Friday, March 05, 2010

Revival Of The Right

Ron Reagan, Jr., of the late Air America, encapsulated the heady spirit of the times when he compared one of the three leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination to our 40th President:

As far as Barack Obama being a similar agent of change, that remains to be seen. But what I do see him saying is that we are in a historical moment right now like the 60s and 80s. And I think he's right. We are overdue for a cultural shift.

Even the son of the former President might not have realized how prescient his words would prove to be. A couple of days ago, Digby blogged about the erosion of the social contract, arguing that one "effect" of the Tea Parties is in

normalizing the adolescent "individualism" of the Ayn Rand cult beyond the boardrooms and estates of the Master of the Universe. The "parasites" are now anyone who has the misfortune to lose his or her job in the worst recession since the 1930s --- a recession that was caused by millionaire con men who are reaping big bonuses these days.

She followed that yesterday by explaining

The other day I wrote about having that sick feeling in my stomach over the latest attack on the social contract with respect to the unemployment benefits extension. I think we always find these attacks startling and somewhat paralyzing when they happen because they go against our instinctive belief in a certain national moral consensus. They are radical propositions that seem so outrageous that we can't believe we have to argue the point until it's too late.

I used the issue of torture as a previous assault on the social contract and I think it's been born out that as a nation we no longer believe in an absolute prohibition on torture. You'll recall that at one time President Bush very scrupulously insisted "the United States doesn't torture," an odd turn of phrase which was later adopted by President Obama as well. Aside from the legal exposure, I think it was the old tribute vice pays to virtue in that they at least paid lip service to the idea that torture was wrong (even if they winked and nodded to the bloodthirsty sadists while they did it.) Today what we hear are full-throated defenses of torture. They've successfully defined this deviancy down.

The social contract is being torn down as a national consensus on some simple matters- such as middle-class Americans down on their luck should not be left to ravaged by the market without support from the government; brutal interrogation techniques are torture and illegal; a constitutional right to counsel exists. It is a major cultural shift to accompany the major economic shift going on.

In a similar vein, John Nichols in The Nation laments the "ridiculous talking points about how dysfunctional the federal government is, how incapable the public sector is when it comes to doing anything right and, above all, how worthless federal employees are." There are plenty of conservatives and opportunists- Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, numerous politicians, journalists, and pundits- pushing this line, but Nichols fingers the individual most responsible, who recently commented

I don't believe we should give government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats more control over health care in America.

President Obama, Nichols notes

is equating career civil servants – like the folks who organize the military's health care, services for veterans, the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Indian Health Services and the care provided for the president and his family – with insurance company profiteers who refuse coverage to people with preexisting conditions, discriminate against women and the elderly in establishing pricing structures and connive to deny care to Americans when they need it most.

Matthew Rothschild similarly describes this "reprehensible rhetoric," remarking

By damning “government bureaucrats,” Obama played right into the hands of the anti-government crowd and made any durable expansion of health care coverage all the more difficult. He also insulted every single federal employee in the Medicare and Medicaid and VA and Indian health programs.

If neither Reagan Jr. nor Digby has chosen specifically to finger the President, Obama nevertheless is effecting what Reagan Jr. would term a "cultural shift;" Digby, the destruction of the "social contract;" Nichols, "Republican talking points."

Though various factors, within or beyond the President's control, are likely to intervene between now and November, the shape of this fall's election is beginning to take shape. Democrats are obviously in serious trouble. The economy is recovering too slowly from the recession, in part because of an insufficient stimulus package, while the President has failed to deliver on his primary legislative initiative, largely because he has given greater priority to bipartisanship than to leadership.

Adopting Republican talking points will harm the party in the short term, but the real damage comes in the long term. When both parties complain that government is the enemy, its credibility erodes, and the American people conclude there is no reason not to vote for the party that more closely represents hostility to an institution which has lost its legitimacy. Moreover, the ability of the government to provide a social safety net, a minimum of security for the most needy and desperate among us, will immeasurably erode. President Obama may truly be "changing the trajectory of America" as he claimed a hero of his, President Ronald Reagan, did.

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