Here’s something which you have probably seen (or heard) a million or so times, and yet in a manner that was completely out of context:
That was of course Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who is still tied with LBJ as our greatest President) at his first inaugural speech. The line, “nothing to fear but fear itself”, has since taken a life of its own. The speech and the quote were part of the newly elected President’s plan to address the myriad of problems facing the country after the 1929 stock market crash and resulting depression. Sadly in modern times this concept of being “free from fear” has been misappropriated into referencing FDR’s leadership during WWII. As we enter a new year it is important that we look back on the lessons of the 1930′s for several reasons, but specifically this idea that our government’s economic and social priorities must be designed to eliminate “fear” needs to enter the forefront of our minds once again.
Over the holidays I found myself frequently engrossed in the same conversation with friends and family concerning why the Republican Party continually convinces people to vote against their own economic and social interests in order to benefit the wealthiest 1%. The simple answer is that those in the right wing have successfully marketed fear, in its rawest and nastiest form (see also “welfare queens” and “moochers”), towards populations of older white people who are likely to maintain a strong GOP presence in state and federal legislative bodies. The genius behind this marketing is something that the Democrats have emulated on certain baseline issues, but sadly the leadership in both parties have recognized the power behind this strategy and have each chosen to use it in a way to further strengthen class divisions and income inequality. The result of this cynical form of governance is the kabuki idiocy that we see today, when our congress is being unfavorably compared to the worst examples of reality TV.
It’s a crazy time to live in a period where reasonable, evidenced-based arguments concerning the defense of redistributive economic policies are tarred with the slur of “communism”, while the opposition goes unchallenged while spouting screeds that are blatant defenses of Social Darwinism. It is not enough to debase the welfare state as a “failure” (while providing no evidence to support this assertion), instead the “very serious” economists and their associated politicians are going after the entire idea of social insurance and progressive taxation. All the while the dim witted press corps who supposedly acts as a safeguard against those who would intentionally lie to the American public is fixated on whether John Boehner told Harry Reid to go fuck himself.
A real examination into the true intentions of those who are protesting our national debt or the supposed need for “entitlement reform” would expose these people as outright thieves from the upper class. Eliminating social security, establishing a regressive taxation system, re-branding the estate tax as an affront to the constitution, and designating welfare recipients as failures are all calculated measures and evil marketing methods designed to instill a permanent aristocracy whose status and wealth goes unchallenged by members of the other classes. To put it another way, there is a conscious effort to instill fear in us as a way to directly prevent any legislation that would allow for a more broad based economic recovery- a fact that no one in power outside of Tom Harkin and Bernie Sanders have the gaul to bring up.
For a generation now we have been told to abandon the security of a guaranteed defined pension, or to reject the extension of “entitlements” into covering healthcare or income assistance out of the need to make our lives “more efficient”. In reality polices that encouraged individual investment in the stock market, reduced the tax burden for the wealthy, and gradually eliminated the remnants social safety net, were really only “efficient” in the sense that they redistributed the middle class gains of the post war generation back into the hands of the class who had control over our government and society before the advent of the 16th Amendment. We are all victims of a grand campaign of thievery, and to make matters worse we were entirely conflict in the con.
Obama’s plan to avert the more negative aspects of the “fiscal cliff” could have been much worse (especially compared to the other various deals that the President offered to the Speaker). However the most disappointing aspect behind this compromise was the complete abandonment by the Democratic leadership to the ideological and frankly moral defense of the progressive nature of our economic policies of the past. How does someone keep a straight face and tell the country that someone making $400k a year is a member of the middle class? Why does Paris Hilton get to keep 60% of an estate for which she did nothing to earn? Why are the insane cuts to social programs only delayed by two months?
Like many people who voted for the President last November I am certain that I made the right decision, and yet wary of both the his negotiation skills (which are terrible) and his commitment to preserving economic opportunity for the lower class (personally I think he drank the David Brooks kool-aid back at Harvard Law). Given this deficit of trust, it is up to us a supposedly enlightened populous to reject this constant campaign of fear and hate that is designed to have us gamble away our future security and to vote in a way that denies the chance to succeed to other people. Let us finally recognize the impact that class warfare has had on legislation and social conditioning for the last 30 years and consciously refuse to listen to the patronizing messages from asshole CEO’s like Howard Schultz. Our democratic system is the only open-ended apparatus in which each of us as individuals has a more or less guaranteed method of deciding how our society will be shaped. Perhaps it is time to recapture its power instead of simply abdicating that responsibility to those who at one point convinced us that they know how best to govern. If anything the last 12 years should have demonstrated that this trust was misplaced.