Now, at some point when I wasn't looking, possibly after 1980, when I turned sixteen, Cracked stopped being a magazine and became a website with a lot of humor articles based on lists. I don't remember how I discovered the site, but I was immediately hooked. They have some pretty good writers, over there, although most of them should probably not be doing videos that require acting. Or cameras. But on the whole, I approve.
In fact, I approve so much that I am going to steal a page from their book and do a little list of my own. Mind you, this is entirely an homage and not at all because creating a list is a lot easier than writing an actual essay.
So, that said, here are my
5 Reasons My Fellow Conservatives Are Full of Shit
Reason #5: It is not okay to act like a douche to the President just because his supporters did it to your President for 8 years
Yeah, all right. I was there for the same eight years of bullshit that you guys were. I watched David Letterman's assistants sift through hundreds of hours of Presidential video to find the perfectly embarrassing sound byte for his "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" segment. I listened as Democratic leaders repeatedly insinuated that President Bush was simultaneously the dumbest man on the planet and the most evil genius since Lex Luthor. I sat through the whole MemoGate Scandal and watched as supposedly ethical journalists were slapped down for an agenda-driven report based on falsified (and easily discredited) government documents. I was there. I understand.
That still doesn't mean you can act the same way toward President Obama. For one thing, he's still the President, and if that doesn't mean anything to you, then maybe you aren't as conservative as you like to pretend. He was legally elected according to the laws of the nation, and that should stand for something, so if you can't respect the man, at least respect the office. He'll come around for re-election in three years, and you can test your conviction then.
For another, more important thing, this sort of thing never works out well. It certainly didn't work in the nineties against Bill Clinton, and there were actual, verifiable felonies occurring in his administration. In the end, the Republican Congress finally impeached him (but found him not guilty, despite the fact that he was, in fact, completely guilty) and looked less like a responsible Congress executing its Constitutional Mandate, and more like the cranky old man down the street who calls the police every time your dog barks.
The Democrats really did no better at it during the Bush Administration. Starting with the "stolen" election and commencing through an unending stream of investigations and committee hearings, the Democrats spent eight years whining about how evil Bush was (or possibly that Bush was dumber than a post and Cheney and Rove were the actual evil ones and they were using ol' Dubya like a ventriloquist's mannequin). In the end, they were unable to even get anything serious off the ground (not that they're not still trying), and came off looking like a bunch of whiney kids claiming that they're not "it" because the kid who was "it" tagged them too hard.
Speaking of whiney kids, that's the real reason that it's not okay. It's childish. By attacking the President on multiple fronts for a million ridiculous imagined slights, you reduce the national debate to the level of a schoolyard push-fight. I mean his Birth Certificate? Really? Is there any way you could make something like that stick without disenfranchising millions of people whose parents were faithfully serving in our military or our diplomatic corps? Just get over it.
Reason #4: Chanting T-Shirt slogans and Internet memes is not engaging in debate
I am not saying there is never a time to chant slogans. If you were waiting in line for a townhall meeting for an hour and got bumped by two buses carrying "volunteers" and union thugs from out of state, it's a perfectly reasonable response to stand outside the doors (but close to the TV crews) and chant "HEAR OUR VOICE!" or something similar. But, if you're inside—if you are participating in the process because you are within the doors of the hall—do not just randomly start chanting. That's not debate. It is, in fact, the opposite of debate.
I don't know who determined that it would be a good idea to get people inside of these things and have them chant their slogans, because it makes you look stupid and unreasonable. Worse, you look childish, like a three-year-old who doesn't want to hear that it's bed time. And it's annoying as hell.
Especially when you do that thing where the crowd settles down, then someone asks a question, then you all start chanting just as the government sacrificial lamb starts to talk. But he can't talk because you idiots are chanting.
That's the thing about open debate. Once you get them to hear your voice, you have to have something to actually say. And then you have to hear their voice, too. That's the way it works. They have input, you have input, and eventually (hopefully) some sort of compromise is reached.
Reason #3: The American People Do Not Want, Nor Have They Ever Wanted, a Moral Christian Government
This is a big one, and, honestly, the fallacies and misapprehensions here make it such a big concept, it really deserves its own column. I guess it's best to begin at the beginning and bull our way through. So the primary basis of this assumption is the false impression that the US government was estblished as a Christian government by devout Christians.
The problem is that while this assumption is extremely false, it's not entirely untrue. In part, this assumption comes from fallacious anecdotes and tales that were written a generation after the American Revolution while the US was undergoing one of our periodic fits of moralism, most notably, the apocryphal biography of George Washington by Mason Locke (Parson) Weems. But the greater portion of the error seems to be founded on a notion that Christianity and the practice thereof, is some sort of constant. The primary theosophy of the time was Deism—that is, a belief that the Deity had created the world, and created laws and systems under which it should run, and then moved on—this was a vastly different concept than that of modern Theism. You can tell this simply by noting the preamble paragraphs of the two best-known foundation documents of our nation. The Declaration speaks of assuming the "...station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God" entitle the people, but, it is addressed as an explanation demanded by "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind". The Constitution only mentions religion once in its body, and that to state the law that "no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification" of public or government office. This is reinforced by the clause in the First Amendment that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
I could go on. I probably should, because there are folks who already are shouting "bullshit!" and gathering evidence to counter my above claims, but I think I've established the idea well enough: The Founding Fathers, far from wanting to create a nation ordered and ruled by Christian Law, wanted exactly the opposite. They didn't trust the government, and they certainly didn't trust government based on religion, to the point that they went out of their way to exclude any religious notions of any kind from the idea of governance.
Of course, that was the past. There are a number of polls that show that the majority of Americans would like the nation to follow some sort of moral track, right? Well, not really. You see, like the above misapprehension, while not true, that idea isn't entirely false either. It comes down to the generalization encountered when you use the term "moral". Morals are not fixed things that cross all cultures. Morals are rarely the same even from family to family or from person to person. So when a majority say they would like to see the country dedicated to a moral law, what they mean is that they would like the country to be dedicated to their particular moral law, and that's the problem. Abortion, Gay rights, even how we deal with poverty, these debates are wildly skewed in their moral complexion and have huge grey areas where anyone—or any group—can fall, and the absolute and leading questions put to people on polls and questionaires tend to lose the subtleties. Like a picture with too much contrast, the reasonable greys disappear until the picture is unrecognizable.
And the really tricky thing is that everyone knows (but doesn't want to admit) that laws based solely on morality don't work. Any time you pass a law making a non-destructive behavior illegal, you create a new class of criminals. Sometimes, as with Prohibition, prostitution laws, and the Drug Laws, this creates an entirely new criminal industry based around providing the illegal product. Other times, as with Blue Laws against homosexuality, miscegenation laws, and registry laws (such as Meghan's Law), this creates a new underclass of citizens who are treated as somehow less than human because they engaged in a behavior that the majority finds repugnant.
You'll note that I have included Meghan's Law among the "moral" laws that cause more harm than good. But Meghan's Law wasn't a moral law, right? Wasn't Meghan's Law created to prevent habitual rapists and molesters from harming children and women? Yes, it was. And it failed miserably. The man who kidnapped and held Jaycee Dugard was a registered sex offender, and, while that helped catch him in the end (sort of), it ddn't prevent him from inflicting the long horror on her that he did. Meanwhile, the law has created a class of "criminals" who have committed the "crime" of sleeping with their girlfriend when one or both of them were technically underage, and we're not talking about the creepy 30-year-olds at the Dateline house, either. Most of the men (and women) on the National Sexual Predator database got put there as the result of a near-age-but-still-technically-illegal assignation and a pissed-off parent. Or they were arrested in a raid of a strip club that didn't bother to check the dancers' IDs closely. Or any number of "sex crimes" that have nothing to do with predation and everything to do with bad luck and bad judgment.
Here's the final problem with moral laws: They make it illegal for your neighbors to do things that are none of your business, and empower the government to stick its nose into things it has no right to see. If no one is being harmed except the willing adult participants, then what the hell do you care if your neighbor stays up late masturbating to Twilight fan slash, or slouches around all day Saturday doing bong-hits to The Pirates of Penzance? Murder, Theft, Rape, Fraud, even most driving infractions (which are misdemeanors): these are crimes. These are things that produce palpable and unarguable harm to people and to society. Denying spousal rights to homosexuals in lifetime commitments because you get confused about what to call the two carpetmunchers (the correct answer is, "ma'am") in a lesbian marriage is just stupid.
Reason #2: "Free-Market" Reaganism Is Not the Cure to All of America's Economic Woes, Ever
Don't get me wrong, I'm all about the free market and its ability to absorb and correct most economic and social woes. There are, however, two major "but"s that I feel I should place on that statement.
The first one is that I said "most". Not everything can—or should—be subject to the free market. Areas of infrastructure necessary to the safety and security of the nation cannot be left to the whims of the marketplace. That means that venues of transportation, power, water, and communication must be within the government purview. Public ownership of these media allows for more efficient use of them in the case of an emergency.
More to the point, the government is just better at maintaining them than the private sector. The CCC and the WPA built several hundred parks and the entire US Highway system in ten years. The ACOE rebuilt much of Western Europe's basic infrastructure between 1944 and 1947, most of that while under fire. In the Pacific, at the same time, the Naval Construction Brigade (SeaBees) did much the same on the liberated islands (they also repaired, or built from scratch, a number of airfields sturdy enough to support squadrons of medium-range bombers and short range fighter-escorts). By comparison, contractors in Iraq took 5 years to complete a single pipeline.
And when I say, government control, I don't mean bullshit "government corporations" like port authorities and the Post Office. We've all seen how well that works out with the Post Office and AMTrak. Road, rail and sea ways, gas and electric lines, and all communications pathways, should and must be owned and maintained by the government, if for no other reason than that the government depends on the infrastructure to perform its most basic service (defense and security in times of war and emergency).
The other major "but" is that Reaganism is not Free Market Capitalism. Reaganomics owes most of its core principles to 19th-century laissez-faire industrialism, and barely even nods at the free market principles developed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations and other works. Smith's books did encourage nations to take an active interest in their own economic well-being, but that interest took only two forms: protecting local trade from external competition, and protecting the economy from the abuses of local tradesmen. That gives us two areas where Reagan could have supported and improved the economy, and two areas where he failed miserably.
On the foreign competition front, not only did Reagan not protect American interests from external threats, he actively supported—through NAFTA and a variety of other deals and programs—the undermining of the US economy and industrial base. Admittedly, Reagan wasn't really thinking in terms of protecting the economy; he was following a policy begun in the '40's as part of the "containment" philosophy of the Cold War. The theory was that through a combination of economic assistance and military support, Soviet Socialism could be contained within a limited sphere of influence. Beginning in the late forties, the US began opening trade with a variety of partners—at terms that were advantageous to those partners. This was all well and good in the Post War period; the US had come out of World War II not simply a powerhouse, but as the only major industrial economy not completely trashed by years of mechanized warfare. Unfortunately, while this was a workable plan in the boom years just after the war, at some point it should have been abandoned for a more sustainable plan, but never was. Allow me to illustrate:
Let's say you have a farm. It's a large farm and you have more than enough equipment to manage it properly. In fact, it's not simply self-supporting, it produces a sizable surplus. Now you have some neighbors who aren't doing so well, and are in danger of being absorbed by a nearby conglomerate. So you give them some of your surplus food to stave off the immediate emergency and you lend them your extra equipment so they can get back on their feet and avoid being bought out. Now it turns out that you also have better access to the best markets, so you buy your neighbors' production and resell it yourself.
So word of your largesse gets out, and it happens that there are a lot more farms under threat of co-option by the conglomerate than you ever realized. Some of these farms don't even have the basic materials needed to make a go of it, so you give them a copy of the key to your supply shed, and send some of your better managers over to help them get started. Time passes, and the threat from the conglomerate abates (in fact, the conglomerate goes bankrupt and disbands, so you find yourself assisting the farms that were once part of the reason for the assistance in the first place), but you're still handing out tools and supplies and sometimes food to every farmer for miles around. Admittedly, some of your neighbors (the ones you helped at the very beginning, for the most part) return your tools and even repay the loans you gave them. But many of the farms you'd helped never quite got off the ground, and continue living off your largesse long after they should be self-supporting.
Now, all of this generosity has begun to take its toll on the operation of your own farm. You still have a surplus—on paper—but that surplus is nowhere near as large as it had been, and when everything is taken into account, it turns out that—realistically—you've found yourself in the business of handing out supplies and tools and buying back the harvest at sucker prices. At some point, you find you've actually mortgaged the bricks of your house to support this incomprehensible behavior.
And that is where we are now. Our toolshed is empty, there's a line at our supply shed, and our best managers are doing good work for someone else. But the conglomerate is gone. Sort of. We think.
Of course, a healthy, diversified economy—like a diverse ecosystem—can absorb all sorts of silliness and not take any serious damage. Unfortunately, our economy has been neither healthy nor diversified for a very long time, and that's where Reagan let us down on the second area of government responsibility for the economy. Neither the Reagan Administration, nor the Republican Congress that followed it served to protect the American people from the abuses of our own tradesmen.
"But Brett," I can already hear you protesting, "what about deregulation and allowing the free market to work its magic on the economy." That's a little bit of an enigma. See, while it's completely fair to say that American business was hampered by a number of niggling little rules and unnecessary regulations, it can't be said that the Reagan administration's deregulation did anything to assuage that. For one thing, the larger mass of those regulations were not the result of legislation or even bureaucratic fiat. They resulted from lawsuits and contracts.
Reagan's deregulation, if anything, set the stage for the bubble that would pop in 2008. And it's not like we didn't have warning about that. The deregulated Savings and Loan Industry collapsed in 1989, and the minimally regulated penny stock industry tanked in 1999 (compounded by the failure of Enron and a few other vaporware companies). Deregulation in the telecommunications industry has created a situation where almost everything you see and hear is produced and presented by one of a very few companies. Most notably, the monolithic structures of Disney, Sony, and Viacom make a mockery of anything remotely resembling Free Speech and the free expression of thought.
I could go on, but my point is that Reagan's brand of deregulation was a form of economic heroin. It made the country feel good for a while, but it was ultimately destroying the country from within. Some regulations, especially those regarding the structure of banks and the concentration of industry, have to exist, in order for a free market to remain free.
Reason number one will be posted after the new year when I remember what it was, exactly...