Rambling thoughts, health care, libertarianism, the uselessness of movement conservatism

by Jay Stevens

Here’s an op-ed from last week, from Yukio Hatoyama, Japan’s Democratic Party candidate for Prime Minister, that’s worth taking a look at:

The economic order in any country is built up over long years and reflects the influence of traditions, habits and national lifestyles. But globalism has progressed without any regard for non-economic values, or for environmental issues or problems of resource restriction.

If we look back on the changes in Japanese society since the end of the Cold War, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that the global economy has damaged traditional economic activities and destroyed local communities.

In terms of market theory, people are simply personnel expenses. But in the real world people support the fabric of the local community and are the physical embodiment of its lifestyle, traditions and culture. An individual gains respect as a person by acquiring a job and a role within the local community and being able to maintain his family’s livelihood.

Under the principle of fraternity, we would not implement policies that leave areas relating to human lives and safety — such as agriculture, the environment and medicine — to the mercy of globalism.

Our responsibility as politicians is to refocus our attention on those non-economic values that have been thrown aside by the march of globalism. We must work on policies that regenerate the ties that bring people together, that take greater account of nature and the environment, that rebuild welfare and medical systems, that provide better education and child-rearing support, and that address wealth disparities.

Hatoyama’s concern is foreign policy, and urges the United States to abandon its recent desire to set itself up at the center of a “free market” capitalistic and global hegemony – and putting itself at odds with a multi-polar block of midsize countries looking to retain their own national identities and avoid getting crushed by runaway globalization. I like the advice, but whatever.

But what Hatoyama describes as conflicting forces – unbridled global corporate capitalism set against communities – seems spot on and vitally important. And it seems to me the real division in American politics, a division that spans political party – although offhand I can’t think of any national-level Republicans that oppose this destructive form of global greed – forms around the forces described by Hatoyama. Healthcare reform, climate change legislation, credit card reform, etc & co, are all issues that pit large corporate interests against the health and well-being of everyday citizens and the viability of our communities.

And pro-corporate unfettered market capitalism has subsumed the Republican party and its base, and stripped it of any meaning or usefulness. Check out this interview with Sam Tanenhaus on the death of conservatism as a “vital, contributive force.” Tanenhaus – quite rightly, IMHO – calls the contemporary conservative movement the “politics of resentment, anger, and revenge”; today’s dominant conservative force is one that has no notion of the use of government for the benefit of society. In short, it’s completely devoid of any positive vision and utilized solely as an opposition movement to block any meaningful policies that oppose corporate dominance. The only conservative intellectual basis for corporate control – fiscal libertarianism – is a kind of rhetorical moebius strip that views people – with all of their cultures and traditions and illogical nature of contentment – as inconvenient and unwanted contaminants in their otherwise perfect economic theories.

All that’s left for discourse from the right are Obama Hitler posters.

You object? Read this blog post from Eric Ethridge about the state of our “meritocracy.” Here’s a quote pulled from it that originated with the AmPro’s Adam Serwer:

Last week, Greg Mankiw wrote a post casually asserting that people with “good genes” make lots of money and pass their intelligence off to their kids who then get high SAT scores. John Sides and Brad DeLong demolished Mankiw’s argument, but I think Mankiw’s assumption is informative here: The right doesn’t mind privilege being retained, by whatever means, within those groups that already have it, because it proves their theories about meritocracy. But when someone like Sonia Sotomayor goes from the South Bronx to Princeton valedictorian to the Supreme Court, it forces the question of how much people of privilege depend on their circumstances — their financial and social advantages — to succeed rather than their ability or intelligence. That’s uncomfortable for some people to think about, and it’s part of why Sonia Sotomayor provokes outrage over “merit,” while glaring examples of preferential treatment for the privileged do not.

And it’s conservative rhetoric and activism that opposes any reforms that make our society more egalitarian, that batter down the economic and social obstacles to success, that protect communities from the unthinking love of profit.

Not that I think middle- and working-class supporters of conservatism view themselves as privileged or elite – nor are they. I think they see things like affirmative action or funding of the Indian Health Service or single-payer health insurance as a drag on their own fragile domestic economies and an unfair additional obstacle to their own well-being. Of course, they miss the holistic benefits of these policies – cheaper health insurance, say, or less taxpayer money spent on severe health problems endemic to reservations. I also think the years of civil rights struggles for women, racial minorities, gays, etc. have caused blue collar whites to believe (helpfully pushed by GOP politicos) that progressive policies are intended to benefit someone else, at their expense.

I ramble. The point here is that we are at a crucial period of American political history, and we need to seize this time to make crucial reform. Healthcare reform is the first – and it needs to affect everyone positively, or else it’ll reaffirm fears that progressives and liberals care only about someone else.

And, honestly? I’m not doing all this writing and advocacy and activism for someone else. I’m doing it for me. I need health insurance reform. I need cheaper bills, and I need my insurers to honor their obligations, and I need to know that, if my children have a medical emergency, it won’t bankrupt the family.

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