Wednesday, August 12, 2020

When Radicals Takeover The Government

The Republican party would like you to be afraid that radicals, like Joe Biden, want to take over the country. If you hang out in Republican safe spaces long enough you might start to confuse Joe with Che Guavara

If you are too young to know who Che was, he was a Marxist of some sort whose revolutionary stance was solidified as a result of the neocolonial policies of the United Fruit Company and the United States government in South America. He held roles in the Castro government of Cuba in the early 60's and was executed by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces in 1967. The 2004 movie The Motorcycle Diaries is about Che's life-changing travels through South America. The United Fruit Company later became Chiquita Brand International, and the events that these large multi-national corporations participated in with United States government backing are the source of the term banana republic.

Swinging back from the radical left to the other side of the political spectrum...

William F. Buckley wrote a book in 1990 titled Gratitude: Reflections On What We Owe To Our Country. Buckley recommends some form of national service for young people in the book and in the episode from Firing Line below. I haven't read William's book but I did order it from Powell's and am looking forward to reading it.

More recently Sebastian Unger has recommended some form of national service in his book Tribe - On Homecoming and Belonging

I think some form of national service would help individuals further their educations by getting to know and work with people from various parts of the country - people with different religious, racial, sexual, economic, and educational backgrounds - then their own. Beyond the benefits to increasing individuals knowledge of the people and the world around them - this service for the country and it's people would aid national cohesiveness by cutting down on some of the stupid my team vs. your team activity we see in today's media and political realms. 


So that's the good's the bad part.

This Firing Line episode from 1990 is useful in beginning to understand what happened to the United States starting around the time Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. 

Ronald Reagan is a hero to many people and he certainly had his good qualities. He was quite charming, apparently sincere, and a good public relations guy - both for the General Electric Corporation before he entered politics, and after he became Governor of California and later President. He was a better actor than most politicians. 

Was he honest with the American people? My outlook on his veracity comes from a story in the book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" by the British neurologist Oliver Sachs

The story is called "The President's Speech" -
"What was going on? A roar of laughter from the aphasia ward, just as the President's speech was coming on, and they had all been so eager to hear the President speaking. .. 
Thus the feeling I sometimes have-which all of us who work closely with aphasiacs have-that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily. .. 
And what dogs can do here, aphasiacs do too, and at a human and immeasurably superior level. 'One can lie with the mouth,' Nietzsche writes, 'but with the accompanying grimace one nevertheless tells the truth.' 
We recognize this with dogs, and often use them for this purpose-to pick up falsehood, or malice, or equivocal intentions, to tell us who can be trusted, who is integral, who makes sense, when we --so susceptible to words-- cannot trust our own instincts."

Back to where I was...

In this Firing Line episode you can see part of the root of the ideology that led us to a place where today government does not serve the people, income inequality has exploded, medical care is shambolic, schools are failing, infrastructure is failing, childhood poverty afflicts 1 in 6 children in the U.S., the environment is in crisis and a myriad of other problems face us that should be addressed by society and government but are not. Why?

Because a group of right wing radicals took over our government.

Before you assume I'm being hyperbolic in using the word radical read the platform from the 1980 Libertarian Party when David Koch was running as their vice-presidential candidate. Bear in mind that the Koch machine, and a myriad of other dark-money funded groups that were created by, and for, those operating under the capitalist's golden rule - them that gots the gold makes the rules - wield a tremendous amount of power and capacity to shape public opinion. We actually don't know how much power since the money trails are all hidden thanks to Citizen's United which in itself should have been a red warning light that our democracy was being taken over by big-money interests.

"We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis  (1856-1941)


The idea that some "radical" group or ideology is going to take over our government is of course a tired old saw from the GOP. It's also one of those mirror images where what someone says is the reverse of what is actually true. The radicals that took over our government are on the right not the left and the further right you go the closer you get to some type of totalitarian fascistic corporatist state. 

This Firing Line episode is a discussion between William F. Buckley and the economist Milton Friedman who was a member of the Chicago school of economics.

Milton Friedman is an odd character. I'm not sure if he is insane, insanely naive, ideologically possessed or just making a buck by pushing propaganda in service of his corporate masters. A lot of people would think I'm nuts for writing that.

They'd say - Uncle Miltie is a nice old guy who wants us to be free! He wants us to be independent individuals! He wants to shrink government, eliminate government waste and lower taxes - what could be wrong with that?

It turns out a lot is wrong with that. The concept is fine but as Aristotle noted a couple of thousand years ago - it's the extremes that cause problems.


The propagandists who serve the rich and powerful started this radical project after the New Deal and haven't given up trying to shape public opinion to allow the oligarchs to roll back the social safety net, privatize as many government functions as possible and eliminate regulations they don't like - to this day.

Our corporate masters put Milton Friedman on popular daytime television shows prior to and during the Reagan era (1980-1988) to shape public opinion in ways beneficial to their project. It's also possible that, out of the blue, working class Americans suddenly became interested in what an economist from the University of Chicago had to say. In the latter case the corporations who own the networks were just giving the people what they wanted to see on a popular daytime TV show - a lecture on economic theory. Sure sure that's it. 

The shapers of public opinion knew that people would be bored out of their gourds listening to some ideologue drone on about economic theory so they gussied the message up by having a kindly super-smart sounding old gent present his radical antisocial views in ways that made them sound like good old "common sense". Here's Milton on the Phil Donahue show in 1979 promoting a book and softening up the populace for the upcoming "Reagan Revolution" beginning in 1980.


You have to go back further than 40 years to see how this transpired. In the 1950's the radical right-wing John Birch Society was making inroads into American society. Fred Koch the father of the Koch brothers of Koch-topolis fame was one of the founders of the John Birch Society. 

When Lyndon Johnson became president in the early 1960's and passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicaid and the food stamp program (along with various other Great Society programs) - the extremely well funded hard right was energized - they never accepted the New Deal social programs from FDR and now LBJ was making things worse from their ideological point of view. The people with money and power began a project to remake our government and society.

They created all kinds of think tanks with benign patriotic sounding names, they funded and placed professors to preach their ideology on college campuses, they funded astro-turf (as opposed to grass roots) organizations like the Tea Party, congressional Freedom Caucus and more recently the protesters at the Michigan state capital. They spent decades funding magazines, books, websites, television and radio networks - to sow hatred and fear of the "others", with the goal of furthering their radical right wing agenda that helps the few at the expense of the many. 

The John Bircher/Koch wing of the political spectrum was too radical even for William F. Buckley so he instituted a project to distance the more mainstream conservative movement from the insanity of the Birchers. 

The Koch and other uber-wealthy plutocrats money talked louder than William F. Buckley's words which meant the takeover of the mainstream conservative movement by the radical right was well underway in 1990 when Reagan left office.


William Buckley is pushing back on this in his polite way in this Firing Line where he refers to some Milton Friedman idea as "randian". William says it's hard to have a serious debate with Milton about the role of government when his views are as radically anti-government as they are. Milton says things like, "I do not agree that it's desirable that the state force people to read and write....I'm opposed to compulsory education." There's probably some merit somewhere in a statement like that but on it's face it's as cray-cray radical as the laundry list of insane ideas the current Republican party is infected with thanks to the radical right that has co-opted their party. Here's one example (please read the whole list) - "abolish the Federal Aviation Administration".

Yeaaa that sounds great. The fantasy of the ideologically possessed that allows them to believe that every government function would be better off in private for-profit hands is betrayed by our own empirical experience in dealing with for-profit cable TV companies, cell phone companies, medical insurance companies and the health care industry in general.

If you can help any voter escape from the ever more harmful fantasy world of the Republican safe-spaces please do your part. Lest you think I'm some kind of partisan fanatic who just likes to hate on Republicans it might help to know I've been happily married to a Republican for about 40 years. We see eye to eye on important things, including her choice to leave that party after it devolved into it's current state. To paraphrase the actor who played "The Gipper" in the movies - she didn't leave her party it left her. 

The current Republican party cannot be trusted with power. 

I'm keeping my fingers crossed hoping enough people know that now - and come November there is going to be a wave of independent, red and blue voters who agree that it's time to start picking up the pieces after 40 years of insidious continual corruption in servitude to the wealthiest of the wealthy at the expense of the vast majority of the American people.

If you are curious about a time in our not so distant past when government worked for the people and the United States was thriving, and how that form of government was disassembled - read Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker's book American Amnesia How the War on Government Made us Forget What Made America Prosper