Sunday, July 09, 2006

Where profits cannot be made

“Bush Is Not Incompetent” is a June 26 web post on George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute site. Instead of explaining Republican failures as products of Bush’s incompetence, Rockridge recommends branding them as the logical — the inevitable — results of pursuing the Republican vision.

One passage describing that vision jumped out:
Stewardship of the commons, such as allocation of healthcare or energy policy, is left to people’s own initiative within the free market. Where profits cannot be made — conservation, healthcare for the poor — charity is meant to replace justice and the government should not be involved.
Where profits cannot be made describes in a nutshell the miserliness of this view. Only this view is Republican more than conservative. Rick Perlstein observed that conservatives themselves believe:
Republicans are different from conservatives … I learned it making small talk with conservative publisher Jameson Campaigne, in Ottawa, Illinois, when I asked him if he golfed. He said something like: "Are you kidding? I'm a conservative, not a Republican."
One can often determine whether the conservative brain or Republican brain is dominant by how a conservative starts the political conversation. The conservative-dominant want to talk about social issues first. The Republicans go straight for the money issues (regulations, taxes, etc.). Where profits cannot be made, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, etc. are not the proper function of Republican government. Government is for promoting “a healthy bidness climate,” as they say in Texas.

This view has become commonplace as more Americans have moved from the “Boomers and Babies” to the “Pools and Patios” market segments. I watched that transition begin when as a twenty-something I waited tables. Customers would ask if I was in school. I had graduated, I explained. With a degree in philosophy.

Their eyes glazed over.

“What are you going to do with it?” they’d ask, trying to figure how this (a liberal arts degree) translated into that (cold, hard cash). You could see them weighing the two, mentally rubbing their fingers together quizzically. Education as an end in itself? Education as a path to becoming an informed citizen? Education even where profits cannot be made? Surely, you’re joking?

It’s a far cry from an America founded by the most educated men of their era. Perhaps of any era. A far cry from a day in which the Founders designed government to put people ahead of moneyed interests like the British East India Company. A far cry from the day in which Benjamin Franklin, entrepreneur and self-made man, refused a patent on his famous stove saying, "As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others, freely and generously, by any invention of our own.” Promoting the general welfare has been replaced in the Republican age by “I’m all right, Jack.”

It is that crass idolatry that progressives must discredit. Once Bush is gone, the boosters of Republican theology who have successfully and by design gutted the budget surplus, centralized power, rolled back environmental regulations, given away billions to their corporate cronies, etc. will still remain. When Republicans up for re-election in 2008 start giving Bush the cold shoulder, we cannot let them distance themselves from the Republican record too. Democrats still have to discredit the worldview that gave rise to Bush.

In my district registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, yet our congressman is a Republican. Many “Reagan Democrats” vote with us in local elections, but for the GOP in federal races. (The state house and the legislature is controlled by Democrats, but our congressional delegation is majority Republican.) They are just looking for a reason not to vote Republican. We need to give them one.

We should spotlight the ideological differences between Republicans and conservative voters who still believe in the ideals of the Founders and in government of the people. We should appeal to the better angels of conservatives’ nature, split the GOP coalition, and turn the more moderate elements our way.

There has been some debate in the left blogosphere about whether Democrats should try to peel off some of the GOP’s conservative supporters or focus on energizing their own base. The two are not mutually exclusive. We don’t win by shifting the same die-hard, bicoastal base left or right; we win by making our coalition bigger and more representative of the entire country. It is the strategy behind Howard Dean’s fifty state plan. Widening the irritated seam between more moderate social conservatives and moneyed Republicans is one way to do just that.

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