Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Right Wing Bolshevism

Despite their professed hatred of all things "collectivist," the recent government shutdown points out yet again the links between the Tea Party worldview and that of the Bolsheviks.  Of course, both sides would be revolted by the comparison, but I am not making it on the basis of ideology. (Ideologically they are almost polar opposites.)  I had long seen their tactics and mentalities to be similar, and just today I was validated when reading an article by Rick Perlstein, who noted that anti-tax loon Grover Norquist admires Lenin's tactical skill so much that he has a picture of him in his office.

It's not just tactics (more about that later) but also of mental habits.  The root of all evil in the world is reduced to one thing whose elimination will bring about a paradise on earth: capitalism in the case of the reds, "big government" in the case of the rightwingnuts. Whether its the revolution or the free market, both are claimed to have magical properties that will somehow solve everything from global hunger to the problems of higher education.

Like a good party apparatchik of the days of yore, your average rightwingnut sees the world through a binary prism: the good guys who are with us and the bad who are against. This I think helps explain the staggering levels of hatred being spewed forth onto public employees these days, by working for the government they are modern day kulaks. If they aren't able to get paid, all the better, they deserve it.  The same goes for those snobby college professors. (In either system intellectuals can't catch a break.) The animus against these people has nothing to do with anything they've done, and everything to do with what they represent. They are simply pure, unadulterated evil. Hence the current crop of governors can fire all kinds of state workers in the name of "job creation": those who work for the state are not considered to have "real" jobs, they are parasites.

When a narrow, fanciful ideology eventually fails catastrophically, be it Leninist or Reaganist, its adherents tend to do anything they can to blame something else. In America an unrestrained financial sector created a massive, unsustainable real-estate bubble whose bursting has destroyed our economy. That fact (and it is a fact) does not conform to the rightwingnut narrative, and so they blame government incentives for home ownership, completely passing over the fact that the banks were giving out mortages to anyone with a pulse so that they could create mortages to cut up and speculate upon under the assumption that they would always retain value. Even more glaringly, they attack taxes on the wealthy, saying that if those wonderful "job creators" get more dough, the wealth will rain down on the rest of society.  The wealthiest segment of the country now gets a bigger share of the pie than ever before, but the promised trickle down hasn't happened.  Supply side has been a thirty year failure, but their only response is more gutting of the safety net and more tax breaks for their plutocratic allies.

Likewise, in the face of the obvious and complete failure of the command economy of the Soviet bloc, one still hears Marxists who claim that it just wasn't done the right way under the right conditions. These ideologues, no matter if they carry icons of Lenin or of Reagan, are seriously deluded. (And they do mindlessly worship their heroes, don't they? So many who claim to love "The Founders" seem to have little to no idea of what they were actually like.)

Yet these ideologues get constant reaffirmation of their worldview from a propaganda machine that has an easy explanation for every complex problem, and a new set of villians to pour hatred upon each day. They are told that a snowstorm negates the scientific consensus on global warming, that union workers rather than corporations are benefiting most from our economic system, that all Muslims are supporters of terrorism, that modern-day progressives are a cancer to be expunged from the body politic, and that the current budget crisis is the responsibility of the president and him alone. They and their allies are internal enemies who threaten "real America," be it through the first lady's anti-obesity campaign or history textbooks that fail to present a triumphalist, ultra-nationalist interpretation of the American past.

Perhaps worst of all, those motivated by extremist ideology, be it on the left or on the right, tend to take an "ends justify the means" approach in order to bring about their utopia. Just witness the fillibusters, Swift Boat lies, birtherism, threats of government shutdown, "town hall" screamfests, and unilateral stripping of collective bargaining rights.  The last three years of Tea Party mobilization have made our nation almost ungovernable.  That is not an unintentional byproduct of their activities, but a wholly intentional outcome of a cynical and reckless strategy.

Obviously, I do not think that Bolsheviks and today's rightwingnuts are moral equivalents. However, I do think that our political system no longer works according to the old rules where two centrist, corporately compromised parties vie for power with some compromises along the way. Instead we have one centrist, corporately compromised party willing to work with the other side, which has been transformed into a vehicle for a messianic, nationalist, laissez-faire political movement that will stop at almost nothing to get what it wants. Historically a fight between weak centrists and strong ideologues ends badly, which is why I am glad that the president is holding the line.  Extremists cannot be allowed to win.

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