Rather than writing just another blog post today, I am feeling the need to write an open letter to the President.
Dear Mr. President,
I think I speak for a lot of folks in writing this letter, although I readily admit that some of my progressive friends have given up on you and are talking about a primary challenge, and others still support you strongly no matter what. But there are a lot of us who find ourselves genuinely conflicted about your Presidency and your relationship with the progressive community.
Like millions of other Democrats, I went all out for you in the campaign, giving money, knocking on doors, making phone calls, being involved in groups who were helping you, helping out in every other way I could think of to help. Like hundreds of thousands of other progressive activists, I have spent many hours and given much money over the last two years working on behalf of your stimulus package, your health care reform bill, and your financial reform bill. Having lived through the Jimmy Carter years, when Carter governed as a moderate and was challenged in many different ways by progressives yet was still successfully labeled a liberal by Republicans, I have written time and time and again that progressives' fate is inextricably linked to your fate whether either of us wants it to be, and that progressives should do whatever we can to make you a successful President. And I still believe that. No one wants you to succeed more than I do.
So here I am, along with so many others, out here fighting- really fighting- for everything you say you believe in. On health care, you said you were for a public option, for negotiating drug prices on Medicare, against taxing workers' health care benefits, and that is what I and so many others who are your supporters fought for. On taxes, you said you were against the wealthiest of Americans having their Bush tax cuts extended, and that is what your supporters fought against. On these and so many other issues, we have fought by your side for what you said you were for.
Let me switch from "we" to "I" for a minute, because I am an old Washington insider who knows that compromise on some issues is inevitable, and that even the best of Presidents have to make deals. FDR made compromises, so did his cousin Teddy, so did Lincoln on slavery and LBJ on civil rights and Medicare. I supported your stimulus plan even though I thought it was way too small. I supported health care reform even though it didn't have a public option. I supported financial reform even though it didn't break up the Too Big To Fail banks. But I was disappointed about all the compromises that had to made and I did fight against them- because that is the job of the progressive movement. As an old community organizer, I am saddened that you don't seem to understand that basic notion. Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner supported the emancipation proclamation, but still demanded that slaves be freed in every state, not just the Confederate states. John L Lewis supported Social Security but immediately began fighting for it to be extended. Martin Luther King, Jr supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but complained bitterly that it didn't include voting rights and kept fighting for that to happen. It is our job as progressives to fight for more, and our job to complain when we didn't get it. That doesn't make us- or King or Lewis or Douglass- sanctimonious. They, and we, are just doing what we are supposed to do. And Mr. President, you of all people should understand that.
I will say again: no one wants you to succeed more than I. But I fear that you are on the verge of destroying your Presidency by not showing your supporters that you are fighting just as hard as they are for your principles, and in fact attacking us when we do. Washington establishment wisdom says that you can blow off your supporters, because where are they going to go after all? And this much is true: people like me will support you in the general election against Sarah Palin or whatever far right extremist the Republicans put up against you. But it is no accident that the last 4 Presidents to not get re-elected to a second term (George HW Bush, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Ford, LBJ) all had a bad relationship with their party's base. Because it is your base activists who fight your battles. It is your activists who defend you when the other side attacks. It is your activists who fight for your legislative agenda. It is your activists who fuel your field operation and grassroots enthusiasm. It is your activists who register voters and drag marginal voters to the polls so you win the close states.
Mr. President, there are plenty of us out here who understand the need to compromise sometimes. What we don't understand is this sense that you have thrown in the towel before the battle has begun. And we don't understand being attacked by you when what we are fighting for is your agenda. If you are dismissive of the need to rally your own troops, if you are disdainful of the very people who have fought the hardest on your behalf, you will destroy your Presidency. For your sake, for your party's sake, for your country's sake, we can't afford for that to happen. Mr. President, those of us who have been on your side need to know that you are on our side, too.
The country Poland is comprised of two main political parties; the first is Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS) - "Law and Justice" in English. This party is a populist group which runs upon anti-corruption and anti-Communist credentials. The second party is the Platforma Obywatelska (PO) - in English the "Civic Platform" - a group espousing support for free market capitalism.
On October 2007, Poland held parliamentary elections between the two parties. Most of the Western media backed the Civic Platform (PO), disliking the unpredictability of the Kaczynski twins (leaders of Law and Justice). Here is a map of the results:
Quite frankly, there is not much of a choice here: if you don't vote, you will condemn us to changes in our country that will be hard to live with and harder to overcome in the future.
For instance, Republican Senate candidates Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Rand Paul in Kentucky, John Raese in West Virginia, and Dino Rossi in Washington have all pledged to roll back or eliminate the minimum wage.
Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania have all talked about privatizing Social Security - or eliminating it altogether.
The Washington Post Outlook section this weekend had as its leading feature article on the front page a column by Gerard Alexander, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, on how conservatism has gotten a bad rap for being racist. While familiar in its defense of conservatism, the arguments raised deserve a response, as they go to the core of American conservatism's nature.
I am certainly not a person who believes that being a conservative automatically makes you a racist, but the protests of conservatives about the "race card" also have to be seen as cynical given the history of political tactics on this issue. The use of racism as a tool for conservatives goes way back, and it has not been limited to low brow politicians in the South. The intellectual godfather of American conservatism, Russell Kirk, in his cornerstone book The Conservative Mind, granted that his hero Edmund Burke "was not ashamed to acknowledge the allegiance of humble men whose sureties are prejudice and prescription". This acknowledgement of Burke's reliance on bigotry is critically important to note, because Burke's great cause in the late 1700s was the defense of monarchy against those in America and elsewhere who were rebelling against it. Conservatives who have appealed to bigotry have generally done so in alliance with the defense of tradition and the powerful.
A couple of generations after Burke was defending French and English kings against Tom Paine's rabble and welcoming the allegiance of the bigoted, another giant of the conservative movement revered by Kirk and modern conservatives, John C. Calhoun, arose. Before Calhoun, the states' rights debate had been used by a variety of politicians on a range of issues, but Calhoun forged the link between the states' rights doctrine and the politics of race and slavery. Like Burke, he argued that equality was a myth, that tradition was a virtue above all other things, and that the powerful - in his world, wealthy slave owners like himself - in society should remain powerful.
Throughout American history, conservatives have used issues of race to argue against change and for the existing order. Stephen Douglas wielded racial language like a cudgel against Lincoln in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Conservatives argued against the 14th Amendment by attacking the idea of establishing citizenship for both the freed slaves and Chinese immigrants working on the railroads out west. Segregationists used racist rhetoric to keep Jim Crow in place for almost 90 years.
So in the modern era, when the back of Jim Crow was finally broken and operatives were looking for tools to win over working class whites in defense of polices that would benefit mostly the wealthy, they knew where to turn. They saw an opportunity, and they went for it: William Buckley strongly defended Southern segregationists in a column; Barry Goldwater had voted for other civil rights bills, but saw an opportunity and started pounding the table about states' rights; Ronald Reagan started his general election campaign by giving a speech extolling states' rights, in a small Mississippi town famous for being the place where three civil rights movement youth were killed. Republican ad makers put up a picture of the scariest black criminal they could find (Willie Horton) to talk about crime policy. Jan Brewer talked about (non-existent) beheadings in the dessert by Mexican drug cartels. Fox News suggestively links Muslims and terrorists as if they are the same thing.
It is in no way racist to have a thoughtful debate about immigration policy, crime, affirmative action, and terrorism. But the language and tactics and symbolism being used by conservatives on these issues strays way too often into that territory occupied by the racists of the past like Calhoun and Wallace and Jessie Helms. Today, big business conglomerates like Koch Industries fund the Tea Party movement, whose leaders seem very reluctant to denounce the people coming to their rallies with racist signs. The conservative movement, big business special interests, and the Republican Party made a deal with the devil many years ago to welcome, as Burke put it, "the allegiance of humble men who sureties are prejudice and prescription". That deal with the devil makes the complaints of conservatives about being perceived as bigots sound pretty hollow. You reap what you sow, friends, and to complain about it now doesn't wash.
It was about a week ago that we saw the ruling throwing out California's Prop 8; that decision has now been appealed, and we will see, at some point in the future, how the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handles the matter.
A couple of days later, I had a story up that walked through the ruling, describing the tactics used by the Prop 8 proponents, which, in the opinion of the Judge who looked at the evidence, were basically to try to scare Californians into thinking that gay people, once they're able to get gay married, will somehow now be free to evangelize your kids and make them gay, too.
In the course of answering comments on the several sites where the story is up, I noticed that there were those who felt the Bible should be guiding our thinking here...that if it did, we would be better off than where we are today, with all those immoral gay people running around free to do all those immoral gay things.
This led me to an obvious question: are those who have been using the Bible as a sort of "divining rod" to figure out who is immoral and who is not...actually any good at it?
The vast majority of political speeches are forgotten instantly. Indeed, history may only remember one out of the thousands of speeches given over a political leader's term.
One such memorable speech was given by Mr. Otto Wels. A German politician belonging to the Social Democratic Party, Mr. Wels spent more than a decade in politics and eventually became the party's Chairman.
Yet out of all the time Mr. Wels spent as head of his party, history remembers only one speech. Today it is overshadowed in light of the great and terrible events that came after, but nevertheless worthy of recalling.
The date is March 1933, the place Germany's parliament. The occasion: Chancellor Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists are proposing an Enabling Act after unknown assailants burned down the Reichstag last month. This will transfer all legislative powers to the executive under Mr. Hitler. It will make Germany a one-party dictatorship.
As I wrote a few weeks back, when I sat down to write my book The Progressive Revolution on the history of the American political debate, I knew that the themes that animated our current political debate would be the same as in the past.
What I underestimated was that we would start to re-fight some of the exact same issues that have been fairly settled for the last 50 years or even longer. It is a sign of how radical conservatives in the last couple of years have become that they are raising issues that have seemed settled for so many decades. Republican nominees and elected officials for major offices have, over the last few months, made open arguments for:
-the repeal of the 17th amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1914, allowing people to vote directly for their Senator rather than have them appointed by the state legislature
Now comes the most radically extreme proposal yet: Senate Majority Leader McConnell and other Republicans are now calling for amending or even outright repeal of the 14th amendment to the Constitution. To understand how profoundly reactionary this proposal is, let me refer to my book:
The 14th Amendment was passed at the height of the Radical Republican frustration at Johnson’s alliance with Southern conservatives on Reconstruction. Section 1 asserted that the federal government, not the states, decided who US citizens were and gave that citizenship to all those born in the United States or naturalized by the federal government. The states were prohibited from denying those citizens their civil rights and “the equal protection of the law.” It was the first time the Constitution created a definition of national citizenship as opposed to just leaving it to the states. Section 2 stated that any state denying the right to vote to any of its (male) citizens was to proportionally lose seats in Congress and the Electoral College. Sections 3 and 4 denied Southerners who had held federal office before the war and then served the rebel cause the right to run for federal office again, and ensured that the debts that the Confederacy had incurred would never be paid by either federal or state governments. The 14th Amendment was designed by progressives to be a long term stake in the heart of states’ rights and slave power by asserting that the federal government, not the states, had the right to guarantee American citizens their civil and political rights under the law. It literally extended the Bill of Rights to all American citizens, no matter what state they lived in, and gave the federal government the power to enforce those rights.
A little background: contrary to right wing hagiography, our founding fathers were not gods or perfect men. There were some brilliant and courageous people among them, but they were politicians not that dissimilar to the current crop. Some, like Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, and George Mason were more progressive minded thinkers, while some were more conservative, and all were products of the time and the white, male, privileged constituencies that elected them. The constitution that was written, like every other set of laws written by politicians, thus had flaws in it. Not only was slavery embedded into the document, but the authors of the constitution agreed to a series of compromises with the strongly pro-slavery politicians from the deep South that were designed to make slavery a permanent part of our nation rather then phasing it out as even some slaveholders (like Jefferson) proposed. These provisions – chief among them the notorious 3/5 of a man rule for counting slaves in the census for Congressional apportionment – combined with the constitutional conventioneers just punting on the issues around who gets to vote/have basic civil rights/be a citizen and leaving those crucial issues to the states left the country heading inexorably to a civil war. The compromises of 1820 and 1850 just delayed the inevitable. Lincoln was right, the country could not survive as half slave and half free.
I was talking with some friends this weekend who were part of the movement to pass the Civil Rights bills of 1964. They were telling me how many compromises had to be made to get the '64 bill passed, that voting rights and housing were both stripped out of the bill before it got through, and that these compromises were especially painful because they assumed that no more civil rights bills would be passed in the near term because it had taken so long to get just one big civil rights bill through. The '64 victory, though, gave them momentum to get the Voting Rights Act in '65 and then the Fair Housing bill in 1968. Each struggle was very difficult and very painful, each one had compromises that hurt, but they became the victories that ended Jim Crow in this country once and for all and firmly established the idea of equality as the accepted norm in how this country should operate.
Each victory made the others possible. King and Lewis and the other civil rights leaders understood this foundational principle of organizing, as Alinsky and Reuther and John L. Lewis in the decades before. Winning some thing makes people believe they can win something else.
In the epic battles progressives are facing today, we need to remember that lesson.
When I wrote my book The Progressive Revolution in early 2008, I figured that if a Democratic President were elected that we would see epic battles over health care reform and potentially other big changes in American life, and we have to some extent. What I didn't realize is just how much the ideological battles of American history would become a dominant narrative on the right. We've seen the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee of 2008 and the Governor of Texas associated with political parties that support secession. We're seeing the Kentucky Republican Senate nominee tied in knots over whether he supports the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and now it looks like he was the keynote speaker at a political party convention with all kinds of truly far-out historical views. We are watching the Texas school board downgrade Jefferson and Tom Paine's historical contributions and upgrade Jefferson Davis' role. We're seeing one of the most influential right wing talk show hosts, Glenn Beck, delve deep into historical debates almost every day - repeatedly attacking people like Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, while closely aligning himself philosophically to historical conservatives like John Calhoun, Ayn Rand, and the Social Darwinists of the 1880s.
I never expected when writing my book that I would see such an open and full throated embrace of the rhetoric, ideology, and even specific issues - secession, states rights, the civil rights bills of the 1960s - of historical conservatism. It's almost like modern day conservatives took some of the heroes in my book - Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Martin Luther King - and argued that they were villains, and took many of my villains - Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Calvin Coolidge, the Jim Crow Southerners - and turned them into heroes. It has been astounding to watch.
But the extremist conservatives who lost yesterday's battles will lose them again today. The American people are in a lot of pain because of the economic crisis we are (still) facing, but they don't want to turn the clock back that far. If the Obama White House would stop bragging about this still awful-for-working-people economy (check out this really important memo from Democracy Corps), and reconnect themselves with their own honorable history of fighting for the middle class against the big banks and health insurance and oil companies, they might just have a better election then anyone thinks they will right now.
The Republicans are hurting themselves by re-arguing secession and the Civil Rights Act, and defending Wall Street like they did in the 1920s and '30s. Rand Paul is giving us a big opening in Kentucky. Driving Crist out of their party has created a wide-open Senate race in Florida. Going along with the death panel goofiness has made Chuck Grassley vulnerable for the first time since being elected to the Senate in 1980. If Republicans keep celebrating the extremists in their history, and Democrats take after the progressive heroes in theirs, the 2010 elections will be a lot more winnable than we thought.
I ended The Progressive Revolution with these words:
"The time has come again to choose a progressive path, to reject caution and embrace our history, and to rise to the example of progressive leaders of the past. Paine and Jefferson, Fredrick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, Abraham Lincoln and the Radical Republicans, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, FDR and John L. Lewis, JFK and RFK, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, and Betty Friedan and Rachel Carson: their legacy calls us. We need to rise to the challenge and make the coming years a time to remember and record in our history, a period of transforming change that will lift up our nation and inspire future generations.
We can solve the immense problems of our time if we understand our history, throw fear and caution aside, and then choose the path that goes forward."
With the conservatives embracing their history so closely, it is time to embrace our own.
The Oklahoma City bombing was a bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Timothy McVeigh detonated an explosive-filled truck that he had parked in front of the Federal Building. McVeigh's co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, had assisted in the bomb preparation. It was the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the most destructive act of domestic terrorism in American history. The Oklahoma blast claimed 168 lives, including 19 children under the age of 6, and more than 680 people were injured. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen-block radius, destroyed or burned 86 cars, and shattered building glass in a three mile square area. The bomb was estimated to have caused at least $652 million worth of property damage.
Within the American center-left, our memories of past manifestations of right-wing extremism are often wiped clean by the shocking nature of current manifestations right-wing extremism. For example, when looking at the birther movement, or some of the worst elements of the tea parties, it might seem as though the current far right-wing in America is the most extreme version we have ever experienced. However, fifteen years ago, members of the far right-wing political movements then in vogue blew up a building that killed 168 people.
Rather than being a product of difficult economic times, it seems as though surges in right-wing extremism happen whenever Democrats win elections. We are just dealing with the latest version, but not the most extreme one.
Using the example of Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election after the 1994 landslide, Chris Cilliza wonders if President Obama would be better off in 2012 with a Republican Congress:
Bill Clinton came into office in 1992 with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate but his presidency foundered in the first two years due to a number of factors not the least of which was his inability to pass his own health care bill.
The Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 election gave Clinton an enemy in the form of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.). Clinton played off of Gingrich masterfully -- never more apparent than in the government shutdown of late 1995 -- and found ways to work with the Republican-led House on initiatives (welfare reform being the most obvious) that cast him as a bipartisan bridge-builder.
The result? A second term for Clinton in a race that was remarkably easy given where his political fate stood two years prior to the 1996 election. (Cynical Congressional Democrats will note that while Clinton won re-election in 1996, it took the party another ten years to reclaim the House and Senate majorities they lost in 1994.)
It is pretty easy to point to 1995-1996 as a model where a President recovered politically because he faced an opposition that over-reached. However, it is just as easy to point to what happened to Republicans in 2007-2008 even after Democrats took narrow majorities in both branches of Congress. Republicans were still blamed for the nation's woes, and were handed their worst electoral rout in four decades.
Either model seems equally plausible. In fact, it is just as plausible that something entirely different that either 1995-1996 or 2007-2008 could happen if Republicans take control of the House next year. The point is that just because political events unfolded a certain way in the past doesn't mean they will unfold that way in the future.
A second, equally obvious point, is that Democrats as a whole would be much worse off if they lost control of the House in 2010. Progressives would be worse off, too. The goal is a more progressive Democratic caucus that still controls the House. We should be attempting to become majority partners in a governing coalition, not minority partners in a governing coalition (the current set-up), or majority partners in the loyal opposition.
I meant to get something posted first thing this morning, but after working 30 years for universal health care, I decided to sleep in a little this morning.
You know, for all the ups and downs of this process, for all the compromises we had to make to get here, when you see the tens of millions of dollars insurance companies were pouring into lies to defeat this bill, and see John Lewis called a nigger, and Barney Frank called a fag, and see all supporters of this bill called Stalinist, it makes you pretty confident you're on the right side of history.
Is this the change we have been looking for? Only partly. Insurers and other big corporations remain far too powerful, and we will have to keep working hard to improve health care policy in America. We need a public option to provide Americans better choice in their health care system; we need for the federal government to be able to negotiate with the big pharmaceutical companies; we need the insurance anti-trust exemption to get repealed, and for the federal government to do more to regulate insurance rate increases; we need to repeal the Hyde Amendment. Many other changes and improvements will be important to keep fighting for in the years to come.
Yet for all those things we still need, we have won an enormous amount in this bill. You know the list of things we accomplished- universal coverage, an end to pre-existing condition clauses and lifetime caps, more people eligible for Medicaid, more young people able to stay on their parents' insurance policies, an end to the Medicare drug donut hole, and more. These are bigger changes than we have seen in health care policy since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, and maybe even bigger that them, since this means almost every American will have insurance. Most importantly, health care will be a right instead of a privilege.
That is progressive change, and big change. That builds the narrative in this country that we are all in this together, that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, that we are a beloved community. Flawed as this bill is, as many improvements as will be needed, this is a very big deal. It gets us over this massive hurdle that nothing big can be done to change health care, or in general. It sets the stage of another of those Big Change Moments I wrote about in my book, The Progressive Revolution: those eras where big change was possible and really happened. It gives us hope again that this era may join the 1860s, early 1900s, 1930s and 1960s as a time when the country truly was able to move forward more than just a little bit at a time.
The politics of this remain complicated. Many of the best and most popular features of health care reform were bargained away, and many of the best things in the bill won't kick in until 2014. Until jobs start being created and the big banks' power over our economy knocked down a peg or two, Democratic political fortunes remain uncertain. But maybe this bill can help build hope and courage for doing the next things that need to be done. We still have millions of new jobs to create, big banks to be better regulated and broken up, climate change and immigration reform and the Employee Free Choice act to pass. We have a very big and very important agenda in front of us, and with health care done, that gives some momentum to moving forward.
I am still in awe that this actually got done. After seeing the Nixon/Kennedy compromise fall apart, and Carter walk away from the battle entirely, in my youth; after watching the successful demonization of all things government by Reagan in the 1980s; after being a part of the most painful political failure of my life in the Clinton health care war room; and after seeing Rahm Emanuel and others continually advise Obama to scale back his ambitions for health care reforms over the past year, I didn't know I would ever live to see this happen. Having seen what happened in 1994, I was pretty sure that no one would have the courage to take this up again for at least a generation if we failed. But the President hung tough. Readers of mine know I have been very critical of Obama at times on how he managed this health care fight, but I am enormously grateful that he brushed past all the advice to give up, and that he hung tough. And Speaker Pelosi, who argued passionately to keep pushing for comprehensive reform, and then delivered the votes twice in tough, tough circumstances, gets enormous credit as well.
To not walk away, to stand and fight for big change even when the going gets very tough and the politics are dicey (at best): that is the measure of great leadership. Hopefully, this result gives everyone in the Democratic Party the courage to keep going to give us another Big Change Moment.
It seems like everywhere you look these days, someone's trying to spread...The Fear.
All around us...in every town...on every corner...a massive Army Of Fear is standing by, according to the Messengers, ready at a moment's notice to obey the dictates of some unappointed Czar or another.
Just ask Glenn Beck: concentration camps for the white people, jackbooted stormtroopers ready to snatch the guns from your cold dead fingers...Socialist Government-Controlled Healthcare That Threatens Your Not Socialist Medicare...it's all coming, my friends-and unless we organize, as a community, to return to the values of the Founding Fathers, The Government, meaning that awful Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and George Soros and all the other Evil Community Organizers, will win.
There's no government, we're told, like no government.
You know who would find all of this fear of self-government just entirely bizarre?
The Founding Fathers.
In today's conversation we'll consider the fundamentals of American patriotism, we'll ask one of those Founding Fathers how he saw the role of Government-and we'll toss in a few words from Abraham Lincoln, just for good measure.
Glenn Beck's CPAC speech was a rare gem of political discourse. I encourage everyone to read it so that they really understand where modern conservatism is going. Some of my friends are quite accurately comparing his "progressivism is cancer" screed to fascist rhetoric by people like Mussolini and Franco, because the parallels are striking, but I want to focus more on how the speech's philosophy is a template for the conservative cause right now.
Beck's essential message was that I crawled my way from the dung pile without any help, and that's what makes America great ,so we shouldn't help anyone in trouble. From his twisted personal story to his twisted vision of American history, Beck took rapturous CPACers on a classic tour of American conservative ideology. From his paranoid delusional ranting about how liberals hate anyone successful to his Social Darwinist view of society and nature, he laid out the conservative line and took it to its logical conclusion. And the audience loved it. The quintessential moment in the speech? When Beck explained why we shouldn't be helping anyone in need: "There's some sort of element of competition to life. Oh that's not natural. Really? Go watch the lions eat the weakest." And the audience burst into laughter and applause- as I wrote the other day, these conservatives really are into cruelty, so the idea of lions eating the weak got them going.
Beyond the celebration of eating the weakest, they money paragraph on the speech was this classic rendition of conservative thought:
We believe in the right of the individual. We believe in the right of the individual. We believe in the right, you can speak out, you can disagree with me, you can make your own path. But I'm not going to pay for your mistakes, and I don't expect you to pay for my mistakes. We're all going to make them, but we all have the right to move down that road. What we don't have a right to is: health care, housing, or handouts. We don't have those rights. Every time the government grows we lose more of who we are. When you give up your right to struggle... you're giving more of your freedom away.
In the conservative world view, each individual is on their own. The best society will be created if each of us goes our own way, with absolutely no help from anyone, and does exactly what we want to do, no matter who it hurts. Because that invisible hand of the marketplace makes individual greed a source of strength, and because if the weak are not "eaten", society itself becomes weaker. Like the Social Darwinists of the post-Civil War era, conservatives such as Beck clearly believe, as William Graham Sumner put it back in 1893, that every society faces only two alternatives: "liberty, survival of the fittest" or "liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest." Beck said, "As I read the Constitution...the only job of the United States government is to save us from bad guys." The way Sumner put it was that government had only one purpose, which was to protect "the property of men and the honor of women."
Conservatives' answer to the question "Am I my brother's keeper?" is a resounding Hell NO. And that is the essential divide between them and the progressivism which Beck describes as a cancer: progressives believe that all of us are in this together. When our child is weakened by a chronic illness, or our parent by old age, we don't abandon them in the wilderness so that the lion can eat them up (and then laugh about it). When our brother stumbles and hits bottom, we don't stand back and see if he can pull himself up by his own bootstraps, we lend him a helping hand. When our sister is abused and treated unfairly by an employer, we don't tell her she's on her own, we work with her to make things fairer. We believe in a community that helps each other survive and prosper, because we don't want to live in a world where only the strongest and wealthiest and - yes - luckiest survive. We don't have fantasies that all our success is of our own making because we know that without good families, good neighbors, good school and libraries and roads and bridges paid for by public dollars, that without all that, we'd be much less likely to make it on our own. In spite of Beck's paranoia, we have no problem with people being successful. I have never once heard any progressive attack Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt for their success, or attack the local small businessperson making a good living because he or she is supplying products a community wants. But what we do believe is that those lucky enough to be successful have a responsibility to give something back to their fellow citizens.
I will choose the "weakness" of a compassionate society over the brutal kind of "let the lions eat the weak" vision of Glenn Beck's perfect society any day of the week. Am I my brother's keeper? My answer is yes.
I'm not a big fan of post-partisan America, a notion that seems to amount to running the government through two political parties but taking care that one of them not perform in any significant way better than the other one. But I am a fan of the idea, which nobody ever seems to consider, of actually disempowering parties.
That idea has a precedent in the first dozen years or so of our republic whose Constitution never planned for party rule, although nonpartisanship would obviously have to look very different today. I suspect we could imagine ways of making party-free government work if we tried. At the moment, however, Americans' political thinking is so party-saturated, that any talk of opposing parties is met with the question "Which one?" or with the statement "Yeah, I'm for a third party too!"