Monday, August 10, 2020

Please Excuse Me While I Rant Awhile

This PBS episode of Firing Line from 1984, the middle of the Reagan era, is fascinating to me for a variety of reasons. 

What we see from the Republican party of today didn't just happen when Trump showed up but has been a decades long effort to obtain power through any means necessary, but mostly by making stuff up, or as Lionel Trilling said, "..making irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." It's entertainment, a spectacle...a sad, sick, old joke...and it's on us. 

On the other hand you have to appreciate William F. Buckley's demeanor compared to what you'll find in the safe spaces inhabited by Republicans today. I guess if you're going to get screwed there is some consolation in having a person like William Buckley whisper lies in your ear rather than some millionaire paid by billionaires on Fox News or right wing hate radio yelling about how evil the "others" are. 

This show, like much of right wing media, is an example of false-consciousness. In this show the right wing ideologues blame feminists and woman's rights supporters for forcing women to leave their homes and families to enter the paid workforce. This sounds like a reasonable assertion if you want to believe it. The idea that cultural norms dictate behavior isn't a new one. The idea that women left their homes to go to work because they were shamed into it by the feminists and liberal media..the culture - seems a bit dubious to me.

Another point of view is that this blaming of feminists and woman's rights supporters is an effort to divide and anger the working class so they don't blame the Republican party (and their wealthy elite appeasing counterparts in the Democratic party) for the U.S. lagging other economically developed nations in the world when it comes to access to healthy food, shelter, education, medical care, safety, free and fair elections and other basic human rights


If you listen to the show you may also detect some good old boy male chauvinism where the best women are; quiet, subservient, and non-threatening to our fragile male egos - preferably barefoot in the kitchen waiting to make us a samwich and bring us a beer. If they have to be out in public at least they should always speak in a pleasing feminine tone and refrain from being assertive or independent minded - since natural law dictates that raising your voice, being assertive or independent are reserved for us male folk. 

I think we can all (more or less) agree that women should be able to choose to work outside the home and be treated equally when they do that? I think we can all (more or less) agree that women who are happy staying home raising children should not be forced to leave their home and children and take a job outside the home?

Were some women, who would have preferred to stay home and raise their children and be a home-maker, forced to work outside the home? 

Yes - but the primary reason wasn't culture or feminists or liberals or whoever you're supposed to blame. The primary forcing function was and is - economic policy.

The forcing function was/is the policies that the Republican free-market laissiz-faire neo-liberal capitalists implemented (with help from some confused Democrats, notably Bill Clinton).

Allowing American corporations to offshore jobs with good pay and benefits meant men couldn't support their families on a single income. A constant battle against labor unions succeeded in lowering wages and benefits for millions of people and gave many women no choice but to enter the labor force. Failing to help family farms in favor of corporate agri-business contributed it's share. The Wal-Martizaton of many small towns where the local small businesses closed because they were unable to compete with the monopoly contributed as well.   


The dirty lie that some people either can't or won't recognize is that unfettered Capitalism is disruptive to individuals, families, culture and society. So disruptive in fact that it may have "disrupted" the planet to the point where it will be unrecognizable in the not too distant future. I'm not sure what the word "conservative" means but to many people who claim that title today it doesn't include conserving a livable planet. 

Being right (which I'm pretty sure I am in this case) gives me no pleasure.

It would be fairly easy to make a case that any historical meaning of the word conservatism is antithetical to free market capitalism. The word conservative and liberal have been so degraded by misuse and a lack of any historical understanding to be meaningless other than as a way to show we are irritated by someone or something that we don't understand. 

A basic understanding of liberalism and conservatism would lead most people to conclude both ideologies have valuable insights for how to shape societies, economies and governments...but that takes work and is lets just keep calling other people names, filling our selves with fear and! This fight of all against all will lead to our eventual downfall as a society..but it's not boring.


One of the tiredest old saws of the far right (which now controls our government) and the far left (which will never have much power for very long in this country or any other country where money=power) is the claim that we  only have a binary choice - either a socialist or capitalist economy. We have (and have always had) a mixed economy with elements of both capitalist and socialist policies. Striking the right balance is the key. 

For someone who believes in a purely socialist (or dare we say communist) society, and who wants to take over the means of production and form a non-hierarchical society no one is stopping you here in the good old USA. Get together with some fellow travelers buy some land and form your own utopian community. Seriously do that...try to find some land that won't be under water or on fire in the next decade(s).

On the other hand your libertarian brethren on the extreme right have captured our government to conduct a 40 year plus experiment in unfettered capitalism and it hasn't turned out so well for 90% of the population.

Sometimes, as has been the case for four decades, the redistribution of wealth is from the poorer to the more wealthy. A non-progressive income tax (one where people in lower income brackets pay a higher percentage of their income than those in higher income brackets) keeps the middle class angry about how high their taxes are while the non-taxpaying billionaires laugh all the way to the bank. This also helps the GOP with their claim that they are for lower taxes - sure who isn't? meant lower taxes for corporations, billionaires and millionaires? I'm not so sure I support that - do tell me more, but please refrain from any voodoo economics - I like data, and stuff you know?

I worked for 50 years and don't recall any notable reduction in my taxes regardless of who was in power in Washington D.C. What I did see in the state I live in is a completely non-progressive tax structure where there is no tax on income but high property and sales taxes combined with all kinds of stealth taxes disguised as fees. That non-progressive tax structure works pretty good for the 9 percent at the top of the wealth ladder, much better for the 1 percent and great for the .1 percent, but for the other 90% of the population not so great.


Some comments specific to this old episode of Firing Line -

1. The sponsors of the show are right-wing corporate ultra wealthy entities that among other things initiated the Federalist society that has supplied Donald Trump with his Federal judge candidates. Read Jane Mayer's book "Dark Money", Sheldon Whitehouse's book "Captured" or Nancy MacLean's book "Democracy in Chains" if you are curious about why you should be concerned if you value living in a democratic republic.

2. Christopher Hitchens shows his mastery of language, debate, and conversation. He was willing to criticize both left and right wing politicians which makes it hard for those who simply want to use negative partisanship and whataboutism to deal with his arguments. 

3. The disrespect the right wing author/propagandist shows towards women and the truth. He has all kinds of nasty things to call feminists and women in general ala Rush Limbaugh. You can start at time 16:30 and time 41:00 in the video if you want to hear some of that conversation. He tells us he is sure these women who support equal rights are the cause of most if not all of our problems...the rest of the problems are the fault of "liberals". In the constricted world of the truly indoctrinated the word liberal describes political figures from LBJ to MLK. This distortion is accelerated today. If you stay in the right-wing media safe spaces long enough you may begin to confuse Che Guevara with Joe Biden and be saddened that Joe wants to hurt God...while this guy thumps his bible. 

4. William F. Buckley's opinion regarding the Vietnam War and how misinformed he was in that opinion. Dow Chemical the maker of napalm is one of the sponsors of the show, which may factor into how "conservatives" beholden to military contractors for their funding form their points of view. Watch the Ken Burns PBS special on the Vietnam War if you're interested in knowing more. The U.S. government misunderstood the situation in Vietnam, lied to get us into a war, and lied to keep us in a war they knew was "unwinnable".

Nixon, sabotaged the Vietnam War peace talks to make the democrats look bad and help himself be elected President in 1968. Reagan took a cue from Nixon's dirty tricks when he sabotaged the Iran hostage deal to help himself be elected President in 1980. Twelve years later the person with the title Attorney General of the United States - William Barr, recommended the pardon of all the criminals involved in the Reagan era Iran-Contra affair

Power corrupts...absolute power...corrupts absolutely. For anyone paying attention - the scope, breadth and depth of corruption in the current Republican administration is historically unprecedented. A rational person might assume that people would not continue to vote for corrupt politicians and their political parties but ideological identities are not arrived at through rational thought. 

5. An example of the right wing doing precisely what they accuse the left of doing. In the right wing view liberals use corporate or elites money (Soros) to launch unwarranted attacks on the right, hire fake protesters, and control the whole of media (outside the right wing media safe spaces controlled and occupied by those who decry safe spaces). Like so many things in life when someone rants and raves about some thing being best or worst or all bad or all aware that things are complicated and what you are often seeing is a mirror image where the reverse of what you are being told is closer to reality. 


Since I'm rambling one last comment. I've been at a few protests including the big 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. That was a great day - families marching, labor organizers speaking, environmentalists in turtle costumes. It was a bad night with idiots breaking out windows of local businesses to protest something...or just to raise hell. You never know who's at those protests and what their motive may be. Destroying private or public property and threatening or actually using violence against other people seems to be a surefire way to lose public support and encourage a frightened electorate into trading our democracy for an authoritarian dictator who promises law and order.