OK, let’s give them what they want. What do they want, those crazy conservatives?
Well, they want everyone to stand on their own two feet. No depending on the government for anything we should be doing for ourselves. They want the government to get out of the business of helping its citizens.
All sorts of costly programs must be done away with. Wasteful things like the EPA, all unions, the Department of Education, Social Security, and any hint of socialized medicine. That means Medicare and Medicaid. Wait, maybe not those. We actually need those. And of course “defense”, which is not actually defense but aggression and meddling in other people’s lives.
Really, now, what do they want?
Actually, they want to rule the country according to their own ideas about how it should be ruled. You can get some idea of what that means by reading an earlier post here called “Where Do Those Crazy Conservative Ideas Come From?”, but George Lakoff hit the nail on the head in a column from 19 February 2011 at Truthout: “What Conservatives Really Want”.
The basic fact is that conservatism as The Compleat Political Philosophie is a total failure. It is impossible to legally or morally implement fully in a representative democracy like the United States because it goes completely against the intent of our foundational documents and common decency between people. The only reason we don’t know this with more certainty is that other political philosophies have so far prevented conservatism from taking over completely, so the fatal flaws have never come to light. There is a real danger that this time it may be different, and the Newt Gingriches of the Republican Party may have their best shot at damaging our democracy beyond repair.
As Lakoff explains, the central issue is the moral basis of democracy. They want everyone to adhere to the conservative moral worldview, in every part of life. Conservatives do not believe in the value of community. They believe all responsibility begins and ends with the family and the individual, specifically with the father, who decides everything. Children are not raised by villages; they are raised by families, with the father as the head. The powers of government should be minimal. The unfettered Market should decide all issues of economics. Individuals should expect nothing from the government.
Our beloved nation wasn’t founded on those principles. In fact the opposite is more the case, but let’s explore a few of the things that conservatives want to do away with and see where it leads.
Let’s start with health care. That’s always good for getting the spit-talking started.
The government should not be in the business of health care, period, they say. Get rid of all socialized medicine. OK, let’s do that. Dissolve Medicare and Medicaid and revoke the entire new medical law. Wait, wait, they will say. Did you say Medicare? Not Medicare, we didn’t mean that. But, we say, didn’t you want to get the government out of the medical business? Well, yes, but… Done. The government now has absolutely no responsibility for your health. Take care of it yourself.
The first thing you realize is that this is going to cost you. Remember, the Market Rules, so if you aren’t perfectly healthy, in fact, even if you are, any insurance company can turn you down for health insurance or cancel it at any time, for any reason or no apparent reason. Don’t forget too that our medical costs are already double the costs of the best systems in the world, which just happen to be national systems that insure everyone. You can expect your costs to rise sharply from there, because we are now free from regulations that might control them. The government is bound not to interfere with free enterprise; this is an inviolate principle.
But let’s say you bought insurance, then shortly thereafter you have excruciating pain, and find that you must have bypass heart surgery. Too bad. Pre-existing condition. Your insurance is hereby cancelled. Pay for it yourself. You can get it cheap, a mere $200,000.
But you don’t have $200,000, so the only thing you can do besides cash in your savings, all of it, to is to sell your house. You do both of those things, and move into a small apartment.
Unfortunately, the surgery is not perfectly successful, and you find that after two months you are still unable to return to work. Your boss fires you and suddenly you have no income, and you have no recourse because there is no union power to protect you, and all the labor laws and unemployment protections have been rescinded. Your spouse finds a job in retail at a fourth of what you were earning. You pray that you will recover and not have more heart trouble, but you know that the odds say you probably will. You realize your family would be better off if you had died.
Is that an unreasonable scenario? Probably not, since it’s not far off the mark even in today’s system. Put Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” in your Netflix queue if you don’t believe it.
What else? Well, the Environmental Protection Agency is hereby dissolved, and all of its odious regulations and rules rescinded. Too restrictive for free enterprise. At long last, big corporations and their bosses can make some real profit. They can simply do away with all those expensive and unnecessary things to control pollution, not to mention safety, that get in the way of profit making.
A lot of people today are too young to remember that the Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted that it actually caught fire a number of times, with considerable financial loss. The fires became a national shame, and marked the beginning of the environmental age. And the Cuyahoga River actually recovered, complete with fish. But now that the EPA has gone away, we can count on all rivers to become polluted again, very polluted, because nothing will prevent business interests from using them as industrial toilets. All water life will vanish. It won’t be too long before various rivers catch fire, because now there are many more large companies who will gladly feed their toxic and poisonous effluents into the waters so their owners can make more money. That will make it hard on the cities that draw drinking water from rivers.
Is there anyone who hasn’t seen what results from the almost total lack of control of air pollution in China? Our news media now and then have pictures of city streets, with people wearing bandanas or surgical masks in the eye-burning, sunless, acrid air. Behind them everything becomes less and less distinct, until, just a block away, even big buildings become dim hulks lurking in the corrosive brown air. Our air in the US isn’t perfect, and asthma and lung diseases thrive where it is least healthy, but up until now we have been protected from the kind of awful pollution the Chinese are forced to live with every day. That will change now.
These are but two examples of the kinds of changes conservatives seek. They also want to go after unions, women’s rights, immigrants, food safety, science, and much more. The basic thing is that conservatives don’t want community to count. We mustn’t have good government because that is people helping people, and everyone should be responsible for himself.
If that sounds like a nightmare, it’s because it will be. What might the result of Japan’s horrible Great Quake have been if their stringent earthquake codes had been eviscerated to improve profit? We have a nation of 300-million or so in a world approaching seven billion. This many people’s wellbeing cannot be maintained by a caretaker government with few powers. Every individual’s fortunes will decline along with missing health care and the decaying environment, and even the very rich will not be spared, no matter how much more money they make.
There is no magic of the marketplace. Things do not even out in the end, making everyone better off. There is no such thing as self-regulation of business. Without legal constraint, industry simply ignores everything that doesn’t have to do with profit. Power and money beget more power and money, without end, and it all goes to the owners and bosses. The entire purpose of industry is to profit the owners, not the workers, and things like safety, health, and environment are not part of that picture. In classic economic terms, they are “external”, even though they are literally “internal” to the lives of everyone.
If there is one element of human nature that can be relied on, it is greed. Greed is innate because gaining something is usually beneficial for the individual. Or at least it was when there were natural limits to greed, such as how many mastodon steaks you could carry home. But it turns out that there is no upward limit of greed, which “progress” allows us to see clearly. Greed is reaching for the infinite. Unless we tell ourselves that we have enough—and few of us do that—our greed will never be satisfied no matter how much money and power we accumulate. Greed for things lives with greed for power, and power means the power to hurt others with your greed, meaning those with little power or money, which essentially means everybody in the bottom 95% of the income range these days.
It’s a frightening time. Conservatives have no interest in community, in compassion for the less fortunate, or in helping one another. Heavens, someone might be helped who doesn’t deserve it. You know, the naturally lazy ones with darker skins. Conservatives are fighting hard to establish a social free-for-all, every man for himself, the rich rule. And they are succeeding. A tiny part of the US now controls a huge part of its wealth, along with total control of the laws that govern how it is made.
There are now 1210 billionaires in the world, testament to the desirability of limitless greed. Billionaires! Imagine: one can easily live a very pleasant and comfortable life without doing a lick of work on just part of a million dollars, and this is thousands of times more. Money already controls everything in public life. As the “successful” (i.e., rich) people battle for ever more, the quality of life for the rest of us can only melt away like August ice cream.