Friday, June 20, 2008
Ringing speech, isn't it?
"Government is not the solution to the problem-government is the problem."
This is the ethic that forms the cornerstone of the current Republican party in the US, in several ways, and it comes directly from the mouth of Ronald Reagan. While I consider the Reagan Administration a disaster for this country, based on the decline in race relation that characterized the times, the S&L debacle, the terrorist wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, creating the mujahedin that became al-Queda, trillions in debt, the Iran-Contra affair, CIA drug smuggling, the creation of the secret-police infrastructure, selling chemical and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein, ignoring the AIDS crisis, dismantling the clean-energy initiatives put in place in the late '70's, and the dismantling of the middle class, all of that may not include the worst of it. I believe the previous well makes the case for "disaster" status...but I would like to discuss what may turn out to be his most toxic and long-lived influence: his philosophical legacy, best expressed by the "government is the problem" bumper-sticker soundbite. It is the philosophical foundation behind the disturbing symbolism of Reagan ally and lobbyist Grover Norquist : "I...want to reduce it [the government]to the size where I can...drown it in the bathtub."
Creepy. And the funny thing is, nobody treats this guy like someone who has just said, "I want to destroy the U.S. Government, but I'll settle for torturing it to death." Let us note something else-no political theorist in their right mind can truly argue that this is a conservative position. Conservatism acknowledges government as a necessary evil, some thing to be kept carefully in check, while serving to defend the coasts, deliver the mail, and provide a level playing field for business. The reason the Reagan/Norquist ideal cannot be defended as a conservative position is because it is not. It is a radical position, espoused by radicals, as surely as the stated plans of those radicals in the SDS, Weatherman, and SLA thirty-five or so years ago were radical. The biggest difference between the two in my eyes is, unlike those wild-eyed New Leftists who thought the Soviet System was IT, the children of Reagan and Norquist want to replace the elected, publicly accountable government as regulator with an unelected, unaccountable, unregulated, government-by-corporation, where the "invisible hand of the market" will decide who gets what services.
So, if this is your position, how do you create this reality? I don't mean, how do you seize power, steal elections, stack the courts, or exempt yourself from the law-although all that certainly helps. How do you generate privatization? How do you prove yourself right? Two methods- "starve the beast", which dries up the resources and leaves little alternative to privatization; and sabotage the operations of the recipients, to undermine public confidence in the institution and weaken public resistance. This is accomplished either by overtly bringing in people dedicated to dismantling the government's regulatory authority, or by turning operations over to incompetent political appointees.
People like, oh, Michael Brown.
You remember him, right?
Brown was a commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, a position he was forced to resign. He landed on his feet, though-he had people. After the election of 2000, remember, Bush essentially gave FEMA to his 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, as a political payoff. Allbaugh then had his old college roommate, "Brownie", installed into first the general counsel position at FEMA, and then the Deputy Director position, the number-two job at FEMA.
A horse show commissioner. A stellar background for a career in emergency management.
Anyway, Allbaugh resigned shortly after Brownie's confirmation, to become a blood-sucking war profiteer in Iraq, selling access to the CPA-and Brownie was installed as the director of FEMA.
We all know what happened next-Katrina came to New Orleans, and the hundreds who died there from lack of an adequate response from FEMA cry out for justice before the Altar of Judgment.
Why is this kind of thing acceptable, even desirable, for a "drown-it-in-the-bathtub" radic-con?
Because it makes the point. The ghost of Ronald Reagan can now stand over the GOP and wail, "See? Government doesn't work! Government was obviously the problem in New Orleans, not the solution! All those people died because they had been made dependent by the welfare state! Government has no business in emergency management-it should be the domain of the private sector. States or cities could contract for services, and companies could compete! It would create jobs, lower costs, and be more efficient...". And so on-that it's mostly bullshit hasn't stopped it from becoming standard-one can see the model all over the place, if one goes looking. Blackwater is a good place to start, before moving on to the privatization of our intelligence agencies.
So it comes full circle. The Republican Party, recreated in the supposed image of Ronald Reagan, has become something truly unique. It has become, in essence, a party with a vested interest in governing badly, in order to prove their point that government doesn't work and is the problem.
A political party that governs badly, on purpose, in order to further feed its power bases-the very corporate entities with which government functions are being merged.
Hmmm. Interesting historical echo: Benito Mussolini once said "fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism, because it is a merger of state and corporate power."
Mussolini would be proud.
The Republican Party, and its enablers and allies in the Democratic Party, has become a cancer. A malignant Reaganoma, growing on the body politic, eating our freedom and excreting fascism.
I blame Reagan.
P.S.: This post is dedicated to my friends Mike, Ashley, and Mary, (who helped me through a difficult time), and James, who asked the question.