Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Left vs right moral equivalence --> (sometimes flawed) conviction vs. power

I find this debate tiresome. Any reasonable person looking at American politics at this point can't really contest the status quo. The Democratic Party, wrong as it may be sometimes, irritating as its various factions often are, does usually try to make decisions based off of fact, a humanitarian tradition and its perception of the common interest. The Republican Party, quite simply, just wants power. I realize that the latter statement sounds like I'm saying, "Spot is a dog." But emphasis should be placed on the word just. And anyone who actually trusts them to in any way decrease government power should discard their illusions, because Republicanism is less dedicated to worshiping freedom and more dedicated to worshiping power.

Let's conduct a thought experiment. For decades, the Democrats have listed universal healthcare as a critical priority. What if the Democrats had come into power and immediately disbanded SCHIP and imposed draconian cuts to Medicaid in order to help balance the budget? What if President Obama, after a campaign in which he denounced Hillary Clinton for supporting hawkish notions about Iran, lobbed a cruise missile unprovoked into its major nuclear facility, and received complete support from all stripes of Democrats? And then decided to privatize Social Security to garner favor with Wall Street? What could you say about such developments? Without arguing over the relative merits of these notions, it would be entirely fair to conclude that Democrats are raging hypocrites who are trying to gain political power by going against their own stated priorities. They would be laughed at when earnestly talking about the paramount importance of making sure everyone should get universal healthcare, or live in peace, and such derision would have been earned in this scenario. The Democrats, I feel, wouldn't do this. Heck, they're standing up to Obama's Afghanistan decision as we speak. Republicans, though, have done all their equivalents to these (and more). Perhaps a sense of this is from whence the Tea Parties spring, though I suspect it might have more to do with decades' worth of conservative rhetoric coupled with being out of power.

I don't think this point is even up for debate. If you look at the institutions of state power that are noticed by most people, it's notable that it's "limited government" conservatives that support them outsizedly, and "big government" liberals that are far more likely to express skepticism about them. The military and the police are the obvious examples. The conservative position of placing the rights of corporations over the rights of individuals--as expressed by opposition to thinks like Lily Ledbetter and opposition to worker safety and environmental regulation in general--are admittedly debatable in the particulars and might be construed as self-interest, but can also be seen similarly as a worship of power and of societal elites. Under this paradigm, it is unsurprising why Obama's background as a community organizer irritates them, as it is all about dispersing power rather than accumulating it. And right-wing rhetoric these days, when it touches on governance at all, is dedicated solely to speculation about next year's election instead of coherent plans going forward. They only care about regaining power, in other words, not trying to fix any problems or implement any particular vision.

If you need any further proof, just look at the sorts of people that the movement has elevated. Oliver North was a petty crook to most, but to the movement he was a patriot and a hero. In reality, he was just a power-hungry zealot whose agenda coincided with the movement's. Conservatives didn't stop liking Nixon after Watergate (as memorialized, somewhat hilariously, in "Sweet Home Alabama", which is really just a series of cultural backlash complaints), and from Scooter Libby to torture to rendition, virtually all of the Bush Administration's hamfisted power plays were heartily embraced by conservatives as essential elements of their movement going forward. There was no skepticism allowed of Bush during his day (sorry, Bruce Bartlett), but in all fairness it didn't really seem like many high-ranking pundits for the right were interested in doing so. And now that Bush is gone, trashing him is fine, but trashing Obama for everything he does or doesn't do, anything that fits their agenda or doesn't, honest or not, is completely acceptable to these people because it's in service of regaining power. So suddenly the GOP is an ardent supporter of the welfare state, in order to pander to seniors wary of Obama's agenda. This is, I suppose, a victory of sorts for progressives. But it's incredible that the right has, without anyone seemingly noticing, effectively ceded the battle over the scope of government that was their raison d'etre ever since Barry Goldwater. That battle was always over Medicare and Social Security. If they don't stand for shrinking those programs anymore, then what do they stand for? What else remains aside from power?

One could speculate that this sort of power worship mentality comes from a feeling of powerlessness, one that is frequently underscored by conservative rhetoric that paints liberals as a sort of unstoppable force. But no matter where the source is, counting on a movement that positively fetishizes gross displays of power to in any way give power back to the people seems to me woefully misguided.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.