Tuesday, June 08, 2004

It's All About Me

Sorry about the lite posting days, everybody. It's been a busy around here, as I add in extra shifts at the bookstore and still try to plan my next season of work.

Also, ReaganFest 2004! has really knocked everything else out of the news.

If All Things Reagan is really what your interested in reading, well, you can scroll down for my post on the whole thing, go to Slate's rather exhaustive and entertaining coverage, keep up with atrios as he performs the thankless task of fact-checking the BS said about Reagan over the past (and next) few days. George Hunka reminds us all about how crappy the 80's really were, while Laura Axelrod provides a more personal context for how she feels about Reagan.

I will (not-so) briefly digress thusly:

The problem with the "Me" decade was exactly that, it was all about individual greed. I think it's pretty clear that one of the essential values of conservatism is selfishness. Ayn Rand ("who college freshman think is a philosopher" to quote The Daily Show) was at least open about this-- to truly believe in capitalism unbound is to believe that a society organized around "getting" (selfishness) is better than a society organized around "giving" or, well, just about anythign else. This is how Republicans scare working class people into voting for tax cuts that will destroy them rather than benefitting them. Because such large percentages of people either A) think they are in the wealthiest 1% bracket or B) think they have a real shot at making it into the echelons of the Middle and Upper Classes, Republicans can easily say, "ah yes, but when you get here, you'll want to be as selfish as possible too, and these class warfarin' Dems are gonna come along and EAT YOU ALIVE so that dark people can have Health Care is that what you want?".

The true success of the Reagan years was to put the final nails in the coffin of the New Deal and the Great Society. A mixture between our need to shed blood on foreign lands and our fears (justifiable and non-) about Communism and the ascension of American Empire conspired to destroy most remnants of a giving society. What we have now is a society organized around getting.

A society organized around getting is a society organized to benefit those who already have. Thus the rich become the super rich (the wage gap has increased with such remarkable pace from 1980 to 2000 it'll make your head spin) the powerful the uberpowerful, the privileged the Masters of the Universe and America becomes an Empire more powerful than anything ever seen on this Earth. In order for this to work, the cost (financially and otherwise) of not being part of the Uber Group increases and increases and increases while the number of people who benefit from it will shrink and shrink and shrink until it excludes just about everyone.

This is why I think new conservatism is so dangerous. I have a certain grudging respect for old-school small government conservatism, but this isn't what we're talking about anymore. These days, conservatism isn't about making the government smaller, it's about restructuring the entire society to make sure that it all benefits those already on top. Reagan was the prophet of this movement. He didn't shrink government. In fact, he made it much much larger, but did it in a way that hurt programs that helped people in need and enriched defense contractors. This is why, in my book, he was a terrible President, plain and simple.

But moving beyond Reagan, the question for all of us as the getting paradigm breaks apart (just wait, for example, until there's no more oil to get) is what can we do? How can we organize our society around a common good, a lifting up, a "giving"?


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