Friday, July 22, 2011

Budget Fight Is Really About GOP Privatization Ideology

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What I'm about to say may sound like conspiracy theory talk, but it's not. In fact, to many people who study politics, nothing that I'm about to say will be news. But to most of the people who have been obsessing about the Debt Ceiling and deficit debates, the following may sound like crazy talk. I'm referring to the question of the week: "Why would House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, walk out of budget talks with the President of the United States of America or why are conservatives being so unreasonable?"

I could speculate about Boehner's motives. Everything from he's a natural born Drama King to he's trying to look like a man standing his ground to conservative voters could be behind his walk-out (to me he's like a spoiled brat taking his marbles to go home). But what I seriously submit to you is that the stand Republicans have taken--not just during these debt ceiling negotiations but pretty much ever since Barack Obama was sworn in as POTUS--has little to do with balancing the federal budget or doing what's best for America as a whole, and their stance has even less to do with concerns about raising the debt ceiling. What the constant drumbeat of "No taxes!" is really about is a desire to shrink government to the point of impotence: it's about ideology, namely privatization. (I mean this in terms of how Republicans view the big picture or their end goal.)

About two months ago I was driving through the 7th Ward in New Orleans down Leon C. Simon Boulevard, bouncing along in my little car over streets badly in need of repair, and as I drove I wondered what would it take to rebuild this city properly and why is it that only some parts of the city are rebuilding beautifully and not other parts. Unfortunately, the city is broke and the state of Louisiana is not much better off. Naturally we hear that part of the problem is a failure to attract new businesses, and since we can't get in more money from business owners, then we must make massive budget cuts to social programs such as education. And yet if anyone proposed raising taxes on citizens in any significant way, all hell would break loose. Louisiana is a conservative state, a G.O.P./Tea Party stronghold.

Only a few weeks before my drive I'd heard that some state representative had proposed doing away completely with state taxes. I don't recall the name, and the person may have even been a Democrat because down here being a Democrat only means that a lot of your constituents haven't taken the time to change parties on their voter registrations. If they don't vote technically Republican, however, they will vote for whoever sounds like a Republican and whoever denounces President Barack Obama.

But how do people who insist on "no new taxes" or "no tax increases" expect cities and states to run and serve citizens well? What is going on with this mindset that any attempt to provide services for the collective good is socialism and of the devil? Suddenly, an answer hit me: What's really going on here is not any love of common sense government, as we are so often told. What's at work here is a machine fueled by ideology, and that ideology is privatization with an inability to balance the desires of the individual with the needs of the group. Conservatives declare that they don't believe in what they call "big government." They seem to think the only purpose of government is to provide crime control and raise armies for protection in the most literal sense--law and order as defined by the traditional western hegemony.

As I drove, I considered how so many of what used to be city and state services have been taken over by private companies, not just in my neck of the woods but also in the rest of the country. Private companies have a foothold in providing clean water, garbage collection, prison administration, and more and more in managing "public" education. And then I contemplated what was going on in Washington, D.C. and around the nation, the fear mongering the GOP and the Tea Party have leveraged with charges that Obama is "a socialist" and even a misrepresentation that the country's founders believed in no taxes, that the American Revolution was a revolt against taxes in general rather than what I learned in elementary school was a revolt against a very specific injustice--"taxes with out representation."

I also thought about how conservatives (not all but many conservative activists) have in the last two years portrayed the federal government as an evil force. As many others have discussed, it's more than a coincidence that this notion of an evil federal government has gained prominence while a black man is in the Oval Office. Some conservative pundits have used this fact to manipulate people and stir the primal fear of many white voters, the fear that somehow people of color are going to take over the country and oppress white people (the way people of color have been oppressed for centuries).

And then I considered how conservative strategists have code switched and manipulated language. For instance, Affirmative Action has been relabeled "reverse discrimination," and government programs to help the poor are called "redistribution of wealth."

Next I recalled what I know of psychology and the way humans tend to project their own thoughts onto others, especially when they are in situations they can't control. Sometimes when people fear losing control, they accuse others of having the ugly motives they recognize in themselves. By projection then, those who ignore the history behind and reason for affirmative action policies and claim the policy is "discrimination" against them instead reveal that they know policies in the past from which they've benefited have been discriminatory. Humans don't necessarily follow the Golden Rule, but they do expect others to do unto them as they have done unto others. Therefore, if someone's stabbed you in the back, they reasonably think that if you get a knife, you'll do the same to them, or if they've fantasized stabbing you, they justify that fantasy by telling themselves you wish them harm as well.

To break it down to a less violent circumstance, in relationships often the partner who is constantly accusing the other partner of infidelity is revealing his or her own desire to cheat or even that they themselves are cheating. He or she is projecting his/her own behavior and personality onto the other person.

Psychological projection is most likely behind conservatives labeling programs to help the poor and elderly as "redistribution of wealth" policies. They recognize that their own desire to privatize what were formerly government services is a "redistribution of wealth." The money that should be collected for the commonwealth of all Americans via taxes is shifted to the wallets of private contractors who conservatives would like us to believe have the public interests at heart and not their profit margins.

When private companies take over what used to be government services such as providing water, the flip in the exchange is very obvious. You don't pay the city for water and sewerage service. You pay a private company. But a look at how private companies supply water in third world countries will quickly illustrate how this kind of privatization works against the community, against the commonwealth.

Extremist conservative ideology does not allow for the concept of "commonwealth," not really, "commonwealth" being equated with "common good." The pooling of resources to create a national wealth apparent through public health services and better education programs, a good that we all have in common, is for some reason abhorrent to some who declare themselves "no taxes, economic conservatives." Consequently, they push for the elimination of taxes in the name of the kind of economic growth that benefits individuals first and foremost and tumbles downward from the most successful to the least successful like crumbs to dogs. However, this ideology is really greed in a corporate suit or cloaked in Christian family values language or patriotic doublespeak. (I don't have time to address how this thinking conflicts with first century "Christian" beliefs.)

So, I landed on these ideas during my drive, but not being the kind the of person who assumes my thoughts are valid just because they spring from me, I decided that when I got home I would do some research. As it turns out, a Princeton professor, Paul Starr, sounded an alarm of sorts on this topic back in 1988 with his paper "The Meaning of Privatization."

When I read his paper two months ago, I was going to write about it then, but I was in the middle of graduate studies. Also, I was pretty sure nobody would read that post. Perhaps no one will read it now, but I had to speak my mind.

I was surprised to find that Starr had more than 20 years ago and after a great deal of scholarship drawn some of the same conclusions I felt intuitively as I drove through the streets of New Orleans in 2011. More recently he gave a thumbs down to a Republican proposal for Medicare. He called it simply a proposal that would let the government wash its hands of providing public health services.

I've watched Republicans eying Medicare myself with the Tea Party's enthusiastic support. Aren't these the same people who had senior citizens protesting in the streets in 2009 afraid that Obama was going to take away their Medicare? It's all part of the plan to "take back America," I suppose.

Many have asked, however, "take America back to what" or take back America from whom"? I suggests the people who want to take back what they perceive to be "their country" mean to take it back to the pre-FDR New Deal policies that gave us the Great Depression and from people who pursue social justice and narrowing the gap between the haves and the have nots. I suggest that the "take back America" people are hiding from the truth that the world has changed and that we are now part of a global economy. They don't realize that a return to what our great-grandparents would have done is not the way to go unless we are speaking of cooking meals at home and growing our own vegetables. But since these people also believe going green is another anti-American idea then, well ...

Back to discussing privatization--Starr is not totally opposed to privatization (and neither am I in some cases). He writes in his 1988 paper:
This Article attempts to clarify the meaning of privatization as an idea, as theory and rhetoric, and as a political practice. In the process I hope to explain why I generally oppose privatization, even though I favor some specific proposals that privatization covers. But apart from this political judgment, I take privatization seriously as a policy movement and as a process that show every sign of reconstituting major institutional domains of contemporary society.
I added emphasis on the word "rhetoric" because rhetoric involves persuasion, and if there's one thing the privatization camp has done well is persuade Americans to swallow privatization as some kind of cure to big government even when it's in bottles marked by a skull and crossbones. As you will see if you read Starr's paper, a lot of this persuasion has been accomplished through redefining public vs. private.

He also discusses in the paper how privatization becomes a redistribution of wealth.

I do not wish to misrepresent Starr's thinking. For instance, he probably does not see as thick a plot to privatize America as I do. I mainly offer his paper as a resource to people in hopes that they will evaluate his argument in light of what we've seen unfolding with this conservative hard nose stand against raising taxes in any form. Seems to me we are dupes in a wag the dog scenario, and our mainstream media are not looking at he big picture. Is it possible that conservatives hope to demolish the current government under President Barack Obama because it's easy to tap into voting public distrust of a "the first black president"? Believe me, they would have done the same to Hillary Clinton.

Anyway, Boehner's walked out on the budget talks. WOW! What timing. He managed to stage that on a Friday when the markets couldn't react and signal to conservative Americans that something's wrong about his action. But it's all a show, people. The fallout from a default or even the potential for default is not going to hurt Republicans' real constituency, the wealthy.

The fallout is going to hurt the middle class and the poor, but those Republicans who are middle class or poor will most likely not see this is their own party's doing. They won't realize that they've been thrown under the bus. No. They'll be angry and scared and ripe for the message that it's all the incompetent black president's fault. They'll be eager to hear how Republican and Tea Party leaders tried the best they could to fight a big, scary federal government with a "socialist" and "arrogant" "covert Muslim" in charge. They will believe exactly what they've always feared.


msladyDeborah said...

It is reasonable to bring this aspect of the GOP agenda out into the public discussion. We are seeing evidence of this in Ohio along with some other very pro-the wealthy legislation being pushed through.

One of the other trends that people seem to be overlooking but houldn't is the insistance that only the manjority viewpoint of the American story be taught once again. This white washing of the national story is an attempt to prop up the idea that America's greatness is due to the majority ideology instead of the reality that existed for people of color, women and children in this nation.

Our prison system is on the way to be privitized. Our state parks are now open to the process of fracking, union busting and all that is associated with poor and working people. It is a plan and it is unfolding with so many diversions around it.

Vérité Parlant said...

You are right, Deborah, regarding the history rewrite. I think that their attempts to rewrite history from a warped conservative, fascist viewpoint and have that viewpoint taught in schools is one of the ways that they are paving the way for people, a new generation of Americans, to believe that a system in which only churches and nonprofits help the poor, sick, and elderly, a system in which the voices of people of color and others who protest oppression are silenced, and a system in which pure capitalism is rebranded as "free enterprise" (as though giving corporations the freedom to pay poverty level wages and pollute the water and air is a necessary byproduct of American freedom)is moral and just.