Friday, February 21, 2020

The Last Chapter of "The Price of Right" - Preaching To The Choir

This is the last chapter of my 2008 book "The Price of Right"

It seems to me that it's more true today than I could have envisioned back then.

Preaching To The Choir

The cost of conservatism is one we can no longer afford. The "price of right" is far too high. But we cannot begin to change the policy of conservatism until we recognize it for what it is: a political philosophy that believes that in order to have winners, there must be losers. And in an us-against-them mindset, the losers will always be those who don't subscribe to the conservative beliefs.

It's disheartening that so many people who consider themselves conservative don't realize the neoconservatism of today is fundamentally different than the conservatism of the past. Many old-style or Goldwater conservatives have left the Republican Party in disgust because of what has happened to conservative ideals.

John Dean's book Conservatives Without Conscience, originally co-written with Barry Goldwater himself (who died before it could be finished), is a thirty-years-later sequel to Goldwater's own conservative manifesto The Conscience of a Conservative, in which the conservative icon mourns the loss of his view of traditional conservative values. Goldwater's ideals shouldn't be labeled conservative or liberal, instead, they should be seen as genuine human concerns, ones that our Founding Fathers had as their goals when they fought the Revolutionary War. "Lower taxes" is emotional shorthand for "don't steal from me." "Deregulation" is shorthand for "don't prevent me from making a living." "Smaller government" and "individual freedom" is shorthand for "let me be free."

But, unfortunately, in the neoconservatism of today, Goldwater's ideals have been warped beyond recognition.

"Lower taxes" now means giving tax breaks to the rich and corporations and offloading the decreased revenue onto the backs of those least able to afford it. It means creating a trickle-up economy with the largest redistribution of wealth since the Gilded Age.

"Deregulation," which has been the conservative battle cry since the 1970s, now means making rules that allow corporations to pollute, to sell poisonous products without being responsible for their effects, and to charge whatever they want for essential services such as electricity.

 As for "smaller government," perhaps our government has reduced in size, but it's only because private corporations like Blackwater have taken over traditional government roles. So instead of a bigger government that the people can look to and depend on, we now have a government unable to manage its own affairs, one that puts power in the hands of corporations unregulated by the public.

And "individual freedom?" One needs look no further than our administration granting itself the authority to spy on and amass personal data on its citizens.

The Bush administration, which proudly and defiantly calls itself conservative, has embraced an ideology that is anything but classical conservatism. Instead, it has produced a government that rejects democracy, self-determination, human rights, and true freedom in favor of an iron-fisted imperialistic and plutocratic rule that ignores the rights and concerns of many in favor of the interests of the few and powerful.

Freedom has become only for those who can afford it.

So, what can progressives, liberals, moderates, even classic conservatives do to take back our democracy?

There are many factors that keep our current government system in place. One factor we can't really do much about is that 23-25 percent of the population is made up of authoritarians. These people's need to accept authority for authority's sake in the manner of the strict father frame will (most likely) not be swayed by argument. It's easier to let go of the frustration of being unable to get through to these people if we understand this. It's also important to remember that all conservatives are not authoritarians. We are in a farmer society, and most of the basic rules we follow exist because they work. Change for the sake of change is just as impractical and potentially destructive as stubbornly clinging to the past. But if a leader is leading the herd over a cliff, obedience ceases to be an asset. So why doesn't most of our country realize we're heading over the cliff? Why is it that this other 75-77 percent of the population isn't up in arms about what's happening to our democracy?

One way that those in power continue to hold the upper hand is by convincing people that resistance is futile. If you feel that your vote won't get counted, that your voice doesn't matter, that there's nothing you as a person can do to change things, then you withdraw from the democratic process, become disaffected and apathetic, and nothing does change.

There are those who are critical of what is called the "echo chamber" or "preaching to the choir," meaning discussing issues with those who agree with you instead of arguing with those who don't. However, when it comes to mobilizing liberals and progressives to find our voice and our strength, preaching to the choir is exactly what's called for. This book is not written for the usual suspects - the people who are already hip-deep in progressive issues, involved in this committee or that campaign, at the front of every protest or march. They have been working in the trenches all along. The people this book is aiming far are those who believe in liberal values - in peace, in social justice, in America as it was intended to be - but have been sitting on the sidelines because they don't realize how important, how needed their voices are.

It would be great, of course, if we could be guaranteed that by following a certain course of action, we would achieve the desired results. It would be nice to know that if we called Senator X, signed Petition Y, and marched at Protest Z, that our troops would come home, that Bush, Cheney, et al. would resign en masse, that we'd get universal health care.

The reality is, in spite of our best efforts, we may not be able to achieve these objectives. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. If we really believe in what we say, then we have no choice but to work for what's right, even if we don't see a sure and smooth path to success. That is what morality is - doing what's right because it's right.

With action, we can bring change. No matter how small the action, it is worth doing because not taking action is giving active support to those people and positions we are fighting against. Not only is it worth doing, but it is imperative.

The word "evangelize" comes from the Greek word (eu- aggelos) for "bringing good news." We need to evangelize. We need to bring a discussion to our friends, our family, our coworkers, not the ones who already believe that whatever George Bush wants to do is just dandy, but the ones who are disaffected, who are disgusted with politics and politicians. The ones who think there's no sense in voting because their vote will be stolen anyway. The ones who think that things will get better by themselves, that someone else is going to take care of it. These people aren't going to hear the truth from the traditional media, which is all most working people have time to pay attention to these days. So we need to bring the news to them, one person at a time. Tell people what you're reading. Start a discussion. Give suggestions on practical ways to get active. Perhaps phone banking for one night for a local candidate whose positions they support, or making a call to a Congressperson about an issue they feel strongly about. Perhaps standing on a corner for an hour on a Friday night with some local peace activists. It's simply about getting involved on some level. Nothing earth shattering or life changing; just simple action.

Any action is preferable to inaction.

You don't have to be George Soros to make a difference. If you come across something that sparks your interest or you feel is deserving, kick in $10. Or $5. Any donation, no matter how small, is better than none. Not only that, but it gets you participating. Instead of throwing yourself full-time into someone's campaign, just phone bank for one night from your cell phone. Or offer some other skill you have for a couple of hours.

The point of micro-activism isn't the amount. It's involvement versus non-involvement. Physical action leads to emotional connection. Conservatives like to accuse liberals of having no common values, of being in disarray. We certainly have values, but the part about being in disarray has a crumb of merit. Liberals are, well, liberal. We believe in freedom. Not just freedom for ourselves, but freedom for other people as well. The kind of freedom we were promised as Americans in the Constitution. We are not anarchists. We believe in the rule of law. We respect authority when it deserves our respect, but not authority for authority's sake. Though we are the majority part, we are less than unified. But if we can unify, if we can bring in the people who are not ordinarily political, but who share our values, we have a chance at tipping the balance back toward sanity. To have a good choir, you need a lot of voices, not just a few screeching as loudly as they can. This is one of the points in history where every person is important. It's not enough anymore for the usual suspects to make all the noise. They can't do it by themselves anymore.

Thomas Paine wrote this on December 23, 1776:

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. 

These, too, are times that try our souls. The cost of freedom is indeed high, but the "price of right" is even higher. So let us not allow our freedom be taken away without a fight. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, to those who came before us, and to those who will come after us.