Friday, May 6, 2011

From rugged to savage individualism

The soul-less and the cynical

By Mike Krauss
Bucks County Courier Times

The GOP in Congress and Wall Street's man in the White House have staked out their positions on the debt and deficit. Both are campaign maneuvers. One is utterly soul-less and the other completely cynical.

And both ignore the only thing that can now help Americans climb out of the Second Great Depression: jobs.

Candidate Obama promised jobs. He didn't deliver. House GOP leader Boehner taunted daily, "Where are the jobs, Mr. President?" Now Boehner is the Speaker.

"Where are the jobs, Mr. Speaker?"

He couldn't care less, and the president so far lacks the will - or even the compassion - to go after the money to make the jobs.

Let's start with the proposals of the new GOP wonder-child, Congressman Paul Ryan. Even David Stockman, former budget director for Ronald Reagan thinks the Ryan proposals are a tax cut too far: "Trapped between the religion of low taxes and the reality of huge deficits, the Ryan plan appears to be an attack on the poor in order to coddle the rich."

When Stockman refers to the GOP devotion to low taxes as a "religion", he gets close to the truth of the modern GOP.

Ryan and his crowd are disciples and apostles of Ayn Rand, a novelist hailed as prophet who championed the individual and markets and hated any form of public limits on private activity. Alan Greenspan, former Fed chairman and one of the architects of the government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich was another of Rand's disciples.

All politics is not local, as a famous New York mayor long ago suggested. It is personal. And a look at Rand's biography tells you a lot about the person.

Rand was born in Russia in 1905. The Bolshevik Revolution and resulting communist state destroyed the prosperity of her family, part of the middle class that the Bolsheviks killed off. She hated them.

Rand got to America and made her way as a writer. Her big book, Atlas Shrugged, is Holy Scripture to the modern GOP. It preaches the virtue of the individual and the right to keep the fruits of your labor. Rand published Atlas Shrugged when the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans was 91 percent.

She hated that, too.

The justification for taxes is that we have shared responsibilities to each other. So, that had to go. Rand had no interest in or sympathy for the weak.

Rand's protagonist in Atlas Shrugged is a strong woman who battles heroically to save a railroad. The book was written in the 1950s when there were virtually no female executives in the transportation and distribution industry. There are few today. And Rand made her American life in the male dominated world of Hollywood producers and Manhattan publishers.

Strength was Rand's religion.

Like Dickens' character Scrooge, who so perfectly captured the grinding soul-lessness of the Industrial Revolution, Rand thought the surplus population of the weak was an impediment to creation of the healthy society of the strong and the new Golden Age.

And here it is.

Tens of millions of ordinary Americans without jobs, homes, health care, decent diets, educations, and futures. The nation is in a depression, and the GOP plans to make life even more difficult for the already afflicted, to protect those people of value to the future - the already wealthy.

Where the modern GOP is coming from is best observed in the debate over health care. It's the best in the world, say Ryan and his crowd. But two statistics put the lie to the claim. Life expectancy in the United States is now lower and infant deaths far higher here than in almost every other modern, industrialized society; although we did beat out Portugal on life expectancy. (But not on infant mortality)

What Ryan means to say, but cannot, is that the right Americans have great health care and are living longer, and the right Americans do not and are dying. Rugged individualism has given way in the GOP to savage individualism.

Like a lot of the leadership of the modern GOP, Ryan likes to dress up as a Christian and go to church. He just pays no attention while there.

That brings us to the campaigner-in-chief in the White House. The best Mr. Obama can manage is to suggest maybe the rich can pay more taxes, as a ploy to keep the poor and enough of the middle class on board for his re-election. It just isn't good enough.

The unfunded health and Social Security liabilities looming on the horizon are problems not because they are overly generous - but because they are unfunded.

Privatizing health care and retirement just gives Wall Street access to more trillions to gamble away.

Everyone will have to pay a bit more in taxes, and the rich a lot more, and most Americans could support that - if they had jobs and decent wages and saw an end to government-sanctioned corporate looting and a mindlessly over-extended and ruinously expensive military.

Is there a way forward for America? Of course there is. Will this president and Congress lead? Not a prayer.

With the soul-less apostles of a bitter Russian refugee dominating Congress, and a president far better at campaigning than governing, it will fall to the states and the people to rescue the American dream and save the American democracy.

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