Since it's the Fourth of July, it's altogether fitting and proper to salute those who have defended our freedom, people like Brig. General Anthony McAuliffe. During World War II, a German commander sent McAuliffe a note urging him to surrender. McAuliffe's response was brief and to the point: "Nuts."
That incident came to mind because of a comment by Don Rich on another post. In that comment, Don posed this question:
“Why don't people here lose the notion that everyone who has the slightest disagreement with the Left's orthodoxy is a nut?"
My short answer? Nuts.
Now for my longer (just slightly) answer.
• • •
First, I applaud Don Rich for being courageous enough to express his usually contrarian views on this largely Liberal forum. He and I frequently disagree, but for the most part we do so agreeably. So I don't consider Don a nut.
Unfortunately, these days I can't say the same for most of his conservative brethren. But before expounding on wingnuttery, let me address the putative orthodoxy of the Left by asking a question of my own – what orthodoxy?
The biggest failing of the Left is that it can never seem to agree about anything. As anyone can attest who’s read any number of recent posts here on Open Salon, posts supposedly written by those on “The Left”, the “orthodox” view of President Obama is that he’s somewhere between a serious disappointment and a corporate lackey/war criminal.
So much for toeing the Party line.
• • •
On the other hand, those on the Right have no trouble obeying an order from on high, even if they are violently opposed to it. Witness the orderly procession of former foes now lining-up lemming-like behind Mitt Romney, even after savaging him in the primaries.
And it’s not just the Republican elite. Now that the bare-knuckle bruising of the primaries is over, most conservatives are embracing a vulture capitalist and a heretic member of a religious cult – at least by the lights of most on the religious Right. Anyone on the Right who dares speak out against Romney now risks rebuke and banishment.
In short, the Right is much more disciplined and will follow a prescribed course of action even when it’s wrong – and it's too often badly wrong.
• • •
It’s telling that people like Don see rigidity on the Left, but not on the Right. Psychologists call that projection. Thus, the Right projects onto the Left all the things it subconsciously despises about itself, including blatant hypocrisy and blind obedience.
That’s one reason the Right can’t see that it’s actually winning the battle for the hearts and minds – and the soul – of America. It ought to be apparent to anyone who was alive – and conscious – during the Sixties that since then the political center has moved further and further Right.
To cite one obvious measure, between 1964 and 2008, every President was either a Republican or from the Deep South. Obama was the first to break that string, and the Right can't forgive him for that – or for being the first black man to live in the White House who wasn't a servant.
Conservatives got their way on deregulation, massive tax cuts, merger mania, downsizing, outsourcing, off-shoring, Bush v Gore, faith-based initiatives, two elective wars and Citizens United. But all that wasn’t enough.
In short, the Right refused to take “yes” for an answer.
• • •
Despite the Left’s move toward Centrist politics, the Right continues to slide deeper into the apparently bottomless pit of Reactionary politics. Now the putative defenders of individual rights want to invade the bedroom and outlaw contraception, deny women equal pay for equal work, gut unions, undo child labor laws, force victims of rape and incest to give birth, and return to the days of gun-toting showdowns in the street.
There are explanations – though no good ones – for all this, such as the wholesale defection of former Dixiecrats to the Republican Party and the adoption of the hideous Southern Strategy as the foundation of Republican politics.
Those unacquainted with the Southern Strategy, or in denial about its blatantly racist nature, are advised to read the words of former Republican strategist Lee Atwater:
Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
• • •
The Southern Strategy has its roots in the even more hideous institution of slavery, an institution that left the South culturally and psychologically scarred, perhaps permanently. Those who deny that is the case, confirm the charge every time they bring up the subject of “states rights”.
On a side note, the "states rights uber alles" argument is laughable, coming as it so often does from diehard Libertarians. How is oppression by a state somehow preferable to oppression by the Federal government?
But let us leave that rhetorical question for another time and return to the roots of the Right's folly.
• • •
The idea that each state is the ultimate law unto itself should have died a-borning, or at least when the Founders rightfully concluded the Articles of Confederation were simply unworkable. After much heated debate, the Founders instituted a much stronger form of central government to act as a mediator between states and to step-in when states failed to “provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.”
Those words from the Preamble are the raison d'etre for our government. Some conservatives resort to sophistry and engage in a kind of legal pedantry and insist the Preamble has no legal standing.
From a strictly legal perspective, that may be the case. But otherwise, that is pure hogwash. Surely logic dictates that the first premise takes precedence over the premises that follow from it.
To put it another way, it is evident a priori that the very purpose for which laws are made must be superior, not inferior, to the laws themselves. Or to put it even more simply and succinctly:
"Man was not made for the Law, but the Law for Man."
• • •
Those who lost the debate over the supremacy of individual states eventually chose to go to war to defend that folly. They lost that war – badly.
From our present perspective, it may be hard to understand that in those days some believed their first loyalty was to their state, not their country. Robert E. Lee is an obvious example; he considered himself a Virginian first and an American second. He was offered command of the Union Army, but he declined in favor of defending his beloved Virginia.
That sort of loyalty was not considered misplaced in those days; but these days, most citizens consider their first loyalty is to the country and not their state. Whether that generalization holds true in states in the Deep South is an open question.
One reason that remains the case is that rather than admit their mistakes and learn from them; after losing the war, southerners chose a cowardly form of guerrilla warfare – a social and ostensibly legal warfare that corrupted their legal system, their politics and their society as a whole.
In short, they continued to fight for their ignoble Lost Cause. And what was that cause? White supremacy, impure and simple-minded.
• • •
Apologists for the Civil War argue that it wasn't about slavery, an argument that reeks of self-deception – or a failed attempt at deception of another sort. They argue the South was only trying to defend a way of life. But what reasonable, caring, freedom-loving person would want to defend a way of life founded substantially on the enslavement of millions?
And, what reasonable person could conclude such a way of life could possibly be sustained in a country founded on the principle that "all men are created equal"?
• • •
Having never accepted the premise that all men are created equal, states like South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas adopted Jim Crow laws that kept black people from voting – among other things. They decided black children didn't deserve a good education, and they dared to cover their naked racism with the fig leaf of "separate but equal”.
After nearly a century of ignoring that subterfuge, in 1954 the Supreme Court declared what was blatantly obvious to anyone with eyes, a conscience and a soul: Separate was not equal.
The plain truth is that if southern states had done the right thing, the Court and the federal government wouldn't have had to step in. If they had done they right thing, it's arguable those states would be much better off than they are today, dependent as most of them are – and have been for some time – on the Federal dole.
But those states didn't do the right thing, and so policies like Medicaid, OSHA and Federal Aid to Education were instituted as a means to try to ameliorate deplorable living and working conditions and epidemic levels of ignorance and illiteracy in those states.
• • •
Rather than be grateful for a helping hand, southern states projected their lack of self-worth and self-hatred onto a Federal government that forced them to do what they were unready, unwilling – and perhaps unable – to do. That, as much as losing the Civil War, explains the irrational hatred of the Federal government in so much of the South.
One can't help but wonder why citizens in those states prefer to remain not so blithely ignorant, but suffice it to say that is one reason the citizens in those states are so often cursed with two-bit petty dictators like Jim DeMint and Jeff Sessions.
As long as southerners refuse to own up to their awful past, refuse to acknowledge their glaring errors in governance, and continue to place so little value on education, the South will remain the racist, redolent, red-headed step-child of this country.
• • •
This historical sidebar would be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, save for the fact that the southern cancer spread with the defection of Dixiecrats to the Republican Party.
That defection, to the Party that was the subject of venomous hatred in the South for more than a century, was ample proof the "principled" stand of southern "conservatives" had nothing to do with conservative principles and everything to do with racist politics.
That the once progressive Republican Party welcomed these racists with open arms was ample proof that Party wasn't interested in conservative principles either; it was interested only in political expediency.
In point of fact, there is nothing truly conservative about slavery or denying the vote to others or religious bigotry or war-mongering or endangering workers or raping the land or subjugating people for profit. And there is surely nothing conservative about promoting ignorance.
• • •
Ignorance was never confined to the South, of course – not by a longshot. But so-called conservatism has caused that cancer to metastasize. Ignorance has reached epidemic proportions, spread by Fox News – the propaganda organ of the Republican Party, and by puerile political operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, and by media maggots like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other wingnut purveyors of stupefying sloganeering, and by corporate advertising that pollutes the airwaves – and the minds of shallow thinkers..
As a result, too many Americans are ignorant, politically and otherwise, stupefied by word-merchandizing and sloganeering and outright lies. As a result, words like "Liberal" and "Progressive" and "humanist" and "secular" have been poisoned.
As a result, a perfectly useful word like "socialism" has become absolute anathema on the Right, in spite of the fact that schools, highways, police and fire departments, armed forces, and most assuredly Social Security and Medicare are obvious examples of the good that comes from socialism.
Owing to propaganda and ignorance, millions fail to see things that ought to be obvious to anyone with open eyes and half a brain.
• • •
To cite one obvious example, decades ago most industrialized western nations saw the need for federal intervention to establish some sort of single-payer healthcare system. As a result, every one of those countries has a healthcare system that is more efficient and effective than ours, judging by cost per capita and other standard measures of evaluation such as lifespan and infant mortality.
Once again, rather than do the right thing, the Right wants to dig in its heels and dog healthcare reform with the “state’s rights” collar. But that dog won't hunt.
To argue for fifty separate healthcare systems is – well, there's no nice way to put it – it's nuts.
Such an argument ignores the all-too obvious consequences. For example, what are hospitals and medical practitioners in Massachusetts supposed to do when a "freedom-loving" gun-toting, uninsured Alabaman or Arizonan is shot and severely wounded while visiting Massachusetts – let him die?
Judging by the reaction of the mob of mouth-breathers at the Republican debates when a similar hypothetical was posed, the answer is "yes".
• • •
To return to the subject at hand, I’m sure most of us can agree that government – at every level – is wasteful and could use improving. But electing people to govern who profess not to believe in government can hardly be the answer.
Such a sorry attitude begs the question: If you believe government is the problem and not the solution, why do you want to govern? And why in the world should I be expected to vote for someone who doesn't believe in what they're doing?
• • •
There's no denying that over the last thirty years, the government significantly overspent, and not only overspent, but overspent on extravagances like sophisticated weapons – that didn’t protect us from the attack on 9-11 – and on elective wars that followed that tragic failure.
That failure was compounded by cutting taxes during those wars, the first time in our history any administration and congress has done so. Those wars contribute significantly to our deficit – and will continue to do so for decades to come, providing we live up to our promise to care for veterans wounded physically and psychologically and incapacitated in other ways while fighting in those wars.
It's certainly fair to say conservatives in Congress have been reluctant to live up to that promise – just as they've been reluctant to adequately provide care for those who sacrificed their own health to work in the rescue and clean-up in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks – just as they failed to prepare for and adequately provide for those devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Indeed, the only time conservatives seemed anxious to respond fully to a disaster was in response to the financial crisis brought on by the very deregulation they promoted. Rather than address the disastrous consequences for homeowners deceived by greedy lenders, conservatives chose to address the cares and concerns of bankers who caused the crisis.
Indeed, conservatives had no apparent interest in seeing any of the perpetrators be subject to re-regulation, let alone be charged with fraud and other crimes.
But while rushing headlong to save bankers from themselves, conservatives showed no interest whatsoever in saving the jobs of millions of ordinary workers in the auto industry. Talk about a double-standard.
Given all this, the Left can be forgiven for dismissing the policies, politics and pontification of the Right as wingnuttery.
• • •
If the Right truly wants to be taken seriously, the first order of business would be to acknowledge they were in charge during the worst of those failures. In fact, following the election of Ronald Reagan, Republicans controlled either the White House or Congress or both for 28 of 32 years.
Speaking of Reagan, it’s high time to knock him from his pedestal and acknowledge the utter failure of supply-side, free-market, voodoo economics. It has been tried since 1980, and it’s all too obvious it has failed miserably.
Perhaps, if the Right owned up to its failures, those on the Right could be taken seriously by those on the Left. Instead, they behave like petulant school-boys, who refuse to admit cheating on their exams even when caught red-handed.
Instead of admitting error, the Right's response is to demand "more of the same". A quote attributed (most likely erroneously) to Einstein would seem to apply in this case: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity."
For those who care about such things, that quote may be derived from a book on Personal Construct Theory by George Kelly, who wrote, "psychological disorder is any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation".
In short, if sometimes you feel like a nut, maybe it's because you are one.
©2012 Tom Cordle