One of the principal tenets of conservative thinking in America is the precept that all government is evil and mettlesome. Another is that we should get government out of our lives altogether and let the free market work its magic. One tends to hear these arguments more frequently when a democrat occupies the oval office than when a republican holds the reins of power. But I believe in the edict voiced by Henry Thoreau in his classic essay ‘Civil Disobedience’ that states: “I do not ask for no government but at once a better government.” Government should be responsive to and servile to the needs of the people. After all, the government, in an era when it was more responsive to the needs of its citizens, gave us important social programs such as social security, Medicare, public schools, unemployment insurance and welfare for the economically disadvantaged.
Most people recognize that the government is no longer responsive to the needs of the people. It requires huge sums of money to put a candidate into political office. More than half of Americans earn less than $32,000 dollars a year. According to the Public Interest Research Group, nearly half of the people newly elected to Congress are millionaires who thus enjoy salaries and privileges most of us will never know. How can millionaires possibly understand the struggles of the rest of us: the need for a living wage and affordable health care? As members of Congress they are guaranteed the things most of us have to struggle a lifetime for; and many never attain.
Long ago the power of the people was usurped by the rich and powerful to serve the wants of the corporate elite. Thus we Americans find ourselves living under a form of corporate governance in which the voice of the wealthy are heard and those of the working poor and middle class go unheeded. We are living in a highly corrupted oligarchy in which money is equated with free speech and corporate rights. The concept of a democratic government in which every citizen, regardless of social or economic status has equal footing with the wealthiest has been abandoned. Democracy means that everyone is treated equally. In a democracy, corporate entities do not have the same rights as citizens while bearing none of the accountability that comes with citizenship, because they are a legal fiction; a non-living entity. In a democratic society, the wants of the corporations must always be subservient to the needs of the citizenry. People come before profits. Clearly, that is no longer the case in America.
The conservative mantra of getting big government off the backs of people is a horrendous misnomer. The core problem facing America today isn’t big government–it is corporate governance; the cooption of government of the people by special interest operatives to a government of the corporations. The most important issue that we citizens face is getting the corrosive influence of corporations and special interest money out of government. This cannot be accomplished at the ballot box. It requires a deeper and more far reaching commitment to political activism and personal vigilance than voting alone can accomplish.
Why is it that conservatives fail to perceive this truth? The mainstream media is owned by only a handful of corporations. Everything they put forth receives a pro corporate, conservative spin. The print media, television, and radio is proliferated by conservative blowhards with names like Limbaugh, Savage, Coulter and O’Reilly who are self proclaimed critics of big government, except that envisioned by conservatives. These clever entrepreneurs have deftly tapped into a reservoir of angry white males who feel disconnected from political power in order to enrich themselves. The irony is that these same angry white males are being exploited and victimized by Limbaugh and his cadre of white supremists to act against the common good, and thus their own self interest.
It has long been understood that the republicans are the party that represents big business and the wealthy. The myth goes that the democrats represent the interests of working class people. But that was long ago, before the democrats abandoned their core values and the political base that differentiated them from the republicans. Now there is effectively only one political party in America with two conservative wings. I call them the Republicrats. Both parties are corrupted by special interest money; both are owned by the corporate brokers that put up the cash to get their own puppets elected. It is government–and therefore legislation–bought and paid for by special interest money; and our politicians today deliver the goods!
The neocons that are now running the country have no concept of the common good. They are interested in self promotion and putting profits over people; and they don’t care who they exploit to get what they want. For them, in true Machiavellian fashion, the ends justify the means. The democrats, who were once progressives, are only marginally better. The true progressives long ago recognized the eminent demise of the Democratic Party and have moved on to grow fledging parties that truly represent the interests of working families and the common good. But too many so called progressives are still wasting their time trying to breathe life into a dead horse that will never get up and run again. A system that relies on the principle of lesser evils cannot serve the common good of the vast majority of the citizenry. Its time to bury the dead and move on.
The neocons despise democracy because it levels the playing field; and they abhor the working poor because they do not produce wealth for the ruling class. However, the neocons know exactly who butters their bread and they don’t compromise their values, repugnant as they are to most of us. They take what they want, often by force. They have the vast propaganda machine of the corporate media and the muscle of the world’s most powerful military industrial complex behind them. They adroitly manipulate the emotions of their imprudent followers to serve as cannon fodder in places like Iraq in order to protect corporate assets which aren’t really the American interests they purport to be. What is good for General Motors really isn’t and never was good for America. So let’s slaughter that sacred cow once and for all.
When poor people die in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, which ever side of the conflict they are on; it is to protect corporate profits–not to bring democracy to the world or to liberate oppressed peoples, as the president and the media purport. The neocons killed thousands of innocent Afghani people so that Unical could build a massive oil pipeline to the Caspian Sea and rake in billions; and Iraq has all that oil that Halliburton (Dick Cheney’s Company) just couldn’t wait to get its hands on. These are the ‘noble causes’ that American soldiers killed and died for in the Middle East. And the corporate empire have their stinging tentacles wrapped around the entire planet. The robber barons in the corporate board rooms across the world (large corporations are multi-national) require a huge reservoir of readily exploited, easily controlled people to unwittingly serve at the behest of the corporate gods. That’s where you and I come in. This is the extent of the neocons’ interest in working families. The continued exploitation of the poor by the rich is a kind of demented corporate patriotism that we have come to expect from the neocons. This is the very definition of the class warfare that America was founded upon. It’s not hard to follow the money trail that is at the root of our wars and occupations of sovereign nations. All it takes is a little will and persistence. The facts are out there.
This brings me to my final point. What the conservatives really want is the regulatory arm of the government out of the corporations in order for corporations to have free reign with no accountability to anyone but the profit motive. They demand unfettered control over every facet of our existence. Every year they are getting closer to achieving this goal, regardless of which party is in control of the Whitehouse and Congress. The heads of industry are now in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency: the regulatory arm of government that is supposed to protect public health from industrial polluters by providing clean air and pure water. The former heads of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Electric are running the department of defense, not to the benefit of the nation, but to the benefit of colossal corporations who are plundering the public treasury. The timber industry and concessionaires are running the Forest Service and the Park Service. There are more lobbyists working on capital hill for the pharmaceutical industry than there are members of Congress. Are they working for the common good?
The problem isn’t the government per se; it’s the corporate hijacking of the government by the wealthy. So called free marketers and capitalists have no concept of the common good. Self interest and greed benefits only a small percent of the population. Conservatives complain about giving public assistance to the poor but are silent when it comes to giving massive welfare to some of the wealthiest corporations on earth, or providing tax cuts to the rich. Corporate welfare has long been rampant and costs the treasury thousands of times more than helping poor families find the means of eking out a living with a modicum of dignity. The irony of this is apparently lost on the conservatives.
We have reached this advanced stage of societal decay because too many of us have looked the other way for too long. Too many of us have been too easily duped by the all pervasive corporate media that saturates the printed page and the air waves. Too many have accepted the lies and distortions spewed forth by Bush/Clinton and the military industrial complex for too many years without calling them to task and demanding accountability from them. If there is any hope for us it lies in dispelling the prevailing myths of our times. We need a major paradigm shift and we need it now. The kind of change that is needed will require a critically thinking, well informed citizenry and much deep introspection. Most importantly, it will require accountability from every citizen; and constant vigilance. It demands an abiding faith in the common good and paying the price in commitment to make it happen. What ails our political system is far too systemic to be cured at the ballot box. The question is: Do the American people care deeply enough about social and economic justice to talk revolution? Do we have what it takes to take it to the next level? How serious are we about taking our country back? Do we really understand what that entails? Are we up to the task?
CHARLES SULLIVAN is a veteran wild forest activist, writer and cabinetmaker who resides on twenty acres of land in the rural countryside of West Virginia.
He can be reached at: email@example.com