Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To Whom It May Concern

The lede in the New York Times article on the New York election reads: “The Republican defeat in a special election is a reminder that voters like the idea of budget cuts, but often recoil when the cuts threaten programs that touch their lives.” This sentence, though not exactly false, reflects a deeply erroneous story line, the notion that the Republican attempt to destroy Medicare has something to do with controlling the deficit. The deficit is just the most recent of a long series of excuses to do what they have always wanted to do. How anybody could live through the last thirty years and believe that the Conservatives care about the national debt is mysterious to me. They do say they care about the state of our finances, of course; but you have to give them the benefit of the doubt to an extraordinary degree to credit their protestations of fiscal virtue in view of the budget-busting policies they have put in place at every opportunity under Reagan and the two Bushes. The current uptick in the deficit, after all, is almost entirely a function of the Bush’s tax cuts and military adventures. The long-term budget problem is indeed largely a matter of medical inflation; but the Republicans fought a ferocious and dishonorable campaign to prevent the passage of the health care reform, which was the first serious step in decades to curb the increase in costs.

Of course if what was at stake were merely one way of organizing a decent provision for the well being of the aging population, the issue would not be so critical. There’s nothing sacred about Medicare as a particular scheme. Unfortunately, the Conservatives would be just as hostile to any arrangement that could actually work since what upsets them is the idea that people can best deal with an existential problem by universal, intergenerational cooperation instead of purely private initiative.

At root, Conservatives hate Medicare because they hate the notion of universal human rights and the inclusive view of humanity that goes along with it. Like people who are besotted with love, they lie without hesitation or shame to satisfy their ideological passion. It’s not that they don’t have a sense of right and wrong: if the dishonesty had not long sense disappeared in the oblivion of habit, they would simply argue that behavior that would be reprehensible if done to members of the in-group is perfectly justifiable when used against members of the out-group, in this case, the majority of inhabitants of the country. As I have had occasion to point out before, in a political system with some democratic features, deceit is absolutely imperative for defenders of privilege and that’s true even when privilege is not recognized as privileged. Indeed, the moral contradiction is all the stronger in the American instance where the oligarchical party actually thinks of itself as populist. Surely lying to a newspaper is not a sin if it is done in defense of liberty! There are bound to be casualties in any war, and even I have to admit that the least of it is the massacre of arithmetic perpetrated every night on CSPAN by Republican congressmen.