Saturday, April 7, 2012

Nanny State? Pow!

The next time someone uses the phrase “Nanny State” in your presence, I recommend that you pop him sharply in the nose.

Why this sudden turn to violence? And why with a gender-specific direct object? Well (second things first), because the above-mentioned phrase is almost always used by males, and those males want to make their ideological foes feel like a bunch of weenies for relying on an entity that is just like a Nanny except that it is a complex of interlocking bureaucracies and does not have a soft, comforting bosom.

“Nanny State” is one of those phrases that just sits there and spews out dishonesty the way a stinkbug spews out stink. In this regard it is similar to other lie-o-matic phrases like “liberal media.”

Liberal media: Yes, we are actually asked to believe that the mainstream media, which is owned and controlled by wealthy capitalists, is liberal.

But back to Nanny State. It is a widespread conservative claim that liberals want to be taken care of or “coddled” by the state. Of course, conservatives at the same time claim that the state is an evil, dictatorial entity that will have a death panel snuff out Grandma's life as soon as she starts acting a bit forgetful.

I’m having a little trouble reconciling the conservatives’ Evil Death Panel State with their Coddling Nanny State, but there is a way to get to the root of this contradiction.  Consider that the dominant figures in the Republican Party (those who control most of the nation's corporate wealth) would like to reduce their taxes and so gain control over even more of the nation's wealth.  The policies of Reagan and George W. Bush have, in fact, allowed them to do just this, which is why middle class incomes have stagnated since 1980.

But, these corporate types obviously can't be honest about their aims.  They can't say, "Cut our taxes so we can get richer than ever and the hell with the rest of you!"  So, they have to dream up some narratives that middle class voters will buy.  What they've come up with are two narratives, and their idea seems to be that each story will appeal to a different segment of voters.  One narrative is designed to engender resentment and contempt toward families that depend on government-funded programs (as, for example, Ronald Reagan's family did in his youth).  Though these families are often desperately poor because Republican policies periodically wreck the economy (e.g., in 1929 and 2008), the Nanny State narrative is designed to promote the idea that they are poor because they are a bunch of good-for-nothing layabouts. 

The other narrative appeals to the paranoia that lurks in the hearts of many right-wingers.  This narrative claims that government should be shrunk and taxes cut because otherwise the evil machinations of a powerful, well-funded government will turn us all into slaves.

Obviously these narratives can't both be true.  The Government cannot be a big, soft Nanny that spoils us so we can enjoy our lives of ease without a care, AND, AT THE SAME TIME, an evil grasping  Monster that takes our guns away and turns us into miserable slaves forced to do its bidding.  But that is exactly what conservatives claim.

I suspect that the dominant Republican faction - the corporate wealthy or so-called one percent - will simply say anything they can to encourage ordinary people to hate and fear the government, so they randomly make stuff up about it. But never mind. Let's set aside the contradictions at the heart of conservative ideology, and take a look at what the liberals I know believe about the government.

First of all, we believe that the Constitution is a good thing, and that it has been improved by such amendments as those abolishing slavery and expanding voting rights. We believe that we are better off when the rules governing our everyday lives are in the hands of elected representatives instead of being in the hands of those wielders of great wealth who have traditionally dominated everyone’s lives. We believe, in other words, that conservatives are wrong to say we should weaken government so that BP, RJ Reynolds and ExxonMobil can decide what the rules are instead of our elected representatives.

A good way to get a sense of what our lives would be like were government to be suddenly made “small,” is to take a quick look at Doug Amy’s website Government is Good. (Now out in book form!)

The conservative myth holds that Americans should take care of themselves, just as we did in “the old days,” and not rely on the Evil Monster/Nanny State. By this reasoning, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, in the “old days,” individual Americans reached for their household arms and booked flights to Asia to fight the Japanese, not waiting for the stupid old Nanny State with its Army, Navy and Marines to take care of us.

Yeah, those were the good old days. When government was small and we were free to take care of ourselves.

The essence of liberal ideology is the idea that we Americans should be looking out for each other, and the best way to do this is through the instruments of democratic government. Whether the issue is going to war against those who attack us, or fighting back against a horrendous economic downturn, we will have more success if we take on these problems as a nation rather than expecting that each individual can solve these problems on his or her own.

Remember, by working together as a nation and pooling our resources, we virtually wiped out the horrifying, soul-crushing poverty that haunted the lives of the elderly in the 1930s. Thank you Social Security Administration. And, by the way, thank you again SSA for managing trillions and trillions of dollars for millions of Americans over the decades without a single serious incident of systemic fraud or corruption.

Hmm, I wonder if BP, Halliburton, Enron, Citibank, and the other champions of conservatism can match that record.

Anyway, next time your hear the phrase “Nanny State,” you know what to do.