Sunday, April 19, 2009

Squeal, little piggie!

The whining you are hearing right now from the republicans, the squeals of pain and outrage, are not feigned--not this time. Oh, some of the outrage may be mock, and some of the whining calculated, but much of it is real. From the ridiculous tea-bagging protests of April 15, to the Governor of Texas hinting that he too (like Sarah Palin) might be a secessionist, to today's cries of outrage over President Obama holding out a olive branches to Cuba and Venezuela, there is something real back there. They see their world, built up over thirty years, since the Regan Revolution, crumbling around them. And they are afraid. They are afraid of a world where America is not the belligerent, bullying redneck on the block who can kick everybody's ass and gleefully does so from time to time. They fear we will no longer be top dog. They fear an America that looks like France, with government control of industry, high taxes, high unemployment, and a stagnant economy. They fear the Europeanization of America, where the individual and individual liberties are suddenly pushed aside in favor of social interests--in other words, socialism. And they fear that their guns and SUV's and muscle cars will be outlawed. The testosterone fueled American dream is under direct attack--or so they believe--and they are afraid of the change. Change was, after all, the slogan of the Obama campaign, and change is what he is bringing in abundance. He has changed so much about America that it resembles now every nightmare of intellectual urban liberalism that the conservatives have been dreaming since the fall of Jimmy Carter. This is not just Rush Limbaugh being an idiot or Fox News whipping up a frenzy. This is real deep seated fear, like my mom and her nightmares about Nancy Pelosi taking away her guns. A sea change is going on in America right before our eyes, and they see it and they are scared of what the future holds.

I'll give them a hint: it's starting to resemble the American that those of us who spent thirty years in the wilderness waiting for the pendulum to swing back out way have been dreaming of. Take the Cuba thing, for instance. Obama is no fool. I doubt he is going to simply wave his pen and make Cuba an ally. But he is going to try real diplomacy with them, and Venezuela, and Boliva, and Nicuragua. He is going to do the thing that Texas Yahoo from Crawford refused to do, which is act like a grown up and treat the rest of the world with just a modicum of respect, on the belief that if you talk to people they might be willing to listen. Horrible thought to a group of people who view Jack Bauer as the exemplar agent of American foreign and domestic policy.

I don't think it will get that bad. Obama, like all Democrats, has to govern from the middle, so much of the American dream is probably safe. He said at his inauguration, that we have to preserve the entrepreneurial spirit of America. BUt, I admit, I'm afraid too. I believe in that America-- the muscle cars, guns, cowboy, robber baron, individualist America, the America found in Ted Nugent songs and seen in Norman Rockwell paintings and Frederick Remington sculptures. I honestly believe that God made man but Sam Colt mad men equal. And as much as I love France and Italy, and on occasion dream of living there (were I rich) I don't really want America to become Europe. There is a great difference of character, a different dream.

Here is my theory, I've expressed it before, and it is likely all bullshit. It has no basis in fact. I just kind of came up with it thinking about why we are who we are and why conservatives hate the French (after all, we owe them our country. Sure, we paid that debt back twice, in 1918 and 1945, but they are still they were our closest ideological ally once our mutual revolutions were over). It's like this. Everybody who came willingly to America after 1492 (as opposed to those who were dragged here in bondage for servitude) did so for what we have defined as "the American Dream" the desire to better their lives, to own property, a business, and so that they, or if not they then their kids, could one day be rich. This is the driving philosophy behind most of the great things in America and much of the evil as well. Tied up in that is the idea of opportunity, that the individual has to have rights that the state cannot take away and those rights center around personal security, financial opportunity, and property. Some Americans--mostly from the south it is true--were so afraid of a powerful federal government that they insisted that the constitution include a bill of right curtailing the federal government's power significantly, protections against the so called "tyranny of the majority." There are regional variations on this: the North East, where federalism was strongest, believed in a stronger federal government. The cities, with people crowded on top of one another, were the first to see the need for social reforms, a safety net of some kind, and the idea of community taking precedence over individuality. But by far the majority of people in this country have cling to the American dream: the primacy of the individual and the desire to get rich. And this is what gave us Thomas Edison (who gave us the movie industry, the recording industry, the electronics industry, and the power companies), Henry Ford (who gave us the automobile industry) Samuel Colt and John Moses Browning (who gave us the firearms industry), Andrew Carnegie (who gave us the steel industry) J.P. Morgan (who gave us the banking industry) the Rockafellers and the Gettys (who gave us the oil industry) Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and on and on and on. In other words, the people who made America a prosperous and powerful nation.

It has often been said that Marxism doesn't really work in America because we never had a titled, landed nobility--Marx's upper class. But we also never had a peasantry either. One of the virtues of America is our rejection of the idea that one man is any better than another, or that any person has a "place" high or low, in society. We are a nation of bourgeoisie, and we are proud of it. Back in Europe the people who stayed were either those who were filthy rich already, either the nobility who were still rich or the bourgeois who had already made it, and the peasants who were either content to stay peasants or who couldn't take that leap and uproot themselves and the security of their servitude for the dangers of true economic freedom. As they gained political power through revolution and democracy, they established a peasants paradigm of democracy, one in which their security was assured: the rich are taxed, they have a strong social safety net with unemployment benefits and free health care and guaranteed housing. Most of them are employed in a job with some kind of pension, they get a lot of vacation, and they live "la dolce vita." For a long time they didn't worry about the high unemployment rate because they were happy just to live and be taken care of (though now young men in France--mostly imigrants who made the mistake of going to France looking for opportunity, are rioting in the streets).

The liberal in me wants an America that looks more like Europe, with a strong social safety net, strong banking regulations, universal health care, and people who now how to enjoy life instead of struggle in the rat race. But the American in me, who love guns and NASCAR and football, and longs to drive my old 72 Ford Grand Torino once again, worries what we would have to give up if that Euro-America were to come to pass.

So yeah, in other words, I get it.

I hope we can have a more civilized America without losing the land of opportunity or the drive to become rich that has made America what I truly believe to be the greatest nation the world has ever seen. I come from California, where we do live the good life and where people can still get rich and not be completely reviled for it. So I have to believe it is possible. I have to have that hope.

But I still love to see the little piggies squeal. They rogered us in the rear for thirty years. It's time they know how it feels.


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