A fellow over at News Hounds who, despite being no relationship to me, uses my first name and last initial, has been responsible for posting the site’s “Outrageous Quote of the Week” poll recently. This week’s batch has about as much rabid, blithering idiocy as you can have without someone named Coulter or Malkin around. My vote is for Quote E, which, if it doesn’t qualify as the craziest or most outrageous of the bunch, should at least qualify as the fucking scariest:
“Of course the Constitution exists at a time of war, but our enemies do not have rights under our Constitution, thank you very much.” GOPAC head, FOX News contributor and law school graduate Michael Steele demonstrating a faulty understanding of the US Constitution on Hannity & Colmes, 7/6/07
Everyone keeps talking about how this is a “time of war,” but they always forget one thing: it isn’t. Constitutionally speaking, we haven’t declared war on anyone since 1941. War somehow became tacitly acknowledged as a privilege of the Chief Executive, which says a lot about how we came to this spot that we’re in, where the entire Republic is threatened by a smirking fratboy who envisions himself as Emperor.
But that itself brings up another excellent point: we on the left are often accused of indulging in mindless “Bush-bashing,” and to an extent, I think that it’s a legitimate criticism. The situation we’re in today is not solely the fault of Bush, nor is it something that can be solved just by putting a Democrat into the White House. The Democrats have become corrupt and complicit, and if the only change that we make over the next election cycle is to get a President whose rÃ©sumÃ© says (D) instead of (R), then we’re doomed. Too many liberals are looking for a daddy figure to save them, rather than thinking about engaging in participatory democracy and building up a vital grassroots. “If we can only get the Presidency,” this strand of thought goes, “And the right judges to hand down decisions, everything will be all right.”
More importantly: as more and more Republicans fall by the wayside and distance themselves from Bush, they themselves are freely engaging in Bush-blaming, and, like many leftists, making him the scapegoat for the entire clusterfuck that is the United States in 2007. But that misses the point; the problem is not Bush, but the decades of ideology that produced him. Conservatism is not an otherwise benign philosophy that got derailed by a few inept hacks. This is it; this is what you get when your entire philosophy of governance is based on letting the rich and powerful do whatever they want while telling the people that they have no more rights than those of interchangeable drones. The market fundamentalism that has ruled American politics for the last twenty years is, at its core, anti-democratic and anti-American. It is cynical in the classic sense expressed by Oscar Wilde: One who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Perhaps the most destructive thing to come from the neocons is the demeaning of the idea of citizenship. In the conservative lexicon, the primary unit of society is the consumer: we vote with our dollars, if we have them. We are privileged to express our will through our economic participation in society, to the extent that we can. The freedom to buy is the the ultimate freedom, it is the keystone to democracy. They have used this idea to annihilate not only the social programs that FDR built up, but the ideology that created them. We are encouraged to think of our cities and towns as shopping centers: schools are starved for funds because we’re encouraged to think of our taxes as legitimate only when they’re paying for our own kids, but not when they’re paying for the education of other peoples’ children. “If my children aren’t going to that school,” we’re encouraged to think, “Why should I pay for it?”
What conservatives have destroyed is the idea that, as Americans, even as we exercise our rights to be individuals, we also share the accomplishments and sacrifices of our fellows. They have destroyed the idea that not only are we a nation, but that we are made stronger by being a “nation of nations,” and that the success of our neighbors will in some way enrich us.
Rick Perlstein puts it in a nutshell on The Big Con:
The watchword of The Big Con is that conservatism is the problem, not Bush, and that it is not the perversion of conservatism that is at issue but its original conception. Goldwater, in his famous acceptance speech, and Reagan, in his 1981 inauguration speech, spoke for that original conception. It is, as Reagan pronounced it: “government isn’t the solution to our problems, government is the problem.”
That means: tax cuts and dismantling and attempted dismantling of the structures of shared sacrifice that make America great, and keep America free. (Key example: affordable college education.)[…]
For years, people have been trying to acquit Goldwater and Reagan at the bar of history by arguing they would never have approved of Bush, that Goldwater was an honest guy, and that Reagan was a genial guy. But on the most important issue–fundamental public philosophy–it’s case closed, and the verdict is:
Goldwaterism isn’t the solution to our problems. Goldwaterism is the problem.
For almost thirty years now, the free-marketeers have been pushing their dream society: one based on no ethic but social darwinism and conformity, and this is what we get. Conservatism has given us New Orleans with corpses floating in the streets; a senseless war that’s waged as much by mercenaries as our own army; people who live under crushing debt, or in perpetual fear of illness that they can’t afford.
Digby writes as eloquently as usual about what our lives have become:
It’s very important that we not attribute the failure of the last few years solely to George W. Bush or even Dick Cheney’s assault on the constitution. The virulent form of conservatism they represent is not just political, it’s a systemic, cultural ill that has seized our society and made us lose our sense of common purpose — and decency.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’ve worked for many, many years in the corporate pink collar ghetto and later the corporate white collar management ghetto and was always moved by my overseer’s devotion to freedom when they would “allow” us to leave early for a doctor appointment or theatrically dole out a discretionary bonus of a hundred dollars at the end of a banner year and expect us all to gush adoringly at their generosity. The entire enterprise is designed as an exercise in conformity in which those most eager to reinforce the corporate ethos rise to the top and enforce it even more rigidly. (Which is understandable. Having been through the “boot-camp” that beat every original thought and idea out of their heads until they don’t even know they once had them, the next generation of bosses are always ready to give it even harder to those coming up behind them, if only to justify their own acquiescence to such humiliation.) And anyone who complains is reminded of that inspiring war cry of American liberty: “you can always quit.”
Except, of course, most of us really can’t and they know it. You can’t go without health insurance and you can’t afford to take a chance on a new job that might not work out because there just isn’t much room to fail in our society. It takes a very brave person to put their own and their family’s well being at risk when the consequences of failure are so high. Most people make the rational decision to stick with the soul destroying job, answer to a boss that treats them like a lackey and live a life of quiet desperation because to do otherwise would be irresponsible.
Many people now, even liberals, sentimentalize Reagan as a kindly old man who loved the people and loved America. But now, more than when he was alive, we live in Reagan’s America, and we can’t tolerate it any more.