“The entire modern conservative movement consists of an ongoing attempt to sever the relationship of a self-governing people to their government, to break down the concept of a political commonwealth.”
n Sunday’s Joplin Globe appeared a column from a local college professor (of finance) named Richard La Near. Suffice it to say that, although I have lately ignored him, I have previously taken on this union-hating, learned man—God, how I wish I could put “learned” in quotation marks.
But this shouldn’t be ignored: Arguing for “partially and slowly” privatizing Social Security, the “Honorary Chairholder of Free Enterprise at Missouri Southern State University” butted in a long line of melodramatic conservatives by falsely calling the wildly popular social insurance program a “legalized Ponzi scheme.”
And while that should have been dreadfully ditsy enough, he wrote the following, presumably in reference to “Obamacare”:
The passage of one more entitlement program will prove that too much democracy can be devastating to a great nation. Again, the takers will outnumber—and outvote—the makers, and more people will vote for a living rather than work for a living.
Ah, how clever. And how cynical.
Now, I’m not one to extol the virtues of ignorance and bigotry that sometime (okay, often) accompany the exercise of our democratic heritage, but we are what we are. Abraham Lincoln called the American people his “rightful masters.” If La Near’s “too much democracy” brings about our national extinction, if we find that self-government by America’s rightful masters will one day lead to our ruin, then so be it.
As a bona fide member of the rightful masters class, I’d rather go down as the victim of people in welfare hammocks than of conservative capitalist carnivores like Mitt Romney, a man who has successfully preyed upon the working class such that he can bulldoze a $12 million, 3,000-square-foot beachfront house only to replace it with an 11,000-square-foot beachfront house.
Charles Pierce wrote recently:
In modern conservative thought…and in the mindset it seeks to ingrain on the people of the country, the government is the ultimate Other.
In doing so, the corporate masters of the conservative movement are good with all of this because they seek a wary, frightened and insecure people.
Yes, Amen! Yes! Conservatives seek a “wary, frightened and insecure people.” People suspicious and afraid of too much democracy, afraid, for God’s sake, of their own government! That’s the message Dr. La Near is trying to send.
Thomas Frank, in his book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared The Nation, essentially documents the attempts by right-wingers to take over government only to undermine it, to subvert it, to, as Charles Pierce so aptly described it, “break down the concept of a political commonwealth.”
You see, conservatives talk of a “commonwealth“—”a group of persons united by some common interest“—mainly in terms of war, of fighting terrorism or some other common enemy. There isn’t much of a sense of political commonwealth worth preserving here at home, beyond the small commonwealth of the wealthy.
Conservatives these days, for instance, see no pressing domestic need to provide an affordable college education to our kids or to keep sick folks from going bankrupt, but they do see a pressing need to keep taxes low on the rich.
John Dean, whose book, Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, is a must read, said of contemporary conservatives:
they are radicals more interested in power for themselves and other Republicans instead of serving the general public interest.
There simply is no “general public interest“—no national commonwealth—that a conservative can love, so long as it is tied up with an effective, domestically-interested government. But we have to ask ourselves just what the Constitution means by its splendidly pithy preamble:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Clearly this government—our government—was established as an instrument of the People that would go about the sometimes messy business of forming a “more perfect Union” and creating fairness and peace at home, protecting ourselves from external enemies, promoting “the general Welfare,” and fortifying our Liberty.
It’s not possible to neatly separate the domestic duties of our constitutional government from its duty to defend us, as so many on the right are wont to do. The two are tightly bound together and Americans should also be tightly bound together around the idea that we are all-in on a we-the-people government.
And by using language like “legalized Ponzi scheme,” in reference to the old age fear-killer we call Social Security, or saying that “too much democracy can be devastating” to, uh, a democratic nation, Richard La Near, and others like him, are sadly pulling apart the bonds that hold us—we the people—together.
In La Near’s final paragraph, he wrote:
In conclusion, I would note that every great nation must periodically deflate to remain competitive. Those with flexible economic and political systems can do so…
America must “deflate to remain competitive”? I wonder just what segment of our society he has in mind that will have to do all the deflating? The deflated poor? The deflated sick? The deflating middle class? You will search La Near’s “financial Armageddon is coming” writings in vain for any kind of sign that he believes the wealthiest Americans should get in on the deflating, at least by paying a little more in taxes.
But you will find much wariness, much fear, and much insecurity about our democracy, about self-government, about America’s rightful masters. In short, you will find the philosophy of contemporary conservatism.