Friday, August 14, 2009

Not so focused thoughts on politics and government. . .

lenin is typically great on health care and the evil totalitarianism of the National Health Service in England. . . speaking of fears of such horrors, Dennis Perrin observes that "Over the last quarter, the number of clueless white Americans rose by thirty-seven percent." White people. What can you do with 'em? (Among the heartening take home messages of the public discourse surrounding the Gates Affair is how eagerly white people embrace the logic of the police state. Remind me again why I read comment threads?) In innocent moments, one is tempted to wonder where such widespread ignorance and stupidity comes from. It's not that there aren't legitimate criticisms of Obama's "plan" (Black Agenda Report offers a few here), but people are just bonkers. Socialism? Really? No, not really. As Tim Wise points out, the cry of "socialism!" is invariably coded racial language and always was. Not that we haven't seen plenty of non-coded racial language.

Racially coded or not, though, there is a weird fear or distrust of government. Many white people have been conditioned to believe that government is this evil thing, as well as necessarily incompetent, bumbling, bureaucratic, and so on. Bitch Phd writes yesterday about the things government provides for us and the ways in which we personally benefit from all the government does. It's a useful reminder, or should be, for all those who so often forget. She includes a photo which identifies and labels various government-provided items or services shown; also, the picture is of an anti-taxes rally, and one woman is holding a sign that reads "Cut Taxes Not Defense". It's not clear where such people think the funds for "defense" comes from if not taxes. But that point leads into a couple of things about Bitch's post that struck me (aside from the very good point she is making with it). First, the list of items gives the impression that "government", in its benevolent wisdom, has simply provided these things, from on high. As if every one of the positive functions of government, outside of basic infrastructure, wasn't the result of pressure from below.

This leads me to the next thing: how deeply militarized even her short list is. The very jumping off point for it is her observation that the Internet is not only a governmental creation, but that it came out of DARPA. She mentions her husband's various DoD-related jobs over the years and their VA-financed mortgages. I don't mean by highlighting these points to sound critical of her at all. My own job depends on there being a continual supply of disabled veterans, and I spent most of the first eight years of my life living on Naval bases. The point is that so many of us, regardless of our political outlook, work in situations that directly depend on massive spending on "defense". Our lives are intertwined with the military-industrial complex to an enormous extent, an extent to which most of us are generally unaware. Much of the technology we drool over came out of military research. Countless regional and local economies would all but collapse without the presence of the military. This is the process that has happened without the public's consent, which has warped the very fabric of society for decades without anyone seeming to notice. The ongoing threat to democracy, and obstacle to necessary change, should be obvious. Instead people are afraid of some mild liberal reforms of health care and, still, always it seems, black people.


Jacob Russell said...

One more logical step and you would have spelled it out. The hysterical attacks on health care reform are indeed, coded, but not necessarily to racism--or any one thing. They are irrational labels for real fears. I've begun to see this fear of 'government' as a dawning awareness of exactly what you've described--but lables misapplied.

There really are two faces to government --one of them, the intrusive, paranoid, protector of the military industrial complex and corporate privilege, and the other--more important than all those services in that list: provider of public oversight and regulation setting limits to sectors of private power that threaten the general welfare.

Government power is dangerous--but the screamers have it backwards. They don't see this danger in terms of the abuse of government protection of corporate power because they don't differentiate these very different governmental roles. If you have an intuitive, emotional sense of something deeply deeply wrong, and know it has something to do with the power of the state--than any apparent increase of state power simply must increase the danger. It's time we smart liberals stopped our condescending dismissal of the protesters and started listening.

Arguments of fact and evidence are powerless to ease those fears because they don't expose its real causes. And those people know that.

I think this is one of the consquences of the near destruction of American labor unions: the greater loss not being their power to more equitably distribute wealth, but in the dimished power to counter corporate propaganda and to offer a realistic analysis of the levers of economic power to the working class from a source they can trust.

Richard said...

Hi Jacob. Thanks for commenting. I think you have it right. (I didn't quite have the energy or inclination to spell it out.)

Liberals have been missing the point on the right for years. While there are those in the position to know who are truly vile (whether it be insider politicians or your Limbaughs, Coulters, Becks, et al), there is indeed a widespread distrust and not completely misplaced sense that something is horribly wrong. But it's easier to dismiss people's fears than to address them.

I saw an article in The Washington Post about the town hall protests. One woman was said to be concerned that this was another example of governmental overreach, after the bailouts and whatnot. The bailouts were appalling. People are not wrong to see that, and to be angry about it. So what do we do about it?

I still think that, for all its imperfections, Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? diagnosed the problem very well. People seem to reduce that book to "people vote against their interests", but he was also talking about the wholesale abandonment of the working class by Democrats. It's even more relevant today.