Sorry, friends. It's my bleeding heart. Today, another jeremiad... There are times one has to say what's on one's mind.
Do you think there are enough among us willing to stand up, like those good people in Wisconsin, in the face of bully conservatism? I mean, enough to make a difference? Can America be saved? I really think it’s time to ask that question.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Hillary Clinton was right. She was widely mocked when she raised the specter, in 1998, of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” but subsequent events and trends have only confirmed her suspicions. What we boast to the world as our “democracy” has been appropriated by the avatars of power and money. It is now being used exclusively to their advantage, and at the cost of the people of this country.
Okay, so call me a conspiracy theorist. I have always distrusted people who hide behind the accusatory “they,” but I’m going to use it because I am convinced that this “they” does in fact exist. They inhabit the boardrooms, the penthouse apartments and the country estates where excessive wealth prospers and multiplies with virtually no hindrance. They have disposed of everything that could once have regulated their insatiable appetites. They gobble up power wherever it exists like gourmands at the table, leaving none for others. They are the American oligarchs, unrecognized as such because they wear the camouflage of respectable conservatism, hiding in plain sight without fear of discovery.
The most effective weapon of this cabal is fear, and they have used it to suborn every institution and value. They have persuaded vast numbers of people that up is down and down is up, that right is wrong and wrong is right. They have bought our politicians and dictated our politics. They have co-opted those in political power to assure a “permanent majority” favorable to their purposes, in part by gerrymandering congressional districts, in part through the use of promotional and advertising dollars to disseminate half-truths and lies. The electoral system—indeed, the electorate itself—has become theirs to manipulate at will. Their efforts have created a Republican “base” that can be relied on to think, vote, act—and of course, consume—in accordance with their wishes. And their representatives engage in open-handed lobbying, exchanging munificence for votes.
They have succeeded in suborning the judicial system. The Supreme Court of the United States is now in their pocket, for possibly decades to come. It was their Supreme Court that assured the election of their minion, George W. Bush, in the 2000 election; it was their Supreme Court, in Citizens United, that further empowered them to manipulate elections with their money. It is to the Supreme Court they will appeal to overturn the hard-won health care bill that entitles a further 30 million less privileged Americans to access to affordable medical attention; and as I see it, given the Court’s track record of partisan decisions, there is a chance they will succeed.
They have undermined the power of the presidency. The people-oriented Carter was replaced by the business-oriented Reagan, whose powerful kitchen cabinet of business executives took advantage of his malleability to promote their own agenda of corporate advancement, along with the disempowerment of working Americans—and particularly the unions. When Clinton succeeded in becoming too successful and too popular they set out to destroy him, even though he had embraced a centrist agenda that alarmed his supporters to the left. Failing to achieve their purpose ideologically, they made it personal, resorting to a specious impeachment process to discredit him and weaken his political standing. Now, lacking any rational or personally scandalous basis on which to attack the elected President, they spread lies about Obama’s very identity and his religious affiliation—and with apparent success in some quarters: a recent poll shows that, contrary to all factual evidence, over 50 percent of Republicans believe the President to be a Muslim, and that he was not born in the United States. In this way, they seek to undermine the very legitimacy of the current presidency.
Clearly, they could not do this without the cooperation of the media. One of their more successful strategies has been to paint the media as “liberal,” even while assuring its steady movement, over thirty years, to the right. Even the “mainstream” media today, perhaps for fear of being denounced as biased, is constrained to give “equal time” to the most absurd and extreme of radical conservative views, as though their arguments had equal standing. And the extreme right wing media and talk radio hosts are given free rein to promote the lies and distortions that serve to misinform and inflame their public.
Worse, perhaps, than all this, because it runs so deep, has been the subtle co-option and reversal of those values that truly made this country “great”: a sense of fairness, justice, opportunity for all; a willingness to lend a hand to those in need or trouble; a respect for community and shared responsibility; a long, sometimes difficult struggle to assure equal rights for all its citizens. Success, these days, is too often a matter of ruthless competitiveness; it is judged by the pile of money a person can amass.
The clamor in Wisconsin, as I see it, is a revolt against all of this. It’s a plea for common cause, for respect and recognition for those who serve the greater community, a sense of mutual responsibility for the well-being and proper functioning of the social system in order to ensure that it works for all and not just for the favored few. I admire these people for their determination to stand up against the mindless march of radical conservatism.
Anyone with half a brain and the ounce of good sense needed to apply it must know that the nation’s financial woes will not be solved by window-dressing budget cuts aimed at those who can least afford it. Nor by slicing away at vital necessities like education, justice and other public services, or international relations. This is the time, as Obama says, for an adult conversation about who we are and where we’re going. It has to be one in which people on all sides of the table are prepared to make significant sacrifices. Civil servants will certainly be among them. But it is absurd to declare in advance, as Republicans persist in doing, that spending cuts alone will be sufficient. Railing against taxes may appeal to popular sentiment, but it is not responsible argument. Unless thoughtful consideration of the revenue side of the equation becomes part of the discussion, we will get nowhere.
So how many of us are prepared to stand up to the would-be oligarchs and the right-wing bullies who are their willing, if unwitting tools? Are we ready to follow the example of Wisconsin, if necessary—and those brave protesters in the Mideast!—and take to the streets to demand the conversation that we need? I think of the missed opportunity of the Jon Stewart “Rally for Sanity” with regret. There, people did show up, in massive numbers. That we stood up and were—literally!—not counted, at least not accurately by the media, serves only to show us how much work is to be done. That we stood up and were fobbed off with a glib distortion of the reasons for which the vast majority of us came was even sadder. We came—I came—to show my anger and frustration at the continued domination of our political system by the wealthy few, and by the suppression of the voices of genuine humanitarian concern.
We have been meek and passive for too long. I say, with the Boss, Rise Up! Our city is in ruins…