Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Beast That Is Santa Cannot Be Starved

You can try to starve it small enough to strangle in the bath-tub, but social democracy just won't stay dead however hard you throttle its neck, because the basic needs that social democracy meets better than any organizational alternatives on offer are as real as needs get, whether you like it or not.

It was never actually true that meeting these needs better than social democracy can do was the actual goal of those who sold their anti-governmental fervor with neoliberal hype about inefficient welfare states and sure-to-be-splendid "spontaneous orders." They always just feared and despised the loss of incumbent privileges that follow from the always actually democratizing provision of general welfare whenever properly accountable secular social democracy is implemented.

Incumbents appealed to class resentments and ugly ignorant intolerances to create an electoral environment in which they could hold back sensible social democracy for a time despite their own conspicuous failures to provide solutions to problems or meet basic needs. But eventually the stomach will always demand to be consulted.

James Pethokoukis has written a punchy little number proposing that it may finally, and funnily enough, be mild-mannered Tom Daschle who slays Movement Conservatism once and for all through the implementation of an enormously big and hungry and functioning and indispensable universal (or universalizing) healthcare program that will be cherished by the American people it serves thus permanently transforming the rhetorical landscape on which market fundamentalist idiocies have been ruinously sold since the reactionary pushback against the New Deal (and actually long before that).

The welfare for the rich that is the Defense budget has certainly been long cherished by the incumbents and elites who mouth their free-market pieties while they count that taxpayer cash. (Never you mind about the bloodstains, honey, that money still spends fine!). And you better believe that general welfare for everyday people will teach them fast enough that when government is actually of the people and for the people then anti-government rhetoric is an attack on them, on all of us, the people, even when it's costumed in shirtsleeves and declared with a twang.

It turns out that the Beast Grover Norquist has long wanted to starve and strangle was Santa! But Santa cannot be killed. And once Santa's down the chimney, he can't be crammed back up again.


Anonymous said...

I just have read a glibertarian propaganda piece pretending to be SF novel (unfortunately, the art of writing real SF novels with libertarian characters/settings died with Heinlein.) It was pretty good as such tracts go, but authors laid it a bit thick... NOTHING that any government in the novel did worked and EVERYTHING a certain private company did turned out to be top-notch, from their space program to their own schools.

Frankly, I still don't get how all this "government is a problem" stuff got any popular support in the first place. Private companies are no less error-prone, bigger ones aren't any less bureaucratized, and quite often, no less corrupt. Anyone who had any real experience working with a larger company would probably agree. Nor it is that difficult to see that "spontaneously ordered" macroeconomics is a house of cards without someone controlling money supply, interest rates, and preventing things like security fraud.

So, why millions of people take all this drivel seriously? Cold War propaganda a bit too efficient? Our intrinsic propensity to think that we'll do better than average (without any factual basis)? Mind control rays from black helicopters?

Dale Carrico said...

Frankly, I still don't get how all this "government is a problem" stuff got any popular support in the first place.

It has been a commonplace in the reality-based community that there has always been overwhelming support for progressive policies and democratic values, even while Reagan was selling his "government is the problem" schtick and Gingrich was taking his contract out on America. Why, it's almost as if the fact that Congress is full of millionaires and the broadcast media (the only game in town prior to the Netroots, fabulous tho' zines and community radio were) is bought and paid for by millionaires actually has some kind of concrete impact on what passes for "common wisdom" in elite-incumbent discourse! Perish the thought!

AnneC said...

One thing that comes to mind is: it is very hard, and very time consuming, to actually figure out how things (world, people, society, economy) operate in actual reality. I certainly don't have it all figured out yet myself. I went through a sort of libertarianish phase in my late teens/very early 20s, but looking back it's frankly embarrassing to think I could have thought that way while in a position of (a) living at home with my parents and (b) attending public schools, taking public transit, etc.

There are elements in American culture that frequently seem to enable, and even encourage, people who are benefitting from privilege to remain unaware of it. And I suspect that if that unawareness is never checked, a person can get locked into defending their privilege, particularly using the very common rationalization that they must have gotten where they are due purely to individual effort. And somehow it then becomes very difficult for someone in that mindset to hear any suggestion that maybe they've benefitted from belonging to a civil civilization (and from incumbent privileges in many cases); somehow any such suggestion seems to translate to, "individual effort doesn't matter at all!" in their heads. Which it doesn't actually mean, but anyway.

Seriously, though, I have never understood the drive to consider certain things bad just because they have something to do with "government". Abuses of power are bad, and governments can do bad things, and this must be addressed and critiqued, but the same goes for corporations. There's this weird mythos I've recently become aware of in which somehow all interaction with/between corporate entities is considered "voluntary" (noncoercive), whereas government entities are somehow by definition engaged in inappropriate use of force. Which is related to the mythos that thinking some services work well (or best) when provided as a public good somehow means you have no personal ambition and just want "the government" (which I guess consists of benevolent aliens or something as opposed to human beings) to take care of you without your having to lift a finger. Makes no sense at all.

JM Inc said...

One of the other things universal healthcare does on a less tangible level, if it is managed effectively of course, is to give the public a sense that they have a stake in the government, it helps to subtract from that alien quality that Anne was talking about.

The United States has been stuck in a long national rut where people di'nt wunt no guvm'nt because they ain't gut no guvm'nt! It's a bit like that old GOP joke about not buying a product from somebody who hates it and wouldn't be caught dead with one. When people get nothing from the government but crap, it's all too easy to think that government by definition is crap.

Everybody is fed up with the government for something some of the time, but if there's one thing the experiences of millions people around the world in places like Canada, Europe, Japan.... attest to, it's that when the government starts doing a good job of things, you don't immediately regret your mistake and vote for crap again.

I'm always gobsmacked at these conservative punditators who bitch and moan and cry about how, actually, Canada et al. are the perfect example of how single payer healthcare sucks and we're all so fed up with it. Bullshit. These rich-ass cosseted privilege-hoarders have no clue what it's like to be down on your luck and have somebody offer to pay for your expensive and necessary surgery so you can get back on your feet, and if they had any clue, they'd get with the rest of the civil, sane world and realise that civilised, compassionate societies don't turn people away from the table because they can't afford the cover charge. No wonder it's Americans and only Americans and not even many Americans who still cling so desperately to this vestige of feudalism.