I want to take a few minutes to honor the late Joe Bageant, who passed out of this world back in March. Joe was a longtime editor and writer, but only recently came to what prominence he has (or had) through two books: the recent Rainbow Pie, a memoir which describes how he became a “radical redneck,” and “Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War,” a title which, I think, speaks for itself, in a koanish kind of way.
If you’re not familiar with Joe, here’s a couple of quotes that will give you an idea:
“I always say that if Obama was delivered to the White House with Jesus Christ, a five-piece band and six gilded seraphim holding up his f-ing balls he still won’t be able to do anything because the country’s broke and Congress is bought and sold.”
Just for the record, he wrote that when The Socialist Review asked his opinion of Obama’s election. And “f-ing” is a polite contraction of the word he really used. The next quote comes from “Deer Hunting With Jesus”:
“Republican or Democrat, this nation’s affluent urban and suburban classes understand their bread is buttered on the corporate side. The primary difference between the two parties is that the Republicans pretty much admit that they grasp and even endorse some of the nastiest facts of life in America. Republicans honestly tell the world: “Listen in on my phone calls, piss-test me until I’m blind, kill and eat all of my neighbors right in front of my eyes, but show me the money! Let me escape with every cent I can kick out of the suckers, the taxpayers, and anybody else I can get a headlock on, legally or otherwise.” Democrats, in contrast, seem content to catalog the GOP’s outrages against the Republic, showing proper indignation while laughing at episodes of The Daily Show. But they stand behind the American brand: imperialism. They “support our troops,” though you will be hard put to find any of them who have served alongside them or who would send one of their own kids off to lose an eye or an arm in Iraq. They play the imperial game, maintain their credit ratings, and plan to keep the beach house and the retirement investments if it means sacrificing every damned Lynndie England in West Virginia.”
To sum it up: Republicans may be sociopaths, but Democrats are their enablers. What a choice we have in politics! And that brings me to my next subject, the continuing coup here in America, including validation of Joe’s prophetic abilities–there was recently a well-documented incident in which a male Republican government official all but put a female Democrat elected official in a headlock–which, once more sums up the whole situation in one messy image. More on that later.
One of the more prominent arenas in which the struggle between the psychopaths and their enablers is playing out is the various state and national budget battles that are taking place. Let’s look at Minnesota as an example. It may well be a harbinger of things to come for all of us.
The government of Minnesota is currently shut down, because Republicans won’t agree to raise taxes for the wealthiest Minnesotans, arguing that a tax increase on the wealthy hurts everyone.
Now, I have just castigated Democrats for being enablers to their Republican sociopath counterparts, but credit where credit is due: Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Mark Dayton laid out his logic in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
The Minnesota Department of Revenue reports that, as a percentage of income, the wealthiest 10 percent of our citizens pay only three-fourths as much in state and local taxes as do the rest of Minnesotans. The richest 1 percent, who on average make over $1.2 million a year, pay only two-thirds as much.
If they all paid the same percentage of their incomes as everyone else, there would be an additional $4 billion in revenues for the next biennium. That would eliminate two-thirds of our state’s next budget deficit.
It would allow us to begin to restore our commitment to education. To serve our senior citizens. To lower property taxes.
Earlier in the article, Dayton pointed out that property taxes have doubled in Minnesota in the last decade–while Republican Tim “no new taxes” Pawlenty was governor. Property taxes can be very regressive–just because you own land or a house doesn’t mean you have a lot of income, y’know? Somehow, Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with that tax increase. Or maybe, it’s “if we didn’t have to support all these socialistic public schools, we could cut property taxes.” Some school districts in Minnesota have cut back to four-day weeks due to lack of funding. I’m not that crazy about public schools, myself, for a whole host of reasons I don’t have time to go into now–but on the positive side, they can be one of the glues that hold communities together.
The Minnesota Republicans’ stonewalling on tax increases for the richest one percent of Minnesotans harks back to one of the highlights of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, when George Bush said:
This is an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.
And that’s just what Republicans all over the country are doing: working to make the richest richer and to hell with the rest of us. In Spain, everybody knows that “Republicans” is just a polite word for “fascists.” I’d say I wish that awareness would catch on here, but I think there are too many people who don’t care what the opposition calls them as long as they have the most toys. And so the class war drags on, and the selfish wealthy are winning.
Republicans can collect a political majority for two reasons: one–a lot of Americans are gullible and mis-educated enough to believe that, even though they’re not rich, they could get rich and it would make them happy; and two–Republicans believe that because they are right it is OK to bend the rules and cheat like hell. We see this in Republican efforts all over the country to limit voter turnout through increasingly restrictive voter ID laws, voter caging, and creative redistricting.
That’s what happened here in Tennessee when the legislature went Republican for the first time since Reconstruction, a hundred and fifty years ago–and not only did they restrict the hours and days for early voting and require people to produce a photo ID to vote, they rescinded the previous legislature’s bipartisan mandate to switch to a recountable voting system. We vote on computers in this state, and there is no way to tell whether they are accurately recording voter preferences, but there are plenty of ways to hack the machines so that they inaccurately record those preferences–undetectably.
And what else are the Republicans doing with the power they are seizing from all-too-often clueless Democrats?
They seem to be doing their best to turn America into the kind of country George Orwell envisioned in “1984″: a small, well-off, well guarded elite, a slightly larger class of desperate wannabes, and a vast, disempowered, ignorant sea of proles, kept in their place by Fundamentalist Christian Shari’a, in our case, rather than Orwell’s “love of Big Brother.”
The nature of this repression is brought to light in a recent Guardian/ Alternet story focused on a fifteen-year old Mississippi girl who is facing a life sentence for having a miscarriage. Yes, you heard/read that right. Her case, however, is only the tip of the misogynist iceberg: Thirty-eight states have passed or are considering “fetal homicide” laws, which are billed as a protection against assaults on pregnant women–but in South Carolina, where such a law has actually been passed, only one man has even been charged, while three hundred pregnant women have been prosecuted, mostly for having had miscarriages and testing positive for illegal drugs, even though there is no scientifically demonstrable link between drug use and miscarriage. Other states’ “fetal endangerment” laws have resulted in pregnant women being charged with child abuse and sent to prison simply for testing positive for marijuana. Is the mother or the prosecutor engaging in “reckless endangerment” here? Is it not truly Orwellian when we criminalize body chemistry rather than behavior?
But the bullying isn’t just at the relatively impersonal, prosecutorial level. In at least one case, in Wisconsin, there has allegedly been one-on-one physical abuse. Newly elected Republican Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Bradley, a Democrat, by the neck after she asked him to leave her office for referring to the Democrat Chief Justice of the Court, Shirley Abrahamson, as “a total bitch,” and threatening to “destroy her.” Is this not the language of abuse? What is this abusive man doing on the Wisconsin Supreme Court? Elected, no less? This is a sad reflection on our country.
So, seeing the Republican and Democrat Parties as locked into abuser/enabler roles is not just a metaphor. American politics are dangerously dysfunctional, and, short of the Green Party pulling off an electoral miracle in the next few cycles, likely to become even dumber and more deadlocked as we drift into the future. The coup that was launched with the Supreme Court’s selection of Cheney and Bush as winners of the 2000 election will continue. Republicans may succeed in their battle for complete control of the ship of state. Congress can pass resolutions declaring that the roar of the waterfall ahead is merely a figment of Al Gore’s imagination, and continue to focus the power of the government on oppressing the people rather than saving the planet, but the reality is that the current is only going to get swifter, and the roar is only going to get louder, and sooner or later the American ship of state will lurch over the waterfall at the end of oil and empire, and crash onto the rocks below, dashing all the Republifascists’ control fantasies in the process. They can’t say they weren’t warned.