This fall I read a perspective by Steve Weissman at t r u t h o u t that spoke to my own belief that right wing idealogues will tenaciously hang on – even if hidden from view - no matter what changes might appear to be coming in a new administration. Just as they have since the New Deal, these far right forces in commerce and religion merely go into the shadows or get buried under conventional seeming covers. Every single level of government from local townships to the think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and international organizations like the World Bank are, and will remain, saturated.
In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona ran for president as a rock-ribbed conservative who yearned to roll back both the Soviet Empire and FDR's New Deal. He carried only six states with 52 electoral votes, and Lyndon Johnson remained the commander-in-chief that an entire generation loved to hate. Yet, even after suffering a stunning defeat, the rabidly anti-New Deal Republicans, ultra-right-wing millionaires, evangelical Christian preachers, John Birchers and other extreme anti-communists who backed Barry Goldwater went on to build the modern conservative movement that propelled Ronald Reagan into the White House.
McCain was one of Goldwater’s protégés with the same kind of backers though the agenda was “updated to account for the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of Islamist jihadists, and unbelievable persistence of the neocons, who are now trying to sell us a new war on Iran.” He utterly failed the agenda and lost the election.
But, as in the 1960's, today's anti-New Deal Republicans, ultra-right wing billionaires, right-wing evangelical preachers, and neocon ideologues will not run off with their tails between their legs. They have no shame, not even after the endless embarrassment of the Bush presidency, Wall Street's worst crisis since the Great Depression, and colonial wars we can never win in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan.
The right-wing zealots will, in fact, ratchet up the clichéd mantras that led us into most of the current ca-ca. We all know the routine:
- Leave the free market free of government oversight and regulation.
- Privatize Social Security and government services.
- Pursue free trade with no protection for workers or the environment.
- Expand American control of the world's oil and natural gas, both to benefit Big Oil and as a political weapon to control the behavior of other nations, friend and foe.
- Talk of spreading democracy while propping up dictators.
- Give the Pentagon a budget every year the size of the hopefully one-time Wall Street bailout.
- Leave the military as the heart and soul of our response to militant Islam.
- Continually break down our constitutionally-mandated separation between government and militant Christianity.
This last point is the most recent point of real concern for me. It is easy to see how this played out in the campaign with John McCain and Sarah Palin ratcheting up the xtianist hate. But, when Barack Obama selected bigoted Rick Warren for his inaugural invocation, something died within millions of us. The haters would make that selection, not our guy. Obama had handed us carloads of hope during the campaign.
Steve Weismann . . .
How, then, do the rest of us have any chance to make real the hope that Obama has inspired? I wish I had an easy answer, but reality is far too nuanced.
In terms of policy, the old certainties make no sense. The free market never would have created the Internet. Government did that, ironically enough, through the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency. But government never would have turned the Internet into the liberating force it has become. Independent capitalists and free-lance bloggers did that, though many on the business side are now trying to restrict the promise of "the freedom monster" they helped to create.
Government regulation is a similarly mixed bag. Wise regulations could have prevented the crap-shoot capitalism that is now bringing down the world's financial system. Stupid regulations, by contrast, long preserved monopolistic control of global telecommunications. In much the same way, balanced budgets sometimes make sense, and other times - like now - deeper deficits seem a far better way to go.
From passing future appropriations to creating a new regulatory framework, the devil we face will be in the details, which right-wing zealots and the vested interests they serve have learned to manipulate with earmarks and loopholes. Progressive public interest groups have also learned to play the game, but we badly need tighter regulation of lobbyists and the threat of criminal penalties to enforce absolute transparency.
And here is where my own thought for 2009 coincides with this perspective. My theme for the new year is 2009: Let the Sun Shine. Sunshine in the political sense is transparency. Our only hope is to shine very bright lights on these uncivil, greedy, racist or otherwise corrupt schemes and plans. Exposure to bright light makes the cockroaches scurry. Rats hide from the light of day. Sunshine heals infection and disease.
I found the following website. The Sunlight Foundation
Our work is committed to helping citizens, bloggers and journalists be their own best congressional watchdogs, by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and Web sites to enable all of us to collaborate in fostering greater transparency. Since our founding in the spring of 2006, we have assembled and funded an array of web-based databases and tools including OpenCongress.org, Congresspedia.org, FedSpending.org, OpenSecrets.org, EarmarkWatch.org and LOUISdb.org. These sites make millions of bits of information available online about the members of Congress, their staff, legislation, federal spending and lobbyists.
I plan on visiting these each and every week.
This opens an incredible world of information on what our elected officials are up to in Washington. Explore and find the areas most important to you.
I also hope to meet with a local politico soon to find out how I might better utilize the resources available to me to watchdog my own city hall. I asked the question during the last election about how to look up voting records and I got no answers. This will require follow-up on my part.
And I am going to continue to write about what I learn. Besides writing in this blog, I have my little mobile home park newsletter and I want to start a blog or website of some kind for all of the other mobile home parks in my community. Low income populations are the most vulnerable and most patronized. The council members point at us and make democratic noises, but it is empty nonsense most often. In a wealthy, white community we are tokens for funding. I’d like to learn more about being an advocate for this population.
Again, let the sun shine. In this case it is a kind of message to myself to get out of my home and into the sunshine to meet and greet other people in other parks. And, I may again apply for a recently opened seat on the city council’s environmental committee. So, local and national is where I’d like to see transparency, see the sun shine.
Those who practice politics in the footsteps of Lenin, Goebbels or Karl Rove will, no doubt, find all this naive, undisciplined and even wacky. But what can I tell you? The approach I suggest is more in the spirit of what my generation of activists called participatory democracy. Now turbo-charged by the Internet, it is the best way I know to build the kind of free-wheeling progressive movement that will have the punch to keep today's hope alive.
Freedom is contagious. Try it, you'll like it.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.