How Conservatives Subvert Self-Government

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.”

—Charles Pierce

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.

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  1. Duane,

    Well said, er, written, as usual. I would only refer you and your readers to a couple of related articles that underscore and amplify your commentary here.

    The first is a post from Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and social critic, on, which came out just today, May 14. Titled, “Colonized by Corporations” Hedges writes in part:

    “We are controlled by tiny corporate entities that have no loyalty to the nation and indeed in the language of traditional patriotism are traitors. They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. The mechanisms of control are familiar to those whom the Martinique-born French psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” including African-Americans. The colonized are denied job security. Incomes are reduced to subsistence level. The poor are plunged into desperation. Mass movements, such as labor unions, are dismantled. The school system is degraded so only the elites have access to a superior education. Laws are written to legalize corporate plunder and abuse, as well as criminalize dissent. And the ensuing fear and instability—keenly felt this past weekend by the more than 200,000 Americans who lost their unemployment benefits—ensure political passivity by diverting all personal energy toward survival. It is an old, old game.”

    Well, Chris, why don’t you say what you really mean? He is a little extreme, some would say “very” extreme, but his bona fides justify a read.

    Related to that is an Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times by William Deresiewicz, “Capitalists and Other Psychopaths.” (

    Derdsiewicz reports that, “A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are “clinical psychopaths,” exhibiting a lack of interest in and empathy for others and an “unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation.” (The proportion at large is 1 percent.) Another study concluded that the rich are more likely to lie, cheat and break the law.”

    Derdsiewicz goes on to deconstruct the capitalism being practiced today and reveals its ugly side. But this is written from a liberal bias and, like Hedges, is a bit over the top.

    Anyway, I believe these articles give substantial credence to your commentary above; especially your line, “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.” Maybe we better start making the Kool-Aid.



    • @ Duane,

      Good post. This is yet one more good example of how simplistic thinking about a complex matter endangers us all. “Capitalism good, socialism bad.” If only economics were so simple.

      @ Herb,

      Your cogent comments on Duane’s excellent post are not the first time I’ve read about how financiers seem to be able to compartment business as separate from ordinary morality. I recall an NPR podcast examining just that, and it was enlightening. My take is that, psychologically, the competitive and survivalist instincts of the brain naturally tend to supersede social norms for fair behavior. Ah, I found the link, it is at:


      • Jim,

        How about, “Capitalism bad, socialism bad, but they can paradoxically produce wonderful, well-adjusted kids.”?



    • Herb,

      As I told HLG, Hedges really makes you think about the dark side of our system, which can then really piss you off. (I have a problem, though, with those, like Hedges, who unfairly conflate those who are at least trying to do a little to help–like Obama–and those who are trying to make it worse–like Romney. Hedges wrote last month: “There is no substantial difference between Obama and Romney. They are abject servants of the corporate state. And if you vote for one you vote for the other. ” Bullshit. No, utter bullshit.) I like, however, his use of the terms “fear and instability,” which is created in order to keep the masses in their place. This is what FDR recognized in his day, as he tried to save our capitalist system from both the extreme capitalists and the socialists.

      As for the Derdsiewicz op-ed, I haven’t got to my Sunday New York Times yet. But I can’t wait to read the entire thing. Thanks for posting that summary. It does fit nicely in with the La Near piece.



  2. Jane Reaction

     /  May 14, 2012

    Duane: It had been nice not hearing anything from one of MSSU’s gently re-used academics. I had gone to the mat with the previous president and the board, and especially with board member David Jones, about Dick’s research quality and use of school time and resources for recycling his old stuff.

    It was obvious that Dick hadn’t done any actual research in decades, yet he was masquerading as a learned PhD economist. Near the end, the administration pushed him over into helping the Small Business Development Center/Chamber of Commerce cause, and he was still using his lame ‘research’.

    At last LaNear does talk about something he knows: ‘entitlements’ and ‘ponzi schemes’.


    • The language he used, “legalized Ponzi scheme,” I admit really caught me by surprise and pissed me off. But the worst thing he could have said was that the ACA “will prove that too much democracy,” in terms of “the takers” outnumbering and outvoting the “the makers,” “can be devastating to a great nation.” It amazes me and depresses me that this man may be teaching this stuff at our university.


      • To All,

        For a completely off the wall and, I must say, very refreshing view of government and the economy, check out “The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government” by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. It’s a great metaphor and these guys make it work by helping to explain our current dilemmas in terms of gardens that go unattended and those that are properly cared for. A good review, in addition to those on Amazon, can be found here:

        If enough people read this book, it could really change the conversation – and in a positive way. But I ain’t holding my breath.



        • Based on the linked article, Herb, I don’t think the Garden concept for economics is “off the wall” at all. To me it simply seems like fresh language for describing the Democrat argument for a rational symbiosis of government and business. At the least it seems to present a better language with which to reason with right-wingers who cling to Randian notions of pure unfettered capitalism.


        • Herb,

          Thanks for posting that link. We have discussed this stuff and made those points many, many times in this forum and at Jim’s (including, I think, the use of the husbandry metaphor), but I think that little article sums it up so succinctly that it ought to be required reading by every schoolboy and schoolgirl at least once a year for their entire educational experience.

          The fact is that intuitively we all know the truth behind it. Nothing in our experience works without maintenance. And why there are so many folks who pretend that economies work best without such maintenance is, well, it shows the power of ideologically-driven emotions to usurp reason.

          I have said it countless times: we have to save capitalism from the capitalists who will ruin it, and as the authors of that piece said, their approach–the “liberal” approach, if you will–is “strongly pro-capitalism and pro-growth.”



  3. The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    — Yeats

    People like La Near frighten me.


    • Helen,

      What frightens me is the utter certainty that some of these folks possess. There rarely seems to be room for nuance, not to mention the legitimacy of another point of view. I don’t find much if any intellectual flexibility in the economic arguments from the far right. It’s as if there is only one legitimate economic philosophy and all others are doomed.

      For me, it all comes down to the evidence. I readily admit that the economic policy prescriptions advocated by folks I respect–like, say, Paul Krugman–might prove to be wrong. But given the evidence we have, in terms of how right-wing economics has worked in the past here in America and how the severe austerity of right-wingers is (not) working now in Europe, I believe we can conclude that conservatives have no idea how to fix what’s wrong with ours and the world’s economy.



  4. henrygmorgan

     /  May 14, 2012


    For an interesting adventure in the mysterious and wily ways of academe, try to locate a copy of LaNear’s Vita and find therein a book or article published in a refereed, peer-reviewed scholarly journal. I’ve been retired for eleven years, so I haven’t looked recently, but I doubt that much has changed. The last time I looked I found, among the pages and pages of minutiae, addresses to small groups in church basements, for example, a single peer-reviewed article published some years before.

    Contrast that with the efforts of my former colleague, Dr. Art Saltzman, author of seven books published by prestigious publishing houses and dozens of refereed, peer-reviewed prestigious journals. Unfortunately, Art passed away far too soon ten years ago, or who can imagine what his up-dated Vita would look like?

    The overwhelmingly obvious question is why was Art never named a “Distinguished Professor” when LaNear was? The answer is that no Faculty Committee, formed from a highly select group of distinguished, widely respected elite of fellow faculty members was ever formed to make the selection. In my opinion, this was not a meritorious award presented on the basis of achievement. On what basis was it awarded? I have no idea, and I doubt that 99 percent of the faculty could answer that question.



    • Henry,

      How strange and sad that academic nobility comes by way of such mysteries.

      Dr. Saltzman was one of my daughter’s teachers at Southern (she graduated, I think, about fifteen years ago). I read where he died at 54, almost my age. Reminds me that we all are just an aneurysm away.

      Thanks for sharing that, Henry.


  5. Treeske

     /  May 14, 2012

    OMG; Does La Near know that DEFLATE Society, was exactly what Stalin had in mind? (and did, millions strong!)


  6. hlgaskins

     /  May 14, 2012


    Nicely laid out and well stated post.

    “The passage of one more entitlement program will prove that too much democracy can be devastating to a great nation.”

    Apparently one of La Near’s mentors was Dan Quayle.

    “I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change.” Dan Quayle

    Was Dan Quayle a prophet? 🙂


    “Well, Chris, why don’t you say what you really mean? He is a little extreme, some would say “very” extreme, but his bona fides justify a read.”

    The truth is often regarded as extreme in our society in order to cast a shadow of doubt over the minds of those who might turn their eyes from it. I enjoy parsing the meaning of Chris Hedge’s thoughts, because they sometimes remind me to think.


    • No doubt Hedge makes you think, Herb. And sometimes he makes you mad, which can frequently be the result of thinking.

      And by the way, that Dan Quayle quote is priceless. One of his finest moments as a VP/comedian.



  7. ansonburlingame

     /  May 15, 2012

    To all,

    I am out of town (in Dallas) baby sitting my 5 year old grand daughter while her Mom and Dad are involved in “relocatting”. As I read the above I watched her and wonder what America will look like in about 20 years. It scares me, a lot.

    Go to a government financial web site and look at the value of the dollar in 2000 and today. It has gone down by about 35% over the last decade plus. For those of you still working, has your paycheck gone up by 35%, the amount needed to just “keep up”? For sure my retirement income has not done so, gone up by 35%.

    And as I write this, I am sure the printing presses are running a max speed to print more money, are they not. It is either do that or find someone to lend us such sums for the indefinite future.

    Would you choose to lend money to Greece today?



  8. hlgaskins

     /  May 17, 2012


    “So, to fend off the Democrat and Republican parties, maybe we should start the “Garden Party.””

    Someone already did that with the “Green Party” giving Ralph Nader getting top billing. The outcome of the Green Party was to pull votes Florida votes from Al Gore in 2000, thus putting George Bush in the White House with only a 537 vote win. Nader received 96,837 votes in Florida, so it’s likely that Gore could have made up the difference needed to defeat Bush if Nader had stepped aside.

    An Independent party could happen if not for the fact that even independents tend to fall either right or left.


    • Not Nader, but Pat Buchanan was the problem. Gore overcame the Green Party votes, but not enough to overcome the Palm Beach “butterfly ballot,” where people inadvertently voted for Buchanan rather than Gore. See,_2000

      Anyway, the Green party is too leftist to catch on. A Garden Party would or should attract all those intersted in tending democracy, regardless of party; e.g., middle-of-the-roaders and independents; the vast majority of the country.


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