Thursday, June 28, 2012

conservatives vs. reactionaries

Conservatives look forward cautiously. Reactionaries look backward longingly.

That's the difference, brought into sharp focus by this year's election politics.

And I've seen the Republican Party slowly morph from a conservative party into a reactionary one over the decades since people like Dwight D. Eisenhower led the party--and created the national highway system, a bold vision we now take for granted.

Look at this election year. The GOP campaign is against President Obama--not for Governor Romney. It's "Repeal and replace" against ObamaCare, with virtually nothing about the "replace" part--because past that bumper sticker slogan there's the added two words that are understood by most people as being "with nothing."

The GOP speaks to our inner child--the three year old boy who doesn't want to be told what to do. Who just wants to be left alone (until he needs something). 

This is an abiding dream. In fact it's how the United States was first organized, under the Articles of Confederation. The Federal government had almost no authority within the nation's borders. Didn't work out, did it?

It looks to me like that's what the GOP wants us to return to. It's certainly what their patrons, the CEO+Investor class, want.

But we don't have to go back to the 18th century to see how that would work in today's world. We have only to look to Europe. Aren't the Republicans demanding that we adopt their setup, with the EU plus NATO? Each state has vastly more autonomy than those of the US, and the banks call the shots economically.

How's that working out for them?

The fact is that against our present economic and potential military competitors abroad, and against the power large corporations can bring to bear against not just individuals but even whole states (Exxon alone is a more powerful economic entity than a lot of states--half of them?), the individual doesn't stand a chance.

Back in the 18th century we had virtually no trade with other countries--just a few luxury goods, basically. The young republic was self-sufficient. Nobody could invade us, as the Brits found out--and they were one of the most powerful nations on Earth at the time. But General Atlantic defeated them, ultimately. Though even then if the Royal French Navy hadn't intervened at a critical juncture we might have lost that war.

Now we have trade all over the place. China snuck a monopoly on rare earths production under Bush II's nose, and now we have to pay through the nose for a vital ingredient without which our cellphones wouldn't work. China has also gotten a near-monopoly on solar panels through government-subsidized production + low-wage labor that has bankrupted industries in "free" countries. Now we get to pay for that freedom. Not to mention foreign oil, which forces us to care what Arabs do.

Multiply these webs of interdependencies by thousands and you get today's world.

We could achieve autonomy today by returning to the self-sufficient, rural, agrarian, low-tech USA of 1776. For a start we'd have to get rid of most of our population living in cities--having so many people requires a high-tech urban society to maintain. So we'd have to do what Pol Pot did and exterminate them, starting with all races and cultures that aren't Anglo whites. That would thin the herd, but we'd have to get rid of more to achieve true self-sufficiency. Maybe all Anglos who are liberals and independents.

That would also free us from all Green-type regulations and restrictions. With a population of just a few million we could pollute at will without damaging the environment appreciably.

But that's not going to happen. So here we are in a world we can't control by ourselves, since we have to have the cooperation of other sovereign nations, and since the physical universe doesn't care whether we like environmental regulations or not. We'll have to deal with the consequences of collapsing fish stocks, salinization of irrigated croplands, collapsing porous aquifers, and above all the possibility of outrunning our drinking water resources--especially given the unsolved problem of water table pollution from both industrial livestock production and fracking.

As if that's not enough, what about political alliances? If China invades Taiwan, do we just shrug and tell Taiwan "You're on your own, pal." Or how about if a radicalized Egypt invaded Israel? How about if the Euro collapses, which is a definite possibility. We're inextricably intertwined in world financial markets, and economic turmoil in Europe could whack our economy regardless of whether Romney or Obama wins. How about a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan? And what do we do about the informal alliance of Russia, China, Brazil and some others semi-against us?

We can't secede from the planet. We have to form alliances with people we don't like to avoid consequences we don't want. We can't order around other countries. We have to make nice, make connections--and honor prior agreements a new administration doesn't like. We're still dealing with the agreements Bush II unilaterally abrogated during his terms in office.

In every area the instincts of reactionaries lead us astray--and contrary to the instincts of actual conservatives. This isn't a perfect analogy, but it's something like the difference between the conservative Islamic government of Turkey and the reactionary Islamic government of Iran. Turkey's no saint on human rights but it's way better than Iran, and it's doing very well economically, while Iran is circling the drain.

The philosophy of "I'm against whatever you're for" doesn't work. Time after time the Republicans    declare their opposition to something they'd favored, even invented...until President Obama advocated it.

Best example: the universal healthcare insurance mandate, invented by conservatives because they didn't want healthcare moochers not getting health insurance until they needed it, which would invalidate the concept of insurance. But whatever you think about the universal mandate, it's a matter of record that conservatives cooked it up and its first application was by Governor Romney, albeit on the state level. But the principle of a universal mandate is the same on any scale, even if you think states' rights red herring trumps it at the national level.

Eisenhower was a conservative. He was absolutely not a liberal. But he had forward-looking ideas, like the national highway system. Bush I was a conservative. He didn't advance on Iraq until he had his ducks lined up. He raised taxes when it became clear that the alternative was even worse. He was conservative, not an ideologue, not rigid. Reagan also raised taxes and was pretty good at forging alliances. Bush II was a reactionary, trying to be the un-Clinton, the un-Bush I. In that sense he succeeded America's cost.

Let me add that the Democratic Party's unquestioning embrace of illegal immigration, infinite population growth, and the minority-ization of America's Anglo culture are no improvement on the GOP's reactionary stance. There should be a word for the loony opposite of "reactionary." Whatever it is, that's that the Democrats have become--just not as whatever-it-is as the reactionaryism of the GOP. Which is why I'm still voting for Obama this November, but without the wide-eyed enthusiasm of some.

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