the Republicans only want to help Joe the investor with a 401K, -not by addressing his investments and his loss directly, but by stabilizing the criminally unscrupulous financiers and banks who put him in jeopardy. I thought I could count on the Right to stop this nonsense and demand or formulate some alternative to giving a bunch of crooks a 700 billion dollar expense account.

If we had real Conservative and Republican leaders, who not only understood their philosophical heritage and history, but also didn’t spend like lunatics, didn't put working people last, and trade their ethics for the backing of Corporations and big business, there would be an actual alternative for the average citizen to think about. Right now there’s substantively none. Everybody’s gotta settle for an aristocrat masquerading as a Republican or cross the aisle and vote for a Democratic candidate, which to a lot of people must feel like not much of a choice at all.

Right now, everyone in Government, including members of the party I support like Senator Dodd and Congressman Frank, wants to misappropriate the American taxpayers future earnings to save the Rich. We sure as hell are going to go broke together, Republican and Democrat, Conservative and Liberal alike.

I guess what I’m trying to say after all of this is that: I can’t even count on the opposition, to behave like the opposition anymore, which is the last resort when my own party does something recklessly foolish. This was after all Bush’s bail out plan. I thought more Republicans would’ve called him on it, but who am I kidding? Seriously.

A friend of mine, an ardent Republican Party supporter who occasionally reads this blog, said I had no business judging Republican and Conservative politics because I’m “a Liberal, a Progressive and worse a Democrat”. He went on to say that I should concern myself with the quality of “my own candidates.” -Like I own them or something? I suppose the bottom line is, as much as we’d like to live in two Americas (We tried that back in the 19th century remember?) we live under one system of law. I can pick who I vote for, but not who I can follow and obey once they are in office, regardless of their party affiliation and philosophy.

Any President is my President in the end.

If by counterexample, I have to judge my own party’s candidate, the fact is, I couldn’t be happier with Barack Obama. Because that is what a Progressive Liberal looks like, it’s what a Democrat is supposed to act like (Too polite for my tastes at times, I’m more of a Howard Dean/James Carville man myself) so no, the Left and the Progressives are doing just fine as an alternative because the Democrats refuse to present the equivalent of a Billy Carter (who as it turns out was not a dumb guy anyway) as a candidate just because Southerners might like him more and dig the fact that he couldn’t stop drinking beer. We’re not supposed to like candidates. We’re supposed to like their qualifications and platforms.

Sarah Palin represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party.”… a Conservative said that. Google it and find out who.



Michael Hew said...

Bravo! Brilliant! I laughed, I cried, I stuffed my face! I knew I invited you to write on this blog for a reason. I marvel at your ability to sustain a clear and concise point of view over an article of this length. I think we should just rename the blog "SJ and that other guy". I couldn't be prouder to be your co-contributer. Keep up the great work.

SJ said...

You know I just realized, Bob Barr is actually running for president right now.