Have An Opinion: Optimal Outcomes
You can often tell more about a political movement by the things they choose to remain silent about than the things about which they speak out. In the last election, it was telling that the latter-day Birchers known as the Tea Party movement were instrumental in defeating Proposition 19, a marijuana legalization initiative that would have added billions in revenue to the debt-riddled state coffers and taken a great deal of pressure off of overburdened penal and law enforcement systems. They were also instrumental in passing SQ 755, which banned the enforcement of Sharia law in Oklahoma; this was a threat so remote (Muslims comprise less than 0ne-tenth of one percent of the population of the state) that it could practically be described as non-existent. It was a classic example of voting down a law that would have effectively addressed real problems, while embracing a law that addressed a completely imaginary one.
The same dynamic seems to be at play in conservative reaction to two unfolding stories: the assault on labor by the Tea Party-approved governor of Wisconsin, and the outpouring of pro-democratic populist movements throughout the Middle East. The reaction of the neo-Birchers to protests against Gov. Walker have been universally negative. Even the working class among them, lashed to a vivid sort of false consciousness by decades of Reaganite propaganda, universally despise the unions, and have fully embraced the bogus narrative of savage, violent union thugs who leech billions off of the public tit. Though the story began with headlines that the governor had threatened to call out the National Guard to quell possible labor unrest — the sort of news we have barely seen in this country since the early 1930s — it is the teachers and public servants they tar as brutes and goons. Though plentiful evidence shows the vast disparity between the rich and the poor in America since the Reagan-era dawn of the modern conservative movement, it is grade school instructors and court clerks they paint as overpaid leeches who won’t carry their fair share. And though countries like India and China, mere decades removed from third-world status, have more robust middle classes than the United States, it is worker’s rights they identify as the blunt instrument used in the murder of the nation’s economy.
The far-right reaction to the unrest in Arab countries has been a bit more difficult to quantify. It’s varied depending on what particular flavor of nut is picked from the mix: some, who used previous pro-democracy movements in the Middle East as a club with which to pummel opponents of the Iraq invasion, celebrated them with ice-water coolness, spouting generally positive platitudes about the desirability of democracy while making sour faces that the uprisings didn’t come at the point of an American missile. Others, such as Glenn Beck and some of the real fringe lunatics, expressed the opinion that nothing good could possibly come of it and that the only potential outcome was a coup d’etat by the reviled Islamic Brotherhood; the more mainstream conservatives tended towards a self-serving interpretation of realpolitik in which we were doing a disservice to those helpful, friendly dictators who have helped keep Israel in a safe position all these years. The neoconservative Orientalists of the Michael Ledeen wing, who have preached for decades that Arabs are a fearful and superstitious bunch of primitives who understand no form of governance more advanced than force, have been predictably silent.
Regardless of the specifics, though, the result is much the same: a vital issue (the largely peaceful demand for democracy by subjects of Arab dictatorships, without the interference of American agency) is either dismissed or ignored, while a bogus issue (the nonexistent brutality and greed of one of the last remnants of a vanishing middle class) is drummed up as a dreadful threat to the republic. While there may be no direct line from a delusional Muammar al-Q’addafi ordering the machine-gunning of his citizens to a bought-off Scott Walker ordering the state police to chase down his recalcitrant senators, there is an unmistakable reminder of Franklin Delano Roosevelt insisting the public and private sectors come together to end the Depression and win the Second World War as opposed to George W. Bush’s assurance that, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the wars against terrorism, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein, no individual need alter their schedule of shopping and no company need do anything but maximize its profits.
It’s virtually a paradigmatic element of the right, the true nature of the word ‘conservativism’: everything will be fine as long as we continue as we once did, and if the nation needs a threat to unite it, then it is far better to invent one than to address one that already exists.