If I was one to find conspiracies I would think that contemporary political discourse was a well staged ruse coordinated by the Democrats and the Republicans. Here’s how I might imagine this conspiracy would have taken place in 2008
Imagine, if you will, a windowless room bathed in subdued light. In the center of the room is a great, rectangular table. On one side of the table are members of the Democratic Party, looking confident and smug in their recent success. Across from the Democrats are the Republicans, shaken and uncertain about their future after thirty years of dominance over our political institutions. At the head of the table, sitting on a great golden chair, is the ringleader, head of the Old World Order Conspiracy. We’ll call him Earl!
“Okay,” says Earl, “the people are angry at the way things have turned out. To be frank, if I was them I’d be angry, too. But I’m not. So far we’ve done very well. We can’t complain. Corporations have been able to do what they want without any scrutiny at all from a largely complacent public. But now they are not complacent. They are demanding change, and change is what we are going to have to give them
at least the appearance of change.”
All the petty members around the table nod numbly.
“So here’s what we are going to do. Democrats, since you are the ones in the driver’s seat now you will have to present the pretext of change. I know it’s going to be hard for you to suggest changing a system from which you benefit, but unless you want angry mobs tearing through the Capitol Building with pitchforks you’ll have to do something. So what you will do is offer some tepid and moderate legislative plans and call it reform.
“Republicans, you have the fun and easy job. It doesn’t matter what kind of reform is proposed, you have to insist that it is the most radical departure from the mainstream ever offered in American history. Of course you’ll use the standard accusation of socialism and comparisons to Nazi Germany. That’s just par for the course. But that won’t be enough. So you’ll have to come up with all kinds of nonsenseit doesn’t matter whatjust make sure it has nothing to do with the actual legislation being proposed. Imagine the most dystopian science fiction plot line and insist that it is included in the legislation. Conservatives, having their fear strings plucked, will immediately sing along to whatever tune you are playing. Liberals will end up spending so much time fighting the nonsense that they won’t notice that the so called reforms being offered are just more of the same, leaving the status quo and the prevailing power elitethat’s usperfectly in-tact.”
Insert evil sounding laugh here.
Now I’m not suggesting that the above scenario has actually taken place. Indeed, I don’t believe it has. I’m not a purveyor or patron of conspiracy theory. The consequences of the above plot, however, are very real. Democrats offer some kind of reform that does, in fact, offer benefits for common people while at the same time neglecting the very real systematic and structural elements of the problem. Republicans, on the other hand, offer absolutely absurd objections to the suggested reforms that are often pure fictions. Liberals and reformists then find themselves in the awkward position of countering non-sense and, in the process, defending the status quo by ignoring the flaws in the proposed reform packages.
Health care was a perfect example. Health care reform frittered away almost every truly liberal idea. Single payer was immediately taken off the table, without the least debate. An individual mandate was included despite near universal disapproval. By the time health care reform was brought to a vote it was a milquetoast legislative offering that may offer some benefit to working American people, but leaves the status quo firmly in position. Republican balderdash about the government taking over health care, and accusations of death panels straight out of Logan’s Run served as idiotic distractions from the real issue.
Instead of a debate about the health-for-profit system that has evolved in this country, a system designed to serve shareholders before serving the sick, we debated death panels. There were big issues here that should have been debated. What is the role of the government in personal matters such as health care? How are the costs and benefits of a private health care system weighed against the desire and need of the individual to a healthy life? There are important and legitimate perspectives on all sides of the political spectrum. Instead we desperately attempted to apply reason to insane diatribes about death panels and Nazism.
We don’t need a conspiracy to understand our current discourse. Both the Democrat and Republican parties as institutions benefit directly from the status quo; this is also true of the individuals who serve these institutions. Barack Obama did not rise so quickly in politics because he raged against the machine. He conformed. He played according to the institutionalized rules. There’s nothing in his political history to suggest the kind of radicalism and reform mindedness as accused by the right or hoped for by the left. He was a successful bureaucrat in a very large institution, one dedicated to self perpetuation. So the strategies of both parties makes sense as they both benefit and hope to benefit from an entrenched system.
History may repeat itself with finance reform. Democrats have offered mostly moderate ideas that increase transparency and enforce some semblance of accountability on the financial market, but neglect some very real questions about the intangible nature of a system designed to benefit only the elite while leaving working men and women out to dry. There are very real concerns about the legitimacy of finance capitalism, global economic interconnectedness and the responsibilities of the corporation to society. These issues are not addressed and will not be addressed because the Republican spin machine is already in full mode with false accusations of socialism and perpetual taxpayer bailouts that are not even real.
Well, I’m no longer playing this game. It is my intent to no longer get involved with nonsense, or expecting rational discourse from the crazy fringe. When confronted with such foolishness as death panels and accusations of socialism we should meet these with ridicule and sarcasm, then move on to those who are open to reason. I’d like to name this strategy the Penguin Plan after this cartoon from Tom Tomorrow