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Hullabaloo


Saturday, July 07, 2007

 
It's Not Freedom

by digby

Rick Perlstein reports:

An argument has broken out in the comments for my Independence Day post. Folks are beating up on me for beating up on poor Barry Goldwater--when the problem is clearly George Bush.

Allow me to respond.

The watchword of The Big Con is that conservatism is the problem, not Bush, and that it is not the perversion of conservatism that is at issue but its original conception. Goldwater, in his famous acceptance speech, and Reagan, in his 1981 inauguration speech, spoke for that original conception. It is, as Reagan pronounced it: "government isn't the solution to our problems, government is the problem."

That means: tax cuts and dismantling and attempted dismantling of the structures of shared sacrifice that make America great, and keep America free. (Key example: affordable college education.)


Read the whole thing. It's very important that we not attribute the failure of the last few years solely to George W. Bush or even Dick Cheney's assault on the constitution. The virulent form of conservatism they represent is not just political, it's a systemic, cultural ill that has seized our society and made us lose our sense of common purpose --- and decency.

That is not an accident. Perlstein refers to his Independence Day post, to which I linked before, and which I highly recommend you read if you haven't done so. He discussed a new book, The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America that talks about how conservatism, which babbles incessantly about freedom and liberty, is actually anything but. It's not a Marxist argument, it's a simple series of observations that show the conservative cultural message and government policies have ended up narrowing people's freedom to pursue their own destiny rather than expand them as they insisted they would do.

That conservatives' tragic misunderstanding of freedom has produced exactly what Goldwater feared most: stifling the energy and talent of the individual, crushing creative differences, forcing conformity - and, yes, even leading us to despotism (and I'm not talking about habeus corpus or NSA spying). By methodically undermining the public's will and ability to underwrite the public good, systematically accelerating economic inequality, and making turning oneself into a commodity - "selling out" - the only possible route for young people who wish a reasonably secure middle class existence, conservatives killed liberty. The canary in the coal mine is the death of young people's "freedom to live adult lives typified by choice rather than economic compulsion."


This is something I've been thinking about for a long time. I've worked for many, many years in the corporate pink collar ghetto and later the corporate white collar management ghetto and was always moved by my overseer's devotion to freedom when they would "allow" us to leave early for a doctor appointment or theatrically dole out a discretionary bonus of a hundred dollars at the end of a banner year and expect us all to gush adoringly at their generosity. The entire enterprise is designed as an exercise in conformity in which those most eager to reinforce the corporate ethos rise to the top and enforce it even more rigidly. (Which is understandable. Having been through the "boot-camp" that beat every original thought and idea out of their heads until they don't even know they once had them, the next generation of bosses are always ready to give it even harder to those coming up behind them, if only to justify their own acquiescence to such humiliation.) And anyone who complains is reminded of that inspiring war cry of American liberty: "you can always quit."

Except, of course, most of us really can't and they know it. You can't go without health insurance and you can't afford to take a chance on a new job that might not work out because there just isn't much room to fail in our society. It takes a very brave person to put their own and their family's well being at risk when the consequences of failure are so high. Most people make the rational decision to stick with the soul destroying job, answer to a boss that treats them like a lackey and live a life of quiet desperation because to do otherwise would be irresponsible.

Doesn't that work out nicely for the corporate owners of America, eh?

And then there is the crippling debt load, a situation which people are conditioned to accept as a normal part of life, necessary to their happiness and a decent, middle class way of life. Which it is. Lucky young people today start out life with a burden that forces them to sell their souls very early, do not pass go, do not take that year long trip to Europe or write that novel or start that small business you and your pals thought up in junior year. Better join the firm and get that debt paid down before you even have a chance to think. Get in there and start getting your training to be a Corporate American. Before long, you'll have forgotten all about that other stuff. Go out and buy yourself something pretty. It'll make you feel better. Put it on the card.

For everybody else, those who work paycheck to paycheck in restaurant jobs or toil in retail or struggle in one of those elusive manufacturing jobs, it's just pure fear of being out of work that keeps you in line. If you are lucky enough to have health insurance you will do almost anything to keep it. If you have a sick family member you are as good as a slave.

I know this is depressing. But being enslaved is depressing and our economic system is slowly but surely turning into a system of involuntary servitude in which people are trapped in jobs they cannot leave or so panicked by the idea of being left holding the huge bag of debt or illness that they are paralyzed with fear. It's not like you can just check out and reinvent yourself, or "go west young man." There is no escape in the 21st century surveillance society. If that's freedom, then we need a new word to describe "the power to determine the course of one's own destiny."

None of this exactly new, of course. The Republicans have always said they wanted to go back to the 50's, and they meant it, at least in terms of insisting on a conformist culture that turns humans into robots.

The cure is quite simple. Make sure this radical right wing experiment is thoroughly and finally discredited in the public's mind and replaced with something very simple --- a normal western democracy that has a decent safety net for all its citizens, a commitment to making the middle class accessible to those on the bottom and a sense of responsibility among those who have thrived and become wealthy. It's not that complicated and it doesn't require a wholesale reworking of our society. It simply requires a return to the ...ahem ... traditional American values that undergirded the New Deal, and a healthy respect for that old truism, "there but for the grace of God go I."

The other side will shriek and hold their breath until they turn blue, but this is the weakest they've been in a quarter century. The time is now to make the argument. (Here's another good place to start: Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class)

The evidence just keeps piling up. The conservative movement is a grotesque new form of aristocracy cloaked in the mantle of radical free market religion. They are playing all of us for suckers and getting away with it.



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