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Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I Am Not A Republican Conservative Tea Bagger (A Reply)

I will say that I have no problem with you calling me a leftist, except for two things. First is that you seem to use the term as a mindless pejorative. The second reason is that in various comments you have made to me, and things you have said in your videos, you seem to be under the distinct impression that because I have been to college, any left leaning thought I have must be the result of being brainwashed by my professors. Not only does this strike me as condescending, but I find it rather laughable in light of my actual experiences in college. For the record, the overwhelming majority of my professors went out of their way to not give their personal opinion on most subjects, political or otherwise. Ironically, most or all of my political science professors were right leaning, not left. More importantly though, you seem to not grant the possibility that I might have life experience from which to base my world view. I am 29 years old and you do not appear to be that much older than me, and so your comments come off as typical right wing anti-intellectualism I am sorry to say. For the record, before I went to college, I was what you would call a ‘working class person’ working menial jobs. I learned firsthand the realities that shatter many of our deeply held myths about success and the ‘American Dream’. I know for example, that hard work on its own is irrelevant. Companies will happily work you to the bone and throw you away when they are done with nothing to show for it. It is typically not how hard you work, but whose ass you kiss, and how much of your unquestioning devotion you give to them. May of the means to success, such as college, are simply out of reach of most people, or they must go into serious debt to obtain them, while others succeed by having things handed to them by their parents. In spite of all of our consoling rags to riches stories, the reality is that, on average, the number one determining factor for most people, even in America, is the success of their parents. In other words, our meritocracy is an illusion propped up by exceptions to the rule stories.

While I am on the subject of personal experience, you have accused me of strawmanning the right, tea party, religious conservatives, etc. I assume you are talking about my Dispatches from the Bible belt video. To that I say that you are guilty of hearing what you want to hear. As I stated, these displays of religion are simply more common in the south than there I live, and not that every person in the south is that way, or that everyone on the right is a bigot. I understand the right wing mentality FAR better than you think. I come from a military family in which most of the male members of my family have been in the military. I was born on an Air Force base, and I still remember going to the base theater where they would play the national anthem with a montage of Air Force jets before every movie. As I understand it, you were in the Air Force, and perhaps you have seen this for yourself. Many members of my own family are Christians, and Southerners (I did say I was in the South visiting family, did I not). I was not raised by granola eating hippies. I have a fairly intimate understanding of the patriotic and conservative Christian world view. I do not have a one dimensional view of the right.

What I will say is that I think that what has been called the ‘politics of resentment’ is a major motivation factor for the right. Conservatives might not hate gays, but they do form the bulk of opposition to gay marriage (A hypocrisy I will return to in a moment). While most on the right are not racists, there is clearly a massive anxiety over the loss of “Tradition America” amongst the right. This phrase is rather telling. When Bill O’Reilly talked about this loss of tradition America, he did it on the context of explaining how African Americans, Latino Americans, other minorities, Women, Homosexuals and non-Christians disproportionately voted for Obama. What are we left with when we subtract such groups from America? White heterosexual Christian males. Much of the opposition to welfare has a racial subtext to it as well. While paranoia that non-white, non-Christian, non-hetero, non-males are ruining America is not universally shared on the right, it is not a component of their politics we can ignore either.

As for your assertions that the Tea Party and the right in general are simply Libertarians that want smaller government, individual liberty and control of your own lives free from the Jaba the Hut state lording over you, I would first suggest that you stop pretending to be a Libertarian before you upset actual Libertarians. I personally have respect for actual Libertarians when they are intellectually honest and consistent, even if I do not agree with some of their more utopian ideas. I think that any honest examination of the Republican Party, The Tea Party, and Religious conservatives would show that your claims to these high minded principles are transparently false.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that if Democrats want the Mommy State, then Republicans want the Daddy State. If the Mommy state being social welfare programs, then the Daddy state is having a powerful military and security state to beat up anyone that threatens you. An actual Libertarian would want neither.
It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the ultimate Sacred Cow of the right is the military. When Obama, under advisement from the Pentagon no less, wanted to reduce the military budget, people on the right rushed to label him a traitor. In point of fact, The United States has the most expensive military in the world. It amounts to around half or more of the federal budget, depending on counting. We have military bases around the world, which we use to project our power to all corners of the globe. A ‘radical leftist’ would say that is controlling the world at the barrel of a gun. We need not devolve into such hyperbole to simply note that this hardly amounts to small government, as the military is a part of the government, and the largest single part at that. Since the Tea Party treats the Founding Fathers like Biblical prophets, it is also worth noting here that this state of affairs in contrary to what many of them thought of America’s proper role in the world.

Moreover, this runs contrary to the claim of rugged individualists taking responsibility for their own lives, as it is relying on the government to provide a security blanket through force. I mention this not to say that people have no principle on which to justify the military, but rather that it proves that they hold an unstated principle about the proper role of government. Namely, that rather than control their own lives without the aid of government, they believe the government should take charge of their security. Interestingly though, the ‘political principles’ by which people try to justify massive military spending and ‘securing our interests’ throughout the world are not one which they extend to other countries. If it were simply a principle of proper government that they should expend vast sums of their wealth on their militaries and secure their nation interests, then we would end up living in a vastly more dangerous world. This is exactly what we saw happen during the cold war. The United States wrongly believed that it had a smaller nuclear arsenal than the Soviet Union, and built up its stock pile to close a non-existent weapons gap. The Soviet Union, facing an actual weapons gap, responded in kind by massively increasing their arsenal. As a result, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons were created, and the world is unspeakably less safe as a result. The underlying presumption is that the United States has a unique right to military hegemony. If tomorrow China decided to spend half of its budget on its military, we would no doubt see this as a threat to world peace, and that would be correct, if only for that fact that it might lead to confrontation with the United States as the two countries tried to ‘secure their national interests’.

The Daddy State also contradicts the notion that you want government out of your lives, as the US now has the most massive internal surveillance system ever created. As you read this, this conversation is probably being stored in an NSA database. Does that bother you at all? Is the fact that they are monitoring virtually all electronic information, from phone calls to emails to websites visit of practically every person in the country not a violation of privacy? A few decades ago, this would have been seen as a massive intrusion on the part of the government. The only comparable systems of internal surveillance are found in totalitarian states. Certainly, there are many people on the right who are mortified by this, but the attitude of the mainstream right and the Republican Party is to fully support these measures as necessary for our security. The right is extremely found of selectively quoting the Founding Fathers, so allow me to offer you a quote:

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

The point to be noted here is that the right is willing to allow the government to reach quite far into their lives, rather than genuinely want them out.

When the right says they want small government, this has nothing to do with how large the government actually is, or how much it costs, but rather is a matter of function. The right does not question a government military, or police, fire department, road building, public schools or a host of other functions. What it is against is social welfare programs. In a sense, everything I just named, from the military to schools is a form of social welfare. The government provides them for the benefit of everyone in the society for the sake of the welfare of the society. The type of social welfare the right is against is that which directly helps the poor and needy. Damn those welfare cheats!

The notion of individual liberty is also an interesting one, because it is a concept the right applies selectively. If it is a person using drugs, then the Republicans become the Law and Order party. Excluding Medicare, social security and such major programs, this country spends roughly as much on the prison system as it does on welfare programs such as food stamps and housing assistance. Keep in mind that said cost is with less than half as many people in prison as are on welfare. Of the over 2 million people in the US in prison, a staggering percent are there for nonviolent drug offences. When we include the cost of policing and interdiction efforts, the amount the war on drugs costs increases substantially. All of it would seem to be a futile attempt by the government to control what people put into their own bodies. Those on the mainstream of the right protest neither the cost nor the intrusion on personal liberty brought by the war on drugs.

Gay marriage is another classic example of the right’s commitment to personal liberty. To say that two consenting adults should not be allowed to marry each other would seem to be a rather clear incursion on personal liberty. It is usually at this point that the right will either offer up their own religious beliefs as a reason, or they will suddenly wax philosophically about how the government only has an obligation to endorse heterosexual marriage. The reasoning behind this most often is that they think it should be the government’s role to promote heterosexual procreation. This stands firmly against the idea of a government staying out of people’s lives and letting them be self-determinate. And instead it suggests they think it’s the government’s responsibility to take a role in the most intimate aspects of people’s lives. Who is the liberal now? More to the point, demanding personal liberty for yourself, while denying it to others is hypocrisy.

Public schools present an interesting example of right wing religious conservative thinking for several reasons. Rather than every person taking on the ‘personal responsibility’ of the education of their children, most of them opt for public schools. Many of those who do not happily accept private schools receiving government money through voucher programs. Their main problem with public schools seems to be that they view of them as an ideological battle ground. They are outraged when prayer endorsing their religion is taken out of school, but object to their child being taught any point of view they disagree with. They do not consistently argue for the neutrality of public education. Rather they hypocritically argue for their point of view at the expense of others. If they want to claim that the school system has no business teaching their child sex education or evolution, when what business does the school have endorsing religion through school prayer?

The entire issue of public displays of religion demonstrates that the right wants the government out of THEIR life, and not out of the lives of the citizens that disagree with them. If the government promotes a Christian world view, it is not the government intruding on THEM, so why should they care how it affects other people that do not share their view?

Generally speaking, the right is happy when the government is on their side, and angry when they think it is not. The overarching principles of this are not what you claim them to be. They are perfectly happy with a vast and intrusive government, if they believe it will grant them a certain kind of safety. Government can endorse one point of view over others, so long as it is their point of view. The notion that the right wants hands off government is flatly contradicted by their ideology as a whole.

As for the fiscal arguments of the Tea Party and the issue of the nation debt, the only thing which makes these things hard to attack is that the Tea Party seems impervious to facts. An honest look at our current deficit would show that it is not merely a matter of out of control government spending, as the Tea Party narrative would have us believe. Rather it was brought on by a loss of revenue and a spike in unemployment. In turn, both of those things are a result of the economic recession. Government tax is a percentage. For the sake of simplicity let us say that the government taxes at a rate of 20% and that the GDP was 10 trillion dollars prior to the recession. 20% of 10 trillion is 2 trillion. But what if the economy shrank to 8 trillion? Than 20% would be 1.6 trillion. If the federal government has a budget of 2 trillion dollars it only has 4 options to make up a 400 billion dollar deficit (again, the numbers are for the sake of simplicity): raise taxes, borrow, cut spending, or some combination of the above. The Tea Party is against taxes and borrowing, which leaves only one option. They do not endorse across the board cuts to the budget. Rather, their true agenda is to destroy ‘entitlement programs’ no matter how small a dent such cuts would put in the deficit. Attempts to claim ‘fiscal responsibility’ are simply a cloak for their actual agenda. Tax cuts and blocking attempts to raise taxes only increase the deficit. The Tea Party could care less. The focus on the deficit is an opportunistic chance to try and achieve what they have been hoping to achieve since FDR and the New Deal. Speaking of the New Deal, Federal jobs programs would be one way to get people off of government aid and back to work, but again, this is a measure the Tea Party opposes.

On the subject of jobs, I could sit here all day quoting examples of the right’s deeply held belief that the only reason people are on any form of government assistance to begin with is because they are lazy and entitled people that just don’t want to work. They obsess over every welfare scandal, while similar scandals involving waste and fraud are ignored when it is corporate welfare or the military rather than ‘welfare queens’ committing it. The reality is that unemployment and poverty are not purely the result of human laziness. Unemployment is not high during a recession or depression because the nation was struck by a mass laziness movement were people by the millions decided they no longer wanted to work. It is caused by a decline in demand for labor that leads to a reduction of supply (or layoffs, in layman’s terms). In other words, you can thank the workings of capitalism itself for unemployment. This country has been going through economic booms and busts for well over a century. This is a cycle observed in all capitalist economies. We need not convert to Marxism in light of this fact. However, given that most unemployment is systemic, and not purely a matter of individual choice, a basic economic safety net is on rather unshakable ground pragmatically speaking. A brief glance at history will reveal that masses of unemployed people brought to the point of desperation can spell disaster for a society. The French revolution, the Russian revolution, the rise of Nazi German and fascist Italy are just a few of the more dramatic examples. From this knowledge, it is only a short step to realize that government welfare is as much for the good of society as a whole as the military or any other aspect of government. You might resent Joe Welfare for living of your tax dollars, but imagine millions of Joe Welfares with nothing to lose and you might begin to appreciate where your tax money is going.

Moreover, there is the issue of a living wage. Much government assistance goes to people that work their ass off, but do not make enough to get by. Should we take food stamps way from the mother that would have to otherwise choose between feeding her children and paying rent even though she works full time? Many people in areas with high cost of living simply cannot afford to move to somewhere with a lower cost of living because they cannot afford to save any money to move. Those that call for the end of such programs and decry the people that use them as lazy are ignoring reality. Again, this is the sort of politics of resentment I say motivates the right. “How dare they say I have to support anyone other than myself! Except for the ways in which I expect everyone else to support me”. What Republicans call self-sufficiency, I call self-centered hypocrisy.

As for your claim that militant atheism led to a backlash that created the Christian right and empowered people like Jerry Falwell by having monuments and school prayer removed, I would say that is a matter of perspective. It is interesting that you would name Jerry Falwell specifically, because I have little doubt that Jesus Christ would have denounced him as a Pharisee. He was an opportunist who used issues like the ones you cite to further his own political power, and a disgrace to the name of Jesus Christ. He is typical of leaders of the Christian right. Falwell in particular is not even above Christian fratricide, considering what he did to the Bakers. Evangelical Christians, once among the least likely groups to vote, are now being taken for a ride by power hunger leaders. I find the issue of Ten Commandments monuments particularly funny, seeing as how many of them were placed by movie studios as part of a promotion for a Charlton Heston film. When they were removed, or threaten to be removed, the right started acting like they were chiseled by George Washington himself. Once more we have circled back to the fact that the right is happy to have the government in their life, so long as they agree with it, and even fight for what others would see as unwanted government influence in their lives.

Lastly, your appeal to the existence of ‘compassionate conservatism’ is not one that I doubt. Rather I think, for reasons I have mostly explained, that the idea that we do not need social safety nets is simply wrong. Private charity simply does not have the scope and structure necessary to provide for all charity. Government is simply the most effective and unbiased solution. An examination of the results of ‘faith based initiatives’ shows us that. If religion is in any way a litmus test for assistance, than charity becomes a form of blackmail. What I doubt is not the sincerity of the rights concern for the poor, just their notions of how to address the problem. The scope of a good government might be wider than the right is willing to admit. Rather than carefully scrutinizing their own ideas, people tend to double down, even when their ideas objectively fail.
So in conclusion to this exceptionally long letter, I will say that I hope you now have a fairly clear idea of what I think of the right in America. It is easy to believe that those that disagree with you simply reject your high minded principles. It is harder to accept that from their point of view, what you stand for might seem rife with hypocrisies. And perhaps I have given you pause to think that maybe not all ‘leftist’ ideas are so crazy after all. At a minimum, I hope that I proved to you that I was a Political Science minor, and that I know the American political tradition pretty well. My brainwashing at liberal indoctrination camp did not entirely undo my own patriotic upbringing. I still believe in our form of government, but not always which directions it takes. The beauty of democracy is that it is our responsibility as citizens to decide.

Take care,
(PS. Apologies for any typos, wordy sentences or grammatical errors. I can only stand to proof read this so many times)