Posted September 16, 2010
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Posted November 4, 2009
Posted September 8, 2009
Some of us may also be struck by the disproportionate representation of Republicans at these public meetings. Conservative Republicanism and old age go together, an observation supported recently by metrics showing that the core audience for Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and the Fox News Channel is 67 years of age. Perhaps it should be no surprise, as these "dinosaurs" approach the edges of their personal tar pits, that they are susceptible to the fear mongering that is the standard fare of right wing demagoguery.
The thing that really hits me though, watching these televised debacles, is the abundance of irony represented by the resistance of seniors who don’t trust the government to run health care, though in so many ways so many of them owe their very lives to the government they apparently now disdain.
This, after all, is in part Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”, the people who saved the world from Adolph Hitler. These are the people, we are told, who sacrificed unselfishly so that we could have the America we know today.
But then that is part of the problem, isn’t it?
The America of today is a nation in decline following a successful decades-long campaign by right-wing economists and influential business leaders to remove government oversight from all aspects of our lives (through deregulation, including actions like the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act). This, not surprisingly, was accompanied by an overwhelming revolution in consumerism that washed the decks of public responsibility and gave the thumbs up to conspicuous consumption, even among the lower income groups (see Walmart).
The result is that progressive policy makers, and fewer and fewer even exist, are now confronted by the conservative wrath in force at the health care meetings today, which come in the form of a most confounding beast, a two-headed creature:
THE GREATEST GENERATION: The generation that birthed the Baby Boomers was a humble and grateful lot, the original "Grateful Dead" in so many ways. Without the benefit of broad media and under the influence of monopolized political communications (like the Hearst publications syndicate), they appreciated the Works Projects Administration opportunities of the 1930s and they showed up ready to go when Uncle Sam told them they were needed for service to country abroad in World War II. Through their blood, sweat and tears, to borrow a cliché, they made history by turning back hostile international adversaries fore and aft and bringing about an industrial revolution here at home. It followed that they were molded into a generation that placed the greatest emphasis on shared sacrifice and compliance to social norms.
Here, as it happened, was the open wound that allowed the infection of "unenlightened politics" to establish itself and fester. Returning from the war abroad, Americans melded comfortably into the new "age of tomorrow", with its creature comforts and vast and ready resources. The GI Bill helped a generation of veterans gain educations that had previously been unimaginable for the working class, and it also allowed them to buy starter homes at low prices and at low interest rates, often for no money down. The accumulation of societal wealth that followed was “the American Century” made personal. And then it got better. Medicare took some basic health care burdens from the shoulders of people 65 and older, providing a guaranteed level of service to meet the needs of seniors who are by far the greatest users of health care. The Greatest Generation “sold out”, to use the jargon of their children’s generation; “sold their souls to the devil”. That was the smart bet, the expectation, the norm, and if you could fit in through employment with some mega-corporation, all the more impressive. The thing is, over time those norms and living denials became more and more corrosive to justice until corruption swelled throughout the U.S. economy and the U.S. way of doing business became more and more predatory. In the course of gathering our shells and protecting our gains, we ignored the ramifications of what was being created.
THE ME GENERATION: The generation that I belong to, the Baby Boomers, the "Me Generation", was always disconnected from government and at ironic odds with our parent's generation. This is part of what makes the current health care debate so convoluted, with its polarized parties and its convergence of seniors and right-leaning Baby Boomers.
My generation is one that has not developed much of a relationship with public or moral responsibility. The greatest societal events of our lives have largely been repugnantly negative, from the political assassinations of the '60s and the Viet Nam War, with its conscriptions and high body counts, through the corruptions in the Executive Branch of government associated with Watergate, through the dismally pain-indexed Carter Administration, and right on into the "greed is good" excesses of the Reagan years and beyond.
The steadily dissolving standards of American decency, and the watering down of American democracy through such things as media conglomeration, have rewarded the aggressively amoral among us until finally the U.S. has come to feel like a cage match, where the worst thugs prevail. The big winners are Ed Zander of Motorola, Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae, Gary Pruitt of McClatchy Co., Gerry Levin of Time Warner, Chuck Prince of CitiGroup, Bob Nardelli of Home Depot and Chrysler, Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers, Kerry Kellinger of Washington Mutual, Rick Wagoner of General Motors, Gary Forsee of Sprint Nextel Corporation, Ken Lay of Enron, Bernie Ebbers of Worldcom, Richard Scrushy of HealthSouth, Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide Financial, Al Dunlap of Sunbeam Corp, Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns, John Sculley of Apple, Martin Sullivan of AIG, Larry Ellison of Oracle, John Chambers of Cisco Systems, and of course the redoubtable Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, and Howard Stern, all figureheads of importantly errant money machines.
Down at the street level, all of that mendacity translates into an ethos that says "there is where I want to be so get the hell out of my way", because why not? The alternative is compliance with the new social norm, which is slavery to revolving credit and the financing of unredeemable debt. There is a better alternative, all one needs to do is keep the government out of one's pocket.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL DRAWBRIDGE: The "Get Out of Jail Free" pass for both of these polar opposites is the same, which is their avowed allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, a document that doubtless few have read. We Americans are an odd lot in that way. The other document that holds us safe from any point of view that might vary from our own is the Holy Bible, specifically the New Testament.
The point of view argued by many of those who don't wish for health care to become a universal right in the U.S. is that it is not provided for in the Constitution or any of its Amendments. That, of course, is open to interpretation as the documents we choose to cite usually are. The Preamble to the Constitution states specifically that the idea of the thing was "...to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity...", which I think could be argued as grounds for almost anything, depending upon one's definitions of perfect union, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, blessed liberties and posterity.
One could, for instance, translate the pro health care position into this statement:
Or, one could use the same Preamble text to argue against universal health care, or gun control, or anything else that makes sense. To wit:
It really just comes down to a matter of how mean you wish to be in the exploitation of our "sacred text". And by the way, the Constitution was not handed down to us by supreme beings, as the radically devoted may imagine. These are the same people, I suspect, who journey to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, which presents exhibits based on a literal reading of The Book of Genesis mixed in with a healthy dollop of Hanna-Barbara.
The Constitution was a compromise document that roughly half of the Constitutional Congress, convened in 1787, didn't even want to bring into existence. They already had the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in place, which had been more than sufficient in the eyes of those state leaders who, over the brief existence of the country, had carved out some wonderful kingdoms which they were prepared to rule into perpetuity.
You never hear these modern day devotees of the U.S. Constitution go on about the Articles of Confederation as if they were sacred text, though back in 1787 when the Congress convened they were under the impression that they were amending the Articles, not drafting a new foundation document. After all, the Articles had created a "Perpetual Union" with language that it could never be abrogated by any subsequent writing. But it was.
In fact, the framers of the "new" Constitution, primarily Virginians led by James Madison, were all about tossing out a flawed framework that gave way too much power to men who represented only a few (the Rhode Island leadership, for instance) and gave way too little power to states with large populations (i.e., Virginia). The long, hot Philadelphia summer of 1787 was a miserable exercise in the kind of politics that "democracy" has become noted for, which equates to obfuscation of ideas, demagoguery, purposeful delay, filibustering, threats of walkout and worse. The squabbling was so great that occasionally the leadership would have "the ancient" 81-year old Benjamin Franklin carried in on a chair to listen to the debate and act as a mediating influence, a wiser head. General George Washington, who was preordained to become the first President of the United States based on his leadership in the Revolutionary War, did not attend the day to day shouting matches, but showed up only on rare occasions to act as the adult in the room. Thomas Jefferson took the entire fiasco in from abroad, France to be specific. In the end, the document that the founders produced, the Constitution of the United States of America, was hardly more than a procedural manual that defined the branches of government, how elected officials would come to exist, and how the basic machinery of it all would work.
What it did not do was offer any specifics regarding the standard of our national character. The great statements of purpose are all marketing fluff useful only inasmuch as it fosters the kind of policy debates we still have going on today, 200-plus years later. The details started to be added through the Amendments, which themselves are among the most ambiguously worded codicils in the history of legalese (e.g., the much quoted 2nd Amendment, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." We are still trying to figure out what that historically awful sentence must have been intended to mean, and in the vacuum of clear direction we have granted to individuals the right to bear arms.) And, of course, the Amendments themselves have sometimes been devised to overrule previous amendments (the 18th and the 21st, regarding Prohibition).
The point is, the Constitution in all of its fuzziness is simply the draw bridge that is retracted when those of us who have assets to protect wish to insulate ourselves from the encroachments of those who don't as well as those government officials who may wish to engage an unwanted authority.
MORAL GUIDELINES: What we don't really have in the U.S. is anything in the way of moral guidelines. We have nothing that really defines our national character, because discussing our differences as individuals has been too painful to ever yield anything in the way of a shared national way of thinking. If you ask most Americans what would best describe our "American character" it would not doubt be some individual characteristic, like rugged individualism, self reliance, or fierce independence. This is both beside the point and the point itself.
We may all be rough, rugged, fearless freedom fighters, and whatever self-puffery feels good to us in the way of self descriptions, but we are all still living together in a community in which resources are shared and expenses and burdens are interrelated.
Maybe we need an old man, like Benjamin Franklin, to be carried in on a chair to remind us all that we are eventually going to have to grow up and make some serious commitments to the continuance of our society, before the denials, the high-flown philosophical positions, and the demagoguery render us so sick that the nation's health cannot be sustained. - RAR