The current era is quickly becoming the Age of Zealotry, defined by a burst of stridently extreme conservative postulations. The last century’s principal miseries can be traced to bursts of harshly absolutist ideology from the left and right, and the legacy for human beings of the time was nothing short of the tragic and the dastardly. Contemporary America now is being besieged by a new ideological exoticism, its right-wing apostles breezily spreading the new religion with manifestos, doctrines and slogans portraying an ideal America hewing to strict ideological dogma. And as always, the callow purveyors of these nostrums present a vision enshrouded in fantastical reality, not the one all of us must actually inhabit.
The lie that Medicare is unsound, when in fact it is hostage like much of the American budget to defense costs attendant to financing of a global empire, and luxuriant tax privileges and protections for the wealthy, suffuse the public sphere. Make no mistake that privatizing Medicare and Social Security means terminating Medicare and Social Security, with the eventual target the entire American safety net. These are notyour father’s conservatives. Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, even Ronald Reagan to some extent conceded the consensus of opinion, necessity and wisdom for the New Deal safety net, and related policies to follow. Those conservatives are gone, replaced by ideologues intoxicated by far-fetched “philosophies” that satisfy all manner of prejudices, biases, resentments and strange utopian promises, a land of Darwinian purity (the irony being of course that many of these ideological evangelicals proudly do not believe in the real Darwin’s theories. Perhaps if there is such a thing this is Super Irony).
The attack on Medicare not only is unseemly on moral grounds, it is manifestly foolish, irresponsible, and downright stupid on practical grounds. In fact, it is obscene to force the elderly, most of whom are not wealthy, and are consigned by age and health to an inability to continue to earn, into the hands of the cutthroat insurance industry whose rates and practices have been the bane of the nation for several decades, some of which will be sustained , even with the Affordable Care Act (the recent health reform law). The elderly would be delivered into the maw of a private health insurance regime abolished in every modern industrial nation east and west for it’s utter impracticality, costs and consequences to the health and well being of citizens.
There was a reason FDR and congress created Social Security in 1935 and a reason LBJ and congress created Medicare in 1965: the distress of the elderly in a fast-paced economy, and the stress on their families in attempting to provide for their care. Prior to the enactment of Social Security the poverty rate among the elderly was 25% or higher. Since its enactment the poverty rate among the elderly is similar to that for all demographic groups combined, eleven or twelve percent. Social Security and Medicare were not enacted on the basis of ideological or political whim: there was deep societal need to do so, and an undeniable moral imperative and moral responsibility.
Conservatives opposing federal civil rights laws on the grounds of “states rights” swabbed a pseudo philosophical patina on perpetuation and defense of cruel and frankly unconstitutional practices. Today’s conservatives, having inhaled even more exotic ideologies, economically unsustainable in practice, and making clear delineations between those who “deserve” a decent quality of life and those who don’t, like ideological extremists from Stalinists to fascists do so with the intent to subsume real life under a pantomime of life grounded in ideological dictates, not human concerns nor human realities.
Today we hear the ideologically born again speak glibly of blueprints and one expects to hear next about five year plans and thousand year Reichs, the ideologically intoxicated and evangelical seemingly susceptible to the blithe cruelty that seems the inevitable by-product in the behavior of those who historically impose these ideologies, a fact insufficiently remembered.
Some Dickensian America as a pure form of perfect conservative ideology, even if it has been spiced for modern palettes with Ayn Rand Objectivism or Austrian School economics for their appeal to the tender minds of the Paul Ryans and Eric Cantors of the world, reflects the same convitions: those who inherit or attain prosperity are virtuous and deserve all the advantages life has to offer, and to have those advantages reinforced in perpetuity; and the rest, those lacking virtue, the “unproductive” as they are all lumped and demonized by the Rand cult are the undeserving chattel.
As this country embarks on debates, forced by media laziness and capitulation and Democratic anemia to address the question of what America will be like and the kinds of things it will do on turf owned by, and a narrative created by Conservative ideological extremists, others who care and intend to fight had better marshal their history, their philosophical convictions, their intellectual battle gear and their stamina, and take up the cause of setting this country on a course both sensible and humane again.