Sunday, July 06, 2014

You Not Wanting To Be Known For Something That You Have Done, Is Not The Same Thing As You Not Having Done It

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Rachel Maddow does not play requests. "We will not," she explained, "stop reporting on the political actions, and the consequences of the political actions, of rich and powerful men, even if they send angry letters every time we do it." If you've read much of Thomas Frank's work, you probably have a good idea he's in the same boat. Frank's Salon article this morning, about the deal with the Devil business Republicans made with the racists and crackpots, will probably generate a lot of the same kind of angry letters the Koch brothers sent Maddow. If there was one thing worth reading over the weekend, though, that was it. It may be too dense and subtle for your average right-wing loon to set his hair on fire over, but… well I hope no one ever explains it to my Hate Talk Radio addicted brother-in-law before a family function.
Time was, the only place a guy could expound the mumbo-jumbo of the free market was in the country club locker room or the pages of Reader’s Digest. Spout off about it anywhere else and you’d be taken for a Bircher or some new strain of Jehovah’s Witness. After all, in the America of 1968, when the great backlash began, the average citizen, whether housewife or hardhat or salary-man, still had an all-too-vivid recollection of the Depression. Not to mention a fairly clear understanding of what social class was all about. Pushing laissez-faire ideology back then had all the prestige and credibility of hosting a Tupperware party.

But 30-odd years of culture war have changed all that. Mention “elites” these days and nobody thinks of factory owners or gated-community dwellers. Instead they assume that what you’re mad as hell about is the liberal media, or the pro-criminal judiciary, or the tenured radicals, or the know-it-all bureaucrats.


For the guys down at the country club all these inverted forms of class war worked spectacularly well. This is not to say that the right-wing culture warriors ever outsmarted the liberal college professors or shut down the Hollywood studios or repealed rock ’n’ roll. Shout though they might, they never quite got cultural history to stop. But what they did win was far more important: political power, a free hand to turn back the clock on such non-glamorous issues as welfare, taxes, OSHA, even the bankruptcy laws, for chrissake. Assuring their millionaire clients that culture war got the deregulatory job done, they simply averted their eyes as bizarre backlash variants flowered in the burned-over districts of conservatism: Posses Comitatus, backyard Confederacies mounting mini-secessions, crusades against Darwin.

For most of the duration of the 30-year backlash, the free-market faiths of the economists and the bosses were kept discreetly in the background. To be sure, market worship was always the established church in the halls of Republican power, but in public the chant was usually States’ Rights, or Down with Big Gummint, or Watch Out for Commies, or Speak English Goddammit. All Power to the Markets has never been too persuasive as a rallying cry.

So confidently did the right proceed from triumph to triumph, though, that eventually they forgot this. Inspired by a generous bull market and puffed up by a sense of historical righteousness so cocksure that it might have been lifted from The God That Failed, that old book in which ex-Communists disavowed their former convictions, the right evidently decided in the ’90s that the time had come to tell the world about the wonders of the market.

For all this vast and sparkling intellectual production, though, Americans hear surprisingly little about what it’s like to be managed. Perhaps the reason for this is because, when viewed from below, all the glittering, dazzling theories of management seem to come down to the same ugly thing. This is the lesson that Barbara Ehrenreich learns from the series of low-wage jobs that she works and then describes in bitter detail in her book Nickel and Dimed. Pious chatter about “free agents” and “empowered workers” may illuminate the covers of Fast Company and Business 2.0, but what strikes one most forcefully about the world of waitresses, maids and Wal-Mart workers that Ehrenreich enters is the overwhelming power of management, the intimidating array of advantages it holds in its endless war on wages. This is a place where even jobs like housecleaning have been Taylorized to extract maximum output from workers (“You know, all this was figured out with a stopwatch,” Ehrenreich is told by a proud manager at a maid service), where omnipresent personality and drug tests screen out those of assertive nature, where even the lowliest of employees are overseen by professional-grade hierarchs who crack the whip without remorse or relent, where workers are cautioned against “stealing time” from their employer by thinking about anything other than their immediate task, and where every bit of legal, moral, psychological, and anthropological guile available to advanced civilization is deployed to prevent the problem of pay from ever impeding the upward curve of profitability. This is the real story of life under markets.

The social panorama that Ehrenreich describes should stand as an eternal shrine to the god that sucked: slum housing that is only affordable if workers take on two jobs at once; exhausted maids eating packages of hot-dog buns for their meals; women in their 20s so enfeebled by this regimen that they can no longer lift the vacuum cleaners that the maid service demands they carry about on their backs; purse searches, drug tests, personality tests, corporate pep rallies. Were we not so determined to worship the market and its boogie-boarding billionaires, Ehrenreich suggests, we might even view their desperate, spent employees as philanthropists of a sort, giving selflessly of their well-being so that the comfortable might live even more comfortably. “They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for,” she writes; “they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high.”

These are the fruits of 30 years of culture war. Hell-bent to get government off our backs, you installed a tyrant infinitely better equipped to suck the joy out of life. Cuckoo to get God back in the schools, you enshrined a god of unappeasable malice. Raging against the snobs, you enthroned a rum bunch of two-fisted boodlers, upper-class twits, and hang-em-high moralists. Ain’t irony grand.
Earlier today, we looked at a report that Obama and the Democrats are shifting their emphasis away from economic inequality at the behest of party conservatives. I had left a message for the progressive Wisconsin Democrat, Kelly Westlund, running for Dave Obey's old seat now held by Big Business shill Sean Duffy, asking her for a comment. By the time we touched bases the post was already up. But her comment works just as well in regard to Tom Frank's essay. "The function of government," she asserted, "is to fight inequality. Call it what you want, but we can't address the problem if we're not willing to talk about it candidly. The fact is, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is disappearing. That's not good for anyone."


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1 Comments:

At 12:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bush II bankruptcy bill was arguably the nadir (not Nader) of the Cheney/Bush governmental Mafia crime spree.

By the time the vote was taken, we knew exactly how the Radical Reich would vote, it was the closet Nazi's (ie DINO's) that joined them that were the concern.

From reading this blog, I'm convinced the problem has only worsened.

Has society's overlords, in their concerted effort to destroy the middle class, forgotten the "demand" part of the marvelous market theory?

They do seem to be forging a new paradigm: 1) steal from each other (prime example: financial derivatives) and 2) steal from the taxpayer, who individually have essentially nothing, but collectively have a lot to loot (pension funds. social security & medicare trust funds, etc.)

I'm predicting legislation that shunts IRS tax receipts directly into the corporate accounts of the grand poobahs of congressional control.

FWIW: the roll call votes on the bankruptcy bill.

House: http://tinyurl.com/452h36
One-third of caucus DINO's

Senate: http://tinyurl.com/6db58
About one-half DINO's
Note: H. Clinton did not vote

 

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