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March 6, 2005 - The Purpose Disputed

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Down to brass tacks?  What an odd expression.  But Digby at Hullabaloo gets down to them, whatever they are.  Below is the core of a much longer item – you might want to read the whole thing – that argues the “default thinking” in the country has just basically changed.  He references a book out soon, April 15, that argues that Barry Goldwater stared the shift in the zeitgeist (another odd expression) – and that book is Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein – see Amazon here for details.


The idea is this - some of us believe Government is the preferred method to advance things.  And that was always the idea – from Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals alike, for most of our history.  Government – by the people and for the people and of the people and all that – was something we used to make things better.  Then the basic idea changed.  That is not the consensus now.  And where my conservative friends and I part ways.


Most curious.  Click on the link and read the anecdotes.  Then read this from Digby at Hullabaloo –




… So, here we are today with a re-elected Republican president, a radical Republican congress, a moderate to flaming right wing Supreme Court and we are actually trying to pretend that the American liberal consensus still exists. I have made this error myself. I clung to the idea that it exists because the Republicans are forced to use phony rhetoric to convince people that they really care about the average American and because people don’t want to lose what they already have. But I should have realized that the day the music finally died was the day that a Democratic president with a Democratic congress proposed a market based national health care plan.

The difference between Republicans and Democrats isn't about who cares more for the people. All politicians say they care about the people and the people are always justifiably skeptical. The difference between us is how we believe the good of the people is best achieved and liberals have a fundamentally different philosophy than the Republicans. Government is our preferred method to advance progressive ideals. Capitalism cannot substitute for a democratic government that answers to all the people. The invisible hand doesn’t give a shit if children starve or old people have to work until they are eighty or if half the country has to work at slave wages to support the other half. Only government can guarantee its citizens the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe that progress toward that end requires that the government be active and engaged in delivering those things.

We are at parity, politically speaking, but liberalism is clinging by its fingernails to a vague definition of itself as a collection of policies favoring light regulation, balanced budgets, the last vestiges of the New Deal and certain individual rights. The American conservative consensus is not far away if we continue to abdicate our responsibility to forcefully articulate the role of government in a meaningful and understandable way and convey in no uncertain terms the danger to average Americans when they put their faith in free market evangelism and phony appeals to patriotism and religion. Laundry lists cannot substitute for inspiration.

There is no consensus right now about anything. In fact, we are engaged in a bloodless civil war. But the terms of the debate are being set by people who were not so long ago considered so outside the mainstream that they were nuts. We need to get back in the game with big ideas. I suspect that the ghost of the American consensus still wanders the country and that it won’t take much to bring it back to life. It is, after all, the consensus that oversaw the greatest period of economic and social progress in this country’s history.


Jeanne over at Body and Soul carries the idea forward here.


… Conservatives of Barry Goldwater's generation may have idolized the market, but the current crop of Republican officials certainly don't.  Or at least they believe in the law of the jungle only as long as they're at the top of the food chain.  They're not talking about getting government out of the way so that the market can sort the weak from the strong.  They want big government.  They just want to make sure it's working in the corporate interest.


Today's Los Angeles Times [March 4. 2005] has a terrific front page piece on the bankruptcy bill which notes that when credit card users end up in bankruptcy court, in most cases the company has already made a profit, and the user has already paid more than he originally borrowed (but hasn't been able to get out from under the bill because of added on fees.)  Even if you ignore the fact that most people who can't pay their bills find themselves in that predicament through no fault of their own, we're still not talking about people unable to pay what they borrowed, but about people unable to pay much more than they borrowed.  This bill is the essence of modern Republican values (and those of its Democratic enablers): Using government to aid rich and powerful robbers.


Taxes used to benefit the community aren't government theft.  Courts helping businesses wring blood from stones - that's theft.


So while the cruelly efficient market versus the protection of the community works as a statement of what conservatives and liberals value, it's a bit misleading when it comes to defining what modern Republicans and Democrats value.


But that is the essential conflict here.  One said is saying only government can guarantee its citizens the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The other side, with its free market evangelism and appeals to patriotism and religion, say life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a matter of personal responsibility – people should stop whining, grow up, and take care of themselves.  So tax the poor heavily and cut their benefits to help them grow up – and call it tough love or something.  Let the churches and volunteers do the charity stuff – that is not what government is for.


People form governments to make things better, or do they form governments to steal from the wealthy successful and self-reliant, to support the lazy freeloaders?


The majority view seems to have shifted to the latter. 


Note both sides claim the others are thieves – Jeanne here is saying the conservatives are using their majority in our government these days to aid the rich and powerful.  It is simply theft from the weak and defenseless.  It bully stuff – the stronger grabs the goods – the bully takes the nerd’s lunch money.


On the other side consider the conservative Andrew Sullivan here


My own view is that progressive taxation is immoral. The government should treat all its citizens as equally as it can. Punishing people for being successful is morally wrong and counter-productive. We should at least treat hard work neutrally, rather than punitively. (Inherited wealth is another matter, which is why I favor keeping the estate tax.) It's really the same principle behind ending affirmative action and allowing gay marriage: government neutrality in a diverse society, where our differences cannot and should not be micro-managed, and where people can enjoy the benefits of their own responsibility.


A government that taxes wealth and success to support those who have neither is just morally wrong then.  Well, Sullivan says too such a government does more harm than good – and one supposes he is implying such taxation demoralizes those who have initiative and removes any incentive for the poor to work toward all becoming millionaires.  Well, he did not say that exactly – but he calls taxes for the common good “punishment” for doing well in this world.


One wonders if there is anyone in those high tax brackets who thinks the taxes he or she pays are just fine – because they help the country along and, well, he or she has lots of money and others don’t, so why not chip in?  I actually know one of those wealthy people who feel that way – but as he is Jewish and works in Manhattan he is out of the mainstream anyway.  What would you expect?  I need to check with a representative rich Calvinist in Columbus or something to see if my friend is an anomaly.  I suspect he is.  After all, the conservative right is always railing about the rich, liberal New York Jews who control the media and banks and all that.  And those farthest right often refer to the ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government) - so my friend is probably part of that.


Ah well, conspiracy theory aside, it seem the country has changed.  We created a government back in the late eighteenth century to make things better.  Most now feel it didn’t make things better – so now what?


Well, at least we’re getting down to the basics.




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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