Thursday, April 07, 2011

Rantin' about causing a budget

Okay, so Rep. Paul Rantin' has come out with his "It's not a budget, it's a cause" budget.

And after a day of fawning over how "courageous" he was, a few media outlets started taking a look at the figures and were gobsmacked by the fact that they just didn't add up. My gosh! Reactionaries with phony numbers? Whoda thunk?

So it's already being ripped apart factually and I have no quarrel whatsoever with the analysts and think tanks (e.g., the Center for American Progress, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Economic Policy Institute) who have gone after Rantin's rantings. That's what they're supposed to do; that's their job and they have done it well.

I do, however, have a quarrel with the various liberal slash progressive slash lefty commentators who made and still are making the bonehead mistake of treating Rantin's pantings as something to be approached and analyzed seriously, thereby actually serving the reactionaries' strategic interests. They are being idiots.

The thing is, the only real commentary that reached beyond the painfully obvious economic failings of the "cause" has been about the politics of it, almost all of which has come down to "It won't pass." Well, of course it won't pass. Even the most whacked-out wingnuts know it won't pass. They might hope it will pass the House, they might even think that it will, given the combination of TP extremism and the typical "Shut up and do as your told" authoritarian mentality in operation within the GOPper caucus there. But still they know - of course they know - that it won't pass the Senate.

They don't care!

Don't you get it? They don't care. They really don't. The idea of such a declaration - and that's what it is, not a budget so at least give Rantin' props for being upfront about that with his "it's a cause" description - the idea is not to get it passed in any foreseeable future but to make it the basis for debate. To make it the standard to which comparisons will be made. And bluntly, with the unwitting - not to say witless - cooperation of what passes for much of the left in this country, they have already succeeded in that.

Sure you can take a critical look at the numbers, sure you can cite the analyses. But what you don't do is stop there. What you don't do it take it seriously. You don't approach it as if it was a serious proposal that was sufficiently reasonable to deserve careful rebuttal. Instead, you seek to put it outside the range of acceptable discussion.

Denounce it. Decry it. Demonize it. Call it names. They're easy enough to come by because they're accurate. Don't even just say it would "end Medicare," say it's wild-eyed fanaticism that would destroy the basic fabric of American society. Say it would decimate (probably without using that particular high-falutin'-sounding word) our economy, ruin our environment, dismember our society. Say it proves their utter disregard for the welfare of American families. Call it a program "of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich" that would plunge us back into the worst days of the Robber Barons. Call it part of a plan - no, a plot - to undo more than a century of social and economic progress. Label it a fringe document created by and for a fringe element; a rejection of American principles of justice and fairness; beyond the pale, over the top, around the bend. Insist that it does not deserve the regard of decent people.

The attack should be unrelenting. One thing the right does at which the left too often fails is to be open about what it's after. Even if the ideas are unpopular, they will repeat them over and over and over, chipping away at the opposition, making what was unacceptably radical seem more reasonable if only because it has become more familiar, it seems less outrageous because it is no longer a surprise. It's a classic way of moving the Overton window: pushing ideas that are beyond the fringe to make current fringe ideas seem more acceptable. It is strategic thinking.

By contrast, the left seems incapable of such thinking, preferring to all but exclusively focus on the question of "What might pass this year?" and then call - more properly, ask - for that instead of for what the actual goal is. In the real world, in real politics, at the end of the day you will all but always end up with something less than you asked for - which means as long as instead of demanding what you want you ask for the most you think might pass, you will inevitably end up with even less than that. More importantly, what you want will remain off the table precisely because you don't push for it, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. An example was the health insurance reform bill: Single-payer, much less a national health care system, was "off the table" even before the debate began because "it won't pass." The obvious - and quite predictable - result was that even a wimpy "public option" couldn't survive.

Which brings me back to the point: The reactionaries don't care if this so-called "budget" passes because, by Rantin's own admission, it isn't one. It's a "cause." And that cause is the undoing of The Commons, the undoing of any notion of common interests or mutual responsibilities between and among citizens, the undoing of the social contract between the public and the government. That is why this document must be attacked not as a "budget" with funny numbers but for what it is: part of an immoral cause born of selfishness, greed, and indifference to injustice experienced by others. And it is also why it is a terrible mistake that actually plays right into the reactionaries' hands to treat it any other way.

Footnote the One: If you're of a religious mind, in denouncing the "cause" you might refer to Hillel's declaration that the "whole Torah" comes down to "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." Or you might refer people to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and call Rantin's "budget" the work of the priest or the Levite who crossed the road and passed by the injured man.

Footnote the Two: "A plot to undo more than a century of social and economic progress?" Yup. And, again, the reactionaries made no secret of it. This is a letter I wrote to my local newspaper some 16 years ago about a George Will column for January 2, 1995:
To George Will goes the honor of being called an honest man. Cutting through the nonsense of Newt and company, he opens the heart of his cohorts’ agenda: “‘Back to 1900,’” he says, “is a serviceable summation of the conservatives’ goal.”

“Back to 1900.” Back to a time before legal labor unions or effective anti-monopoly laws, a time of child labor and twelve hour work days. Back to a time before consumer or environmental protection laws, before regulations requiring safe working conditions, a time when being killed at work was a major cause of death. A time before Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment or disability insurance.

“Back to 1900.” Back to when poor people were considered genetic defectives who deserved their condition. Back before civil or voting rights laws, when wives were chattel, blacks were either “good niggers” who got called “boy” or “uppity niggers” who risked being lynched, racism (against Irish, Italians, and others as well as blacks) was institutionalized, sexism the norm, and gays and lesbians, as far as “polite society” was concerned, didn’t exist.

Back, in short, to a time when the elite were in their mansions and the rest of us were expected to know our places, live lives of servitude without complaint, and then die without making a fuss. “Back to 1900" is indeed “a serviceable summation” of the right wing’s goal, which is to undo a century of progress toward economic and social justice in order to selfishly benefit their morally stunted lives.

And if anyone thinks I’m too harsh, remember that Will’s “summation” was offered as a moderate alternative to Christopher DeMuth of the American Enterprise Institute, who proposed we “go back to the Articles of Confederation and start over.” One wonders what, given the chance, they’d do with the Bill of Rights.
That's what they're after. They said it themselves. We should say it, too.

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