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April 25, 2003
Rolling Back the 20th Century

Rolling Back the 20th Century

I'm going to babble, but you'd really be better off just reading the article and forming your own opinions. Really. I'd have to study to achieve the level of "uninformed" on the subject.

Over at The Nation, Greider argues that this Bush is the third wave of a concerted effort to roll back liberal progress in government. (He's right, of course. No one's arguing their agenda. We're all just arguing whether or not we agree with it.)

Greider points out that, "Reagan unfurled many bold ideological banners for right-wing reform and established the political viability of enacting regressive tax cuts, but he accomplished very little reordering of government, much less shrinking of it."

He goes on to discuss that the, " second wave was Newt Gingrich, whose capture of the House majority in 1994 gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in two generations. Despite some landmark victories like welfare reform, Gingrich flamed out quickly, a zealous revolutionary ineffective as legislative leader."

So, up until this Administration, the reformist zeal was ineffectual. It's my personal opinion that this is because the extremist Right is loud and obnoxious, but there aren't really that many of them.

(I also think that the remaining liberals on the Left were reassured by the Right's failures during these interims and they didn't step back and view the long picture, but bashing the leadership of the Left isn't what we're here for today. At least, not yet. There's no telling where I might wind up.)


Greider argues that this Bush is the first leader of the movement with a real potential to do long-term damage.

Bush's governing strength is anchored in the long, hard-driving movement of the right that now owns all three branches of the federal government. Its unified ranks allow him to govern aggressively, despite slender GOP majorities in the House and Senate and the public's general indifference to the right's domestic program.
Fortunately for all of us, the Right's ranks aren't that unified and a lot of the "public" has moved from indifference toward into active hostility against the Right's programs. Exposures like the American Airlines' pension and bonus trickery are inflaming people who might previously have doubted that corruption was as wide-spread as it is. That's a glimmer of hope for the Left.

Anyhow. You know those guys? The Right, the extreme Right, and those Neo-Conservatives? The important thing to remember is that everyone is the hero of their own story.

Got that? It's a critical point to remember. Everyone. Is. The. Hero. Of .Their. Own. Story.

These broad objectives may sound reactionary and destructive (in historical terms they are), but hard-right conservatives see themselves as liberating reformers, not destroyers, who are rescuing old American virtues of self-reliance and individual autonomy from the clutches of collective action and "statist" left-wingers.
When we attack the Right for being bigoted, narrow-minded, fiscally irresponsible, and socially repressive, we don't make a dent in their fixity of purpose, okay?
They don't see themselves as bad guys. They see the Left as nave and irresponsible and as bringing anarchy upon society.


(I don't think they'd see themselves as being against equality either. Not exactly. I think it's that they don't see any inequality in keeping the people who are too far from "the mainstream" neatly out of sight, the way "those people" used to be kept, with "those people" being the poor, homosexual, minority, immigrant, and other groups.

It's the whole "melting pot" thing because it implies blending in, which is what the old guard of the Right wants everyone to do. They don't make any allowances for the part of the concept where "blending" means that the original ingredients are changed, of course.)

(I should never have tried a cooking analogy. My cooking expertise stops with a simple vegetable-beef soup and a tattered recipe for enchiladas.)

(Do you know that you can't find Mexican food in Nashville, Tennessee? They just don't have any.)


I think I wrote about this before, probably when I was discussing What Liberal Media? There's a perception discussed in the book that the "vast center" of citizens prefer the status quo, distrust rapid change, and think too much debate about government actions is harmful to the country. That's only party true.

It's only true if you define the status quo as the impossibly bland and peaceful Middle-America of the 50's, as portrayed on television. Real life wasn't like Leave It To Beaver, okay? It just wasn't. (And I speak as someone who might as well have lived in Mayberry, okay?)

There was rapid change in the 50's, and people found it exciting. Ditto for the 20's, and even the turn of the century. People used to welcome change, to be enthusiastic about it.

But that, of course, was when it was coupled with a growing economy.

People only don't like change when it's change for the worse. They only long for a long-lost status quo as an escapist dream when the problems of today become too overwhelming for them. And only when they feel essentially powerless to fix their own problems.

Fortunately for the extreme Right, the dot-com bust followed by Bush's fiscal policies and now his war have produced the kind of lousy economy that gives their reactionary agenda a lot of traction.

(It would have a lot less if columns like this one appeared on the front page of the NYTimes or the Washington Post or the Denver News or the Chicago Tribune, or the LATimes.)

Future revenue would be harvested from a single-rate flat tax on wages or, better still, a stiff sales tax on consumption. Either way, labor gets taxed, but not capital.
This is a critical point to remember when Republicans stand up and make mealy-mouthed speeches about "no child left behind" and the opportunities they want to provide for the poor.

Replacing the tax revenue lost the current system with a sales tax or additional taxes on wages probably will help our poverty problem because all of the poor people will die when they can't afford food and their local "faith-based" charity won't feed them unless they convert, get baptized, turn in five other sinners, or whatever extremist measures some half-wit will surely try to implement.

Withdraw the federal government from a direct role in housing, healthcare, assistance to the poor and many other long-established social priorities, first by dispersing program management to local and state governments or private operators, then by steadily paring down the federal government's financial commitment. If states choose to kill an aid program rather than pay for it themselves, that confirms that the program will not be missed. Any slack can be taken up by the private sector, philanthropy and especially religious institutions that teach social values grounded in faith.
For the record, Bush's attempt to transfer aid to religious groups in Texas was a disaster.
Although the core of Bush's "faith-based initiative" stalled in Congress, he is advancing it through new administrative rules. The voucher strategy faces many political hurdles, but the Supreme Court is out ahead, clearing away the constitutional objections.
That's one in the eye for those of you who expect a largely conservative Supreme Court whose family members and friends are employees of the Bush Administration, to stand firm on separation of Church and State. and for those of you who thought that when Congress voted something down, it was a dead issue. "Administrative rules" are being used to pass initiatives that even Republicans found distasteful. this is also another reason to keep blocking Bush's judiciary nominees. The people he'd like to have in the Federal Courts are even more conservative than what we've now got on the Bench.
Looking back over this list, one sees many of the old peevish conservative resentments--Social Security, the income tax, regulation of business, labor unions, big government centralized in Washington--that represent the great battles that conservatives lost during early decades of the twentieth century. That is why the McKinley era represents a lost Eden the right has set out to restore.
In the end, we have to wonder why these people, longing for what they see as the glory days of the past, never bothered to read the last chapter of the era.
But the truth is that McKinley's conservatism broke down not because of socialists but because a deeply troubled nation was awash in social and economic conflicts, inequities generated by industrialization and the awesome power consolidating in the behemoth industrial corporations (struggles not resolved until economic crisis spawned the New Deal).
Since today's extreme Right are accusing "socialists" of having destroyed their Golden Era, one presumes they're quite capable of announcing that all of those little disruptions would have disappeared on their own, if not for the interference of Teddy Roosevelt and his successors.

Anyhow, these are only highlights from the first couple of pages of the article.

You should read it all to get a feel for how impossibly short-sighted some of these goals are.

"Leave me alone" is an appealing slogan, but the right regularly violates its own guiding principle. The antiabortion folks intend to use government power to force their own moral values on the private lives of others. Free-market right-wingers fall silent when Bush and Congress intrude to bail out airlines, insurance companies, banks--whatever sector finds itself in desperate need. The hard-right conservatives are downright enthusiastic when the Supreme Court and Bush's Justice Department hack away at our civil liberties. The "school choice" movement seeks not smaller government but a vast expansion of taxpayer obligations.
Does this sound like a smaller government to anyone?

(Additionally, why are big corporations, the biggest recipients of Big Government assistance. backing these people? Does Microsoft or Pfizer have any idea what a world of hurt they're going to be in when there's no money and no manpower for national enforcement of copyright and patent regulations? They're already the Favorite Federal Children already, with huge rewards for moving jobs out of the USofA and government funding of their research and various other goodies, so it's just greed that makes the pharmaceutical industry lust after a "federal subsidy for prescription drug purchases by the elderly, but without any limits on the prices.")

It's hard to believe that the extremist Right has spent a couple of decades trying to set up this agenda, but the history of publications, speeches, and announcements of intent by politicians and right-wing think tanks are hard to ignore. I find it odd that they couldn't come up with a better plan than this one.

Maybe what the right is really seeking is not so much to be left alone by government but to use government to reorganize society in its own right-wing image.
I don't doubt this for a moment, but I find my mind boggling at the idea that huge corporations and well-funded think tanks and influential politicians have spent this much time and energy trying to turn back the clock to " protect themselves from messy diversity," okay?

I doubt that General Motors or Exxon or DaimlerChrysler really cares who someone is boinking. I mean, I just really doubt that a corporation cares about sex.

I also doubt that a Ford Fiesta cares if the person tightening the bolts speaks English as a native language or not. I don't think a pieces of software code cares if it's typed by a Christian, a Jew, or a Buddhist. I don't suppose an oilfield cares if it's mapped by a gay or a lesbian.

So, while I don't doubt that there are a lot of the religious Right in this movement, I think in the end they're going to find that the satisfaction of keeping gay men away from each other's behinds is overshadowed by the destructive force they've helped to loose upon themselves.

You have to travel pretty far to the right, and pretty far up the corporate ladder, to find people opposed to stricter environmental controls, but that's what many of these corporations are opposed to. The vast majority of citizens are very worried about clean air and clean water and they want regulations forcing corporations to clean up their messes.

You have to check the corners to find which people are still insisting, in the wake of recent scandals, that corporations don't need government oversight or regulating, and those people you do find are mostly executives in corporations. The rest of us haven't yet forgotten the disappearance of our financial security in the dissolution of Enron. Most of us have memories capable of remembering three days ago, when American Airlines hit the front pages with yet another story of corporate-sponsored greed.

You have to really look to find people who, if they believed the Social Security program was going to survive the government looting, don't find the idea of that retirement fund pretty comforting. Especially as corporations continue to back off from any responsibility for the futures of their long-term workers. These people don't really care that Wall Street is salivating at the idea of whole new, mandated "personal retirement" market they can charge money to invent and manage.

I'm here to say that someone making $25,000 a year doesn't have much retirement money to manage, and if 10% of that disappears in "fees" every year, then they're even more likely to be living on one meal of macaroni and cheese a day, aren't they?

What the heck happens to this nifty plan of financing the government through wages when wages are so low that you just can't generate much revenue from them?

What the heck happens to the clever plot of financing the government through a national sales tax when people are so poor they're not buying anything? (And what happens to the corporations who backed these cool revenue programs when the non-purchasing habits of their consumers drives them into bankruptcy?)

Okay, I'm no expert. I admitted that in the beginning, so don't shout at me, but I'm saying that I see holes in the Republican Utopia that you could fly the Concord through if it hadn't been grounded as a result of deregulation and other "let's eliminate some pesky corporate regulations" government brainstorms.

I just don't know. In the end, Greider has some good suggestions for the Left, so maybe Democratic candidates should be encouraged to read this article, too?

I never have any slam-bang conclusions, do I?

Let me say this time that the obvious flaws in this agenda of the Right's will cause it to fail miserably, but I fear living this country during the time when they're trying to implement it.

I don't want to live here while twenty years of progress in social justice is rolled back. I don't want to live in a society even more controlled by big corporations. I don't want to live in this country when assault rifles become a criminal's weapon of choice and there are no police to protect us because budget-busting tax cuts mean we can't afford to pay policemen.

More than those, I completely don't want to live in the society these people are going to create, and go through a lengthy depression and then 20 years worth of laborious rebuilding as we try to regain all we lost.

"No Child Left Behind" is a good slogan. More than that, it's a brilliant idea. So, I say, let's leave Bush and his entire party behind at the next election. The next two elections, in fact.

That will give those Republicans of sense and intelligence (and there are some) time to clean out the infestation and pull themselves together. Time to remember what they used to stand for. No, forget that. How about time to figure out something new to stand for? Some of their old platform planks are still serviceable, but they need to be refinished for the 21st century. Others are moth-holed and worm-eaten and need to be thrown away.

The Democrats can make a good example by using the next six months to pull themselves together, decide who in the heck they are these days, pick their issues, and line up behind someone willing to fight for those issues.

(I know, okay? I gave the Republicans eight years, and I'm giving the Democrats six months. They need more time. They're conservative, remember?)

(A little light relief might be good after all of that.)

Posted by AnneZook at 01:11 PM