Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

       The Republican National Convention is almost a week behind us now, which is roughly a millennium in the media-cycle. During this empty-chair obsessed stretch of time, I’ve been waiting for a critical analysis of the RNC motto which was draped from every wall and leaping from every spokesperson’s mouth: We Built It. Sure, every news station had something to say about how this rally cry was in defiance of Obama’s oft misquoted speech. There has been plenty of punditry and comedic blowback with regards to the manufacturing of gaffes. But, even if we grant the false characterization of Obama’s sentiment from the point of view of the Republican marketing force, we still don’t see a justification of the motto from the RNC. In fact, I’ll argue that “We Built It” is yet another indication of the immoral tenets of faith that are necessary to maintain the conservative position in contemporary politics.

Who is the “We” of the slogan? If you asked any attendee at the RNC I’m sure they would consider themselves to be included in that “We.” They would say that it is any hardworking American citizen or something to that effect. I can’t help but feel that the party leaders don’t just mean hardworking American citizens built whatever that is. If that were the case, it would be no different than what Obama said. Surely government workers, people who erect the bridges and pave the roads of President Obama’s speech, work just as hard as anyone in the private sector. No, the RNC slogan would have to be more narrowly specified in order to distance itself from even partially embracing big government. So again, who exactly is the We? It seems to me that they are referring to the people that became successful without the guiding hand of the government. The only people the Republicans value; the only value Republicanism demands is entrepreneurship. Free market prowess and endowment. To be sure, this is a valuable value indeed, but is it so paramount that it trumps the needs of all Republicans, including the unsuccessful ones? What does this say about the nominees of the GOP and what kind of reverence they demand of their loyal party members who may not be able to meet their expectations? Is it possible to be an unsuccessful Republican? Is it possible to work for the big government bureaucracy and vote Republican? Of course it is! So then why does this slogan become so appealing?

Perhaps it appeals to our vanity to want to be members of a meritocracy. The raising of successful entrepreneurs to the point of worship is prevalent because most people believe that they too have the equal chance at rewards of which the elite have already reaped. All the rats have an equal chance at the cheese if they work hard enough. A just meritocracy promises to give ample rewards for the efforts of the participants. This seems fair enough. The obvious objection is that not all people have an equal chance. Even if we give people an equal starting point, perhaps two individuals born on the same day to equally affluent families, there are an innumerable amount of invisible factors that will surely sway the success attained by each. Many proponents of the meritocratic ideology would chalk the happenstance of unfair starting points to a brute fact of life. Tough noogies. If you’re just dealt a bad hand, and you’re unable to manifest success from it, then you just weren’t meant to be successful. This seems eerily reminiscent of the Calvinistic elect; a predetermined fate of which you are either a member of God’s favored flock, or you are doomed. If this is an exaggeration, then what are we to say of how success is then managed? It seems that if people from the illusory starting point become successful, that only their children will have the immense advantage of also becoming successful (like Romney himself), and it maintains a strict genealogy of equity and affluence. The definition of this phenomenon is what is labeled a Plutocracy. This is the plausible slippery slope of a strict meritocracy. Republicans are advocating exactly this when they hiss at the notions of social safety nets. If we are to laud the successful, who become successful almost definitely on the merits of circumstance, and we are also to let the poor be damned, then we are embracing Social Darwinism.

The good news is that our society doesn’t work like this. Philosopher and political theorist John Rawls has been able to illustrate a set of rules by which all can abide, and in which the quandaries of moral obligations can be satisfied. The metric for a fair start that John Rawls proposes enables people to become successful but only if they work to the benefit of the least well off. In other words, it does not advocate for communism, where all are equal. It also negates Plutocracy. What Rawls’ differential principle says is that if we are to allow for vast ranges of social and economic inequality, those at the top should be morally obligated to contribute to the well being and wealth of opportunities that the least well off should enjoy. Please watch famed Harvard professor Mike Sandel explains it HERE in the fullest terms.

The great news is that this is how our society works now! It is also why we cringe at allowing room for trickle-down economics in a moral discussion about wealth inequality. There is too much room for corruption when the least well off wait with baited breath on the charity of the successful amongst us. If there is no policy or social contract to ensure there is a just distribution of opportunity (not necessarily wealth!) then there is no motivation to be just. In order to shift away from the traps of a strict meritocracy, the United States has implemented several safety nets to protect members of its society from becoming victims of Social Darwinism. This could be the result of Rawlsian political ethics.

The Republican National Convention hinged on their supporters’ faith in the most successful people in the nation, and their willingness to redeem their political and economic ideologies. When the RNC banners shouted We Built That!, it was a reminder that everyone owed them special treatment. We have noticed that they try to legislate the special treatment for themselves! The reason why most people want to raise taxes on the 1%; the reason why we want to regulate the economic practices of the richest people; the reason why we want to make sure everyone has access to health care, a good education, and a safe environment is because we all intuitively feel morally obligated to equality. Meritocracy, Plutocracy, and Social Darwinism only appeals to the people it benefits! They have no choice but to pitch the dogma in the form of plausible policy. No informed person willingly signs up to be subjugated to these political structures. Without shunting the majority of financially destitute Americans, the GOP has not laid out a plan for which they can ethically rebuild the nation. If we are to submit to success by any means necessary, then we are opening the door for a very, very scary future.

Let’s Hear it for Ron Paul

Posted: January 8, 2012 in Politics
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Iowa (and soon New Hampshire) is behind us and we’ve lost two of our pals, whom we’ve grown to adore over the many months of egregious gaffes and fantastic fouls. Perry and Bachmann (only Bachmann officially) recede into the horizon in the rearview reflection on the trek we take to an adult conversation. No one will reference their campaigns, except perhaps as a hyperbole of failure and shame. No one will cite their platitudes as if to declare that Bachmann or Perry had it right all along. Their many prayers will not be answered. They have fallen prey to political myopia and now the rational of us can breathe again. Phew!

However, Iowa did show us that nothing has changed. Santorum, who I will largely ignore for now, is the Republican Party’s new flash in the pan. Gingrich, the old blunderbuss, retains some level of unappealing swagger to which the Democrats shiver with disgust and the GOP turns their back to in hopes that maybe he’ll go away. Romney, the most likely to get the golden ticket to the championship bout against Obama, is robotically charming his way to a strong lead. Though, I can’t help but recall something I had seen early on in the campaign season: In the list of candidates, polls were showing that a blank (unannounced) GOP candidate was surging much higher than anyone currently running at the time. Romney, I think is exactly that blank automaton. He’s a receiver transmitting back all the sweet sounds of the GOP’s own voices. Who doesn’t like to hear themselves speak, especially when it comes from the mouth of someone else?

The penultimate candidate we can now speak of is Ron Paul. From the noise of barroom banter to the written (and shamelessly recorded) histories of social media, I’ve been inundated with praise for Ron Paul. The Independent that isn’t; he’s become what many voters hope to be the third option in a stalemate between parties that has offered little and produced less. Of course the would-be voters at large, in search for a source for reason, would turn to the guy that wants to burn down the house. Ron Paul certainly seems to fulfill that need. I am not diametrically opposed to Ron Paul (well maybe a little), but I’m more interested in offering some more to consider before us mainstreamers start buying Paul’s gimmicky bumper stickers. There is a stigma about Ron Paul that is eerily reminiscent of last election. I imagine this observation is accosting to most critics of President Obama. Good. This is the perfect place to start.

The campaign of Hope was only a few years ago and has produced more idiomatic expressions than progressive hope-worthy policies. So there might be a lot to say about cars in ditches and what not – for those who have been paying attention, but it’s more accurate to point to Obama’s inability to achieve cooperation from his former colleagues of the senate. One might be able to blame his short tenure there. There was little time for him to establish a presence on floor, and ingratiate himself with some of the other senators (to put it nicely as possible). For such a short time though, he was pretty successful in the senate as far as the authoring of bills and sponsoring fairly left wing policies pertaining to transparency, but granted this was during the post-traumatic seizure of Bush’s second term. I make this point to draw the correlation to a one former Senator Paul.

Paul has 30 years on an off in the Senate and has played little more than the role of the polemist. His stances on Federal power, while at times can seem justified in the cases of the Patriot Act and, more recently the NDAA, are pretty radically isolationist and libertarian. While it might be speculative to say there is a small libertarian movement clandestinely dispersed throughout Congress, to assume Ron Paul would be able to push through anything on his agenda is absurd. There simply aren’t enough serious libertarian sympathizers. If Obama couldn’t successfully pass a fuller stimulus, healthcare reform in its entirety, or come to an agreement on a means to balance the budget, who’s going to shift to the  other extreme end of the spectrum? Ron Paul is so far to the right, he’s left, and to his fellow politicos, has the same unappealing threat to their magisterium.

The Paul agenda I speak of includes the stripping down of the Federal Government to its barest essentials. Sounds nice in theory, but to cut 1 TRILLION dollars from the budget by hacking away at the U.S. Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Health and Human Services, FEMA, and the IRS, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of federal workers losing their jobs, leaves the practice of libertarianism in the days of colonialism.

There’s a lot to say about Ron Paul’s foreign policy; the existential problem of dealing with our American selves in the world. It’s nice to see a republican scaling it back on American exceptionalism, but to become completely isolationist is again, too drastic. Ron Paul has voted against our participation in the United Nations. What? He also voted against our giving foreign aid to countries that have endured horrendous natural disasters. Paul is popularly quoted as saying, “Foreign aid is taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries.” An article in the Economist reduces this talking point to little more than verbal diarrhea. The second part of this statement identifies a real issue in which to review our design for foreign aid, but the first claim is completely unfounded.

In a discussion with a friend, the topic of American occupied countries unearthed a new realization in the risks of Paul’s isolationism. If the United States were to suddenly pull its military out of every country we’d have a lot of deserving families reunited at home. It’s unfortunate that the opportune time for this move is decades in the past. To remove our presence in South Korea would leave them, a valuable ally to us, in a very dangerous position between the North and China. Our friendship with Japan hinges on their being prohibited to militarize, keeping them an economic giant and not a country hell-bent on reclaiming pieces of China. We saw Iraq regress into chaos as we left there. What happens when we stop holding back Israel and/or Palestine? When Syria and Iran erupt? We are currently engaging in peace negotiations with the Al Queda and the Taliban, without which we may not find out the extent of their influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan and perhaps Egypt. Paul seems to say that it’s not our business to know. I can’t imagine anyone seeing this as a plausible means to a safe and prolific future.

In the end, I think Ron Paul just simply satisfies some psychological need to start again. Many of us are tired of the battles between the right and the left. With this particular season, where the right are so right and the left are so barely visible, we allow room for drastic and overly risky options. The Tea Party, or what is left of them, has morphed into the Libertarian movement and offer some valuable points in the discussion of progress. However, to adopt their views wholesale by endorsing Ron Paul, an extremist in any other political climate, is to deliberately put our country in the riskiest (and my opinion, immoral) enclave it has ever been. No one wants an Orwellian dystopia, but Ron Paul is selling the dangerously equal and exact opposite – a Hobbesian one.