Obviously, there are a lot of stupid people in Florida. While George Bush’s election in 2000 doesn’t quite prove the point – since Al Gore would have received more votes if we had actually wanted to count them properly, as in a real democracy – his reelection in 2004 and the subsequent election of corporate felon, Rick Scott, provide compelling evidence. (We most certainly do not wish to imply that the election of Barack Obama demonstrated an uncharacteristic outburst of collective intelligence. That particular victory for the corporate oligarchy said more about gullibility than outright stupidity.) In recent years, the ranks of the stupid have been bolstered rather unfairly by a new concentration of ignorant seniors in the retirement mecca of The Villages, sprawling ever further across Lake and Sumter counties. With only a slight eponymous twist, we shall refer to them as village idiots, for it is a moniker they richly deserve. As if celebrating the Fourth Of July, the Leesburg Daily Commercial joyfully reported how Villages seniors turned out in their droves this past weekend to wave their little flags and pump political endorphins through their little brains. The cause of this orgy of ignorance was the presence of Mitt Romney’s recently-announced running mate and plutocratic errand boy, Paul Ryan.
The Republican machine, and Romney in particular, understand the value of The Villages. It has become a goldmine for them, providing financial backing from its developers, the Morse family and associated hangers-on, and a reliable source of votes from willing enablers of plutocratic dominance. Since many of these gullible clods are grandparents, one would hope that they might know a little better – that they might be concerned about what the United States and, indeed, the rest of the world (yes, America, there is something beyond your shores) will be like for their genetic gifts to the planet. Naturally, they would surely take umbrage at the accusation that they are waving their flags in support of the wrong people, the wrong policies, the wrong ideas, and the wrong outcomes. Some of them would test the adhesive power of their dentures and hairpieces in declaiming against evil socialist plots to destroy America. And this is partly because they have allowed themselves to be sold a particular conception of what America actually is – a phony conception that elevates profits over people, death over decency, and exploitation over edification.
Banking the Royalties from the Patent on Patriotism
Both parties make conspicuous use of patriotic symbols and motifs, sometimes with farcical consequences, as Lake County Democrats remember to their chagrin, but the modern Republican Party has been mining this rich vein with the gleeful abandon of grizzled forty-niners who have finally found the mother lode. Their strategy builds upon the simple idea that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (The power of simple ideas, masterfully exploited by the Gipper, must never be underestimated. Throwing complexity at village idiots is like throwing rain at Nascar drivers: they just can’t handle it.) If the current dispensation – starring as it does great wealth and income inequalities and featuring imperial wars of aggression, environmental destruction, and the marginalization of permanent underclasses – can be blessed by association with a mythological concept of unparalleled national greatness, then no loyal citizen would even dream of changing anything. It’s the American way and We’re Number One! Thus, the people who benefit from the status quo – and, make no mistake, some people are benefiting mightily – enlist the willing support of enough other citizens to maintain their happy condition. Of course, the predators at the top of the food chain have to throw enough tasty morsels down to their pets – a point to which we shall return presently, when we discuss Medicare – but the central problem here is that our corporate state produces broken bodies in its resource wars around the globe and broken minds in its idea war at home – a war against which there has been far too little resistance for a supposedly healthy society.
For minds that have not been broken, one of the most obvious responses to the appropriators of our national identity should be an immediate skepticism toward the myth of American exceptionalism. When numerous other countries outrank the United States in terms of living standards (GDP per capita), income equality, life expectancy, infant mortality, health care costs per capita, educational attainment, and freedom of the press – to name just a few indicia of progress – a thinking individual might just be tempted to wonder what, exactly, God is being asked to bless by every politician’s favorite coda. And when the United States is the undisputed world leader in spending on the machinery of death and destruction, in incarcerating its own citizens, in obesity, divorce, and illegal drug use, then only a village idiot would feel like waving a flag at the representatives of the system that perpetuates such a state of affairs. God Help America! would be a far more appropriate sentiment.
An alternative response to this plutocratic programming – the road (even) less-taken – would be a genuinely democratic discussion about what kind of country America should be, regardless of what it has been or has become. At the other end of the intelligence scale from our village idiots, the late Gore Vidal was one of the greatest exponents of the promise of Jeffersonian renewal. Vidal saw through the corporate state and its supporting mythology with unrivaled perspicacity decades before Occupy Wall Street had pitched its first tent in Zuccotti Park. In his Homage to Daniel Shays, Vidal highlighted a concept of central importance to this website; namely, that there is really only one political party in the United States – the Property Party, consisting of two factions with slightly different modi operandi. Another concept conveniently overlooked by those who tell us what to think in the so-called Land of the Free is Jefferson’s firm belief that concentrated economic power is incompatible with republicanism. (For the benefit of the village idiots, republicanism with a small ‘r’ is not the “screw-you-I’ve-got-mine” credo of today’s GOP; it is a system of government in which power is derived from the people, as opposed to from an aristocracy or monarchy.) Combine this with Jefferson’s principle that, to maintain legitimacy, each generation of Americans should write itself a new constitution, and we have a formula for national reform that is entirely consistent with the spirit of the founding.
Sadly, it is highly doubtful that Americans are capable of exercising their birthright to reinvent themselves as they go along. As Vidal put it, “The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven’t seen them since.”
Grandma Gets Nasty: The New Front in America’s Class War
The main topic of Paul Ryan’s address to the village idiots was, of course, Medicare. Mitt Romney, who has been to The Villages many times, goes out of his way to reassure seniors that he won’t touch their precious Medicare benefits, and his new lieutenant, voucher plan notwithstanding, sings from the same hymnal. The latest round of attack ads against Barack Obama, some officially endorsed by Romney and some not (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), assails the President’s signature health care plan for cutting Medicare by $716 billion in order to pay for “a massive new government program.” And just in case that wasn’t enough to get seniors to bite, the hook is baited further with the juicy worm that Obamacare “is not for you.” The level of cognitive dissonance here merits extended therapy on a psychiatrist’s couch, not a sing-a-long with Lee Greenwood.
To start with, how can anyone listen to Mitt Romney denounce Obamacare without bursting into mocking laughter? Long before Governor Romney gave Massachusetts universal health insurance featuring an individual mandate, with Teddy Kennedy looking on approvingly, the idea was proposed by his ancestors in the Republican Party as a response to Hillary Clinton’s long-forgotten foray into the health reform arena. It was their idea. And as for Romney’s pathetic argument – the only one he could come up with to defend himself during the Republican primaries – that the individual mandate might be alright if the states want to do it but isn’t alright at the national level – we should not forget that one of the alleged benefits of the federalism touted by conservatives is the ability of the states to act as policy laboratories. If an experiment works at the state level – and Massachusetts’ policy has been very successful in guaranteeing coverage – then it should get a hearing on a larger stage. Mitt’s brain knows that, but his naked ambition overrules it, leading to flip-flops worthy of The Flying Squirrel herself.
Equally hilarious is the concept of attacking one “massive government program” by claiming to protect another massive government program, particularly when the party offering to protect it not only blames entitlement spending for threatening the country with bankruptcy but has drafted a budget proposal that will slash Medicare dramatically. Of course, the Republicans know a thing or two about massive government programs; after all, they gave us – presumably in a moment of weakness – the unfunded liability of Medicare Part D, the educational fiasco of No Child Left Behind, and the grandaddy of them all, the largest, most expensive, and most dangerous standing army in human history. And since these programs (including – hush, don’t tell anyone, now – food stamps) are highly lucrative for the corporations that provide these services, there will remain an unspoken disconnect between rhetoric and reality.
Those ironies duly noted, the Romney-Ryan pitch on Medicare entails an ugly political bargain that no self-respecting citizen should be willing to make. The village idiots who cheered Paul Ryan this weekend were effectively bought off by assurances that their benefits would not be touched; it’s just their children and grandchildren who will get the shaft. As if that wasn’t bad enough, these putatively patriotic seniors are being encouraged to hate Romneycare (sorry, Obamacare) because it covers other people who don’t matter. One must assume that they don’t have any single grandchildren under age 26 who have been able to get coverage under their parents’ policies. Or that they have no family members who are single and earning less than about $15,000/year. In our low-wage, “right-to-work” economy, this includes many of the people who bring steak dinners to hungry Villagers. These people would have been covered by Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, but our Ricky has put a stop to that. Phew! The last thing we want to do is save people’s lives by letting them go to the doctor every once in a while. They’re not worth it and we can’t afford it.
Finally, there is the minor detail that the Republican campaign, aided and abetted by a flood of post-Citizens United money, is butchering the facts. Obama’s cuts to Medicare – which one might expect alleged deficit hawks to applaud – do not reduce benefits for seniors. The cuts reduce waste, particularly to extravagant Medicare Advantage programs, which are not the same as traditional Medicare, and were endorsed by the health care industry during Obamacare’s drafting. More importantly, Paul Ryan’s budget keeps those cuts in place. And Obamacare helps current Medicare beneficiaries by closing the notorious “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D, enhancing access to long-term care, and by extending Medicare’s solvency for eight years. Yes, village idiots, Obamacare is for you after all. And, by the way, your health sector stocks will be just fine. The bill was written behind closed doors to keep the corporations happy, just like every other major piece of legislation in America. That’s the real American way.
Medicare as the Plutocrats’ Eastern Front
As any reader of the Leesburg Daily Commercial knows, thanks to the weekly insights into the plutocratic soul provided by Russ Sloan1, Medicare has the rich very worried. When they’re not complaining about paying too much tax, they’re warning us about the ticking time-bomb of entitlement programs. What they’re afraid of, of course, is not debt per se – they’ve given us lots of that themselves and debt has many uses, both financial and political – but the risk that society will decide to pay for social programs by actually raising revenue. With every passing year since the advent of legalized kleptocracy, otherwise known as trickle-down economics, the owners of America become more concerned, increasing the shrillness of their claims accordingly. In a $15 trillion economy, the corporations they control are sitting on a mere $2 trillion in pure profit. They think they can get more. They think they deserve more. And they aren’t going to share it with the people who make those profits possible by working for them, consuming their products and services, and – gasp! – providing the public-sector services that make business possible in the first place. They would rather you died first. And many of you will.
But much as Hitler’s desire for lebensraum in the east doomed him to a fatal bloodbath on the frigid Russian front and ended with his own capital being overrun by the slavic race he deemed so inferior, the plutocrats of America may have bitten off more than they can chew in targeting Medicare. Ryan’s plan may be just a little too ambitious – unpalatable to the millions of seniors who aren’t as easy as the village idiots and don’t throw their star-spangled panties at just anyone. But not to worry. There’s always the other faction of the Property Party to fall back on. What the Republicans can’t do loudly through a voucher plan, the Democrats will do quietly through gradual cuts in payments to providers and an increase in the eligibility age.2 With any luck, the share of national income accruing to the owners of America will continue its current trajectory and make up for the possibility of slightly higher taxes down the road. The United States will remain the best place on earth to be a billionaire. We can all be proud of that, can’t we?
- And what, one wonders, does our Russ think about the Republican candidate bribing voters with promises of benefits, supposedly the root of all fiscal evil? ↩
- The Associated Press article which detailed Obama’s approach has since been taken down by the AP. This does indeed mean that there is an element of truth in Romney-Ryan’s attack on Obama, but their credibility is still shot to hell. ↩