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Friday, October 05, 2007

The legacy of Lee Atwater: Making America safe for mean-spiritedness
Posted by Jill | 6:52 AM
The coarsened political environment that pundits decry and then perpetuate is the legacy of Republican strategist Lee Atwater, who helped Ronald Reagan implement his "I Got Mine and Fuck You" economic policies with a smile. But underneath the smiles and the geniality lay a profound sense of entitlement; that the wealthy were that way because they were simply better people than the poor. The middle class was there only to manipulate, to pull them over to the side of the wealthy with rhetoric about shining cities on a hill and false promises that if you only worked as hard as they did, you too could enter the club. This served, and continues to serve to this day, to make sure that the middle class shared their loathing of the unfortunate and allow punitive economic policy to become a reality. In the Reagan years it was welfare queens with Cadillacs. Today it's immigrants. Either way, it's manipulating people into loathing what they fear most.

The problem is that after nearly thirty years of uninterrupted Republican and DLC rule, the middle class is finally realizing that the door to the country club is padlocked. A health care system reliant on employer-provided insurance now has ever-fewer employers offering health insurance. Private insurance is prohibitively expensive, as is the COBRA coverage to which laid-off workers are entitled for eighteen months, because the latter involves the employee paying the entire premium, something one is ill-equipped to do while on unemployment compensation. My own insurance, which covers Mr. Brilliant and me, would cost us $13,000/year on COBRA. Let's not even get into the fact that for-profit insurance is about denying rather than paying for care.

Health insurance costs for working families are rising four times faster than wages, and American workers find themselves increasingly in a low-wage economy, as high-paying jobs move overseas.

But inside the beltway, American workers dealing with lower pay, fewer benefits, and spiralling health insurance costs are the new welfare queens. For those whose jobs are not in any danger of being outsourced and whose benefits are secure, that those Americans who haven't bought into the I Got Mine And Fuck You Doctrine is hysterically funny.

Paul Krugman:

Here’s what Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political figure: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.”

Today’s leading conservatives are Reagan’s heirs. If you’re poor, if you don’t have health insurance, if you’re sick — well, they don’t think it’s a serious issue. In fact, they think it’s funny.

On Wednesday, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded S-chip, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health insurance to an estimated 3.8 million children who would otherwise lack coverage.

In anticipation of the veto, William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, had this to say: “First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it’s a good idea. I’m happy that the president’s willing to do something bad for the kids.” Heh-heh-heh.

Most conservatives are more careful than Mr. Kristol. They try to preserve the appearance that they really do care about those less fortunate than themselves. But the truth is that they aren’t bothered by the fact that almost nine million children in America lack health insurance. They don’t think it’s a problem.

“I mean, people have access to health care in America,” said Mr. Bush in July. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

And on the day of the veto, Mr. Bush dismissed the whole issue of uninsured children as a media myth. Referring to Medicaid spending — which fails to reach many children — he declared that “when they say, well, poor children aren’t being covered in America, if that’s what you’re hearing on your TV screens, I’m telling you there’s $35.5 billion worth of reasons not to believe that.”

It’s not just the poor who find their travails belittled and mocked. The sick receive the same treatment.

Before the last election, the actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s and has become an advocate for stem cell research that might lead to a cure, made an ad in support of Claire McCaskill, the Democratic candidate for Senator in Missouri. It was an effective ad, in part because Mr. Fox’s affliction was obvious.

And Rush Limbaugh — displaying the same style he exhibited in his recent claim that members of the military who oppose the Iraq war are “phony soldiers” and his later comparison of a wounded vet who criticized him for that remark to a suicide bomber — immediately accused Mr. Fox of faking it. “In this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking. And it’s purely an act.” Heh-heh-heh.


Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that’s when he’s speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the flooding of New Orleans was when he declared “zero tolerance of people breaking the law,” even those breaking into abandoned stores in search of the food and water they weren’t getting from his administration.

What’s happening, presumably, is that modern movement conservatism attracts a certain personality type. If you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don’t belong. If you think ridicule is an appropriate response to other peoples’ woes, you fit right in.

William Kristol is the son of one of the founding fathers of the neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol. He went to a fancy prep school. He was able to establish The Weekly Standard with fellow neocon scion John Podhoretz with the help of family friend Rupert Murdoch. Presumably he is insured by either the Standard, Fox News, the American Enterprise Institute, or Harvard University, where he is a visiting professor. Not exactly a guy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and pays for health insurance on the open market.

We all know about George W. Bush, and how his cowboy rancher persona is just that. His wealth is estimated in the $20 million range. He is the beneficiary of health insurance paid for by the taxpayers. He comes from a family whose matriarch made her donations for Hurricane Katrina relief contingent on the funds going to her son Neil's educational software company and said that for those dispossessed living in the Houston Astrodome:

And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Both of these guys think it's funny when families can't afford what they take for granted.

This is the modern conservative movement. These are rich guys who were, as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush, "born on third base and think they hit a triple." There's no sense of noblesse oblige here. The overarching philosophy of modern conservatism is "I got mine and fuck you."

And this is what they want to spread around the world.

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