I took a long drive today — specifically eight hours round trip from Tennessee to South Carolina and back — and had some time to think about exactly why I can’t, under any circumstances, morally or intellectually, understand or support the conservative program of the last, well, 32 years since I’ve been old enough to be cognizant of it.
I concluded that it is this: while progressives, Green Party members, some Democrats and others, have been champions of people — you know, human beings with pulses and feelings and a pitiable capacity for suffering under immense physical, emotional or financial stress — Republicans more or less have mostly been concerned with A) protecting the rights of inanimate religion in all its forms, squashing gay rights, squashing all abortion, sometimes even in cases of rape or incest, and protecting the right of prayer in the public square, and B) protecting the rights of inanimate state governments and inanimate corporations.
Maybe you are noticing a trend. Yes, the GOP have made some obligatory inroads in helping starving people in Africa and elsewhere in the world, but here in America since 1981, we have languished through eight years under Reagan, four under George Herbert Walker Bush and eight years under George W. Bush. What advancements have they brought to bear in health care in these 20 years in power? The answer? Not one thing. Medicare, you say? Instituted in 1965 under Lyndon Johnson, a liberal if ever there was one. Medicaid? Same year. Same president.
In fact, members of the GOP have done everything in their power to keep health care reform from happening in this nation, and that became evidently clear when not one single Congress man or woman had the balls to vote in favor with the other side of the aisle. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his recent ruling to uphold the health care bill, actually seems to be the only conservative with any semblance of a backbone in this political landscape. Conservatives, at the same time, talk about cutting spending, cutting taxing, reining in the budget, slashing regulations on corporations and kowtowing to the insurance industry, all the while wrapping themselves in the cloak of religion and claiming they care about people. Care about people? I have yet to find a “soul” whatsoever in rhetoric coming from the American right.
Honestly, I don’t know how some of them live with themselves. Sure, Medicaid and Medicare protect the health of the disabled and old people (both passed under LBJ, as I mentioned), but what about other needy people who aren’t
fortunate enough to be disabled or old? We have no problem funding public education for every single person in this country. We have no problem publicly funding police departments. Why is health care different? Shouldn’t the public funding of health care be even more important than education, since without the ability to get or pay for basic care when you get sick, a person’s education or career means nothing. Can you imagine the outcry if police departments only protected people who were disabled or more than 65 years old? What if a pregnant mother of three was abducted in a mall bathroom, and the police turned the other way because taxes aren’t set aside to protect otherwise “healthy” people. There is a clear disconnect.
So, in looking at conservatism in the last 30 years, I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about protecting the interests of inanimate institutions that, by definition, only suffer financially and not physically, and a lot of talk about being fiscally responsible with money. It’s always money, money, money. But really, isn’t it the health of our citizens that we should be protecting above everything else?
No one, I dare say, will argue that cutting taxes and cutting government spending isn’t an admirable course of action if possible and if the body politic is already well educated, healthy and financially stable. But when either of these conditions is not met (and at least two are not met), the government, with its high call, via the Constitution, “to promote the general welfare” of the populace, should do what is necessary to meet them. I hear nothing but fiscal talk from the conservative side. Nothing about the importance of health care or ethics. Nothing about actually improving the lives of the citizenry in concrete ways. Nothing about protecting individual interests against the interests of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Indeed and stunningly, given all the religious talk that trots right alongside the rhetoric, it is the opposite. And until that changes in drastic ways, progressivism, with its focus on the well being of conscious creatures, is the only tenable path forward.