Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde & Governor Romney

My friend Randy recently posted on Facebook a short item that explained conservative social policy more or less along these lines: We are prohibited from feeding animals in wilderness areas because we don’t want them to become dependent on us; by the same token we shouldn’t offer publicly funded support to poor people because they will become similarly dependent.

I think this argument is fundamentally wrong, partly because people are not raccoons and chipmunks.  What this little scenario represents is the benign “Dr. Jekyll” side of conservative politics, the side that says, “Hey, we really want to help people who are bad off, but the way to help them is with tough love and high expectations.”

But behind this benign, Dr. Jekyll countenance lurks the seething malice of Mr. Hyde, the real driving force of American conservatism.  


                            Jekyll & Hyde


 Let me be clear that I am not accusing Randy or my other conservative friends of being hypocritical.  No, what I am saying is that many of the most powerful figures in the conservative movement simply want to enrich themselves in the amoral arena of capitalism.  The “tough love” and “need to teach self-reliance” messages are nothing more than a screen of benevolence that they use to attract widespread support from decent citizens who would recoil from their real motivation, which is, “We want more money – LOTS more money - and screw anyone who tries to stop us from getting it!”

The billionaires who are pouring funds into Governor Romney’s campaign, (e.g., Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers) would, if they were honest, make this their catch phrase:

“GET OUT OF OUR WAY, AMERICA, WE’RE AFTER YOUR MONEY!”

By “Get out of the way,” they mean, for example:
-         Dismantle Social Security so we can turn everyone’s retirement funds into profit-making opportunities in our Wall Street casino.

-         Cut back on unemployment payments so that the unemployed will become desperate and therefore willing to work for lower wages – bigger profits for us!

-         Eliminate minimum wage laws – ditto!

-         Cut back on taxes for millionaires – ditto!

Obviously Romney and his billionaire buddies can’t run a campaign that puts these ideas up front, and this is where the “tough love” scenario comes in handy.  The conservative story for public consumption becomes, “We sympathize with poor families; we just think that spending money to help them actually hurts them in the long run.”  This is a concept that decent people can get behind, so it has become the public face of conservatism.

But this scenario of thoughtful good intentions doesn’t hold up to scrutiny - which is why I don't buy into the "benign front" of the conservative movement.  For example, given that the unemployment rate skyrocketed in 2008 when the economy collapsed, why do conservatives fight so hard to block unemployment payment extensions now?  Do they really think that it’s due to a lack of gumption that so many people suddenly came to depend on government largesse? Do they think the 10 or 15 million Americans who became jobless did so because they were all at once smitten with laziness?  So, the best way to help them now is to cut off the money they use to feed their families?  Is that it? 

Apparently the conservative answer to this question is “Yes! That’s it exactly!”

More evidence for the underlying avarice of powerful conservatives comes from the fact that since the rise of the conservative movement (which began around 1980), real incomes for poor and middle class Americans have been relatively flat, while the incomes of the top 1% have skyrocketed.

I’m willing to grant that some people do abuse the system, taking unemployment, AFDC money, etc., when they shouldn’t.  But this isn’t an overwhelming problem, and it isn’t one whose solution is to throw tens of millions of families into desperate, Depression-era poverty.  Yet that, sadly, is precisely what the conservative agenda aims for.  Let us hope this agenda has no more success this year than it did when McCain/Palin carried its banner.