by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 16, 2011
CONSERVATIVES TO NEEDY AMERICANS: DROP DEAD
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's not news that the Tea Party radicals are now the tail that is wagging the Republican Party dog.
The mix of social conservatives, limited government advocates, and virulent Obama haters that make up the ranks of the Tea Party are convinced that the answer to our nation's economic woes is to wipe out the welfare state.
But Republicans are finding out that most Americans rather like Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, food inspections, clean air and water, bridges that don't collapse, public education, and all the rest of what we've come to expect in a civilized nation.
The Tea Partiers will have none of that, though. Speaking to Slate.com political reporter Dave Weigel at the annual Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (you may remember him from the 2004 presidential election, when he did everything he could to rig the voting process to prevent Democratic nominee John Kerry from winning the state) outlined the ultimate goal of this political movement.
"Clean water is important to us," said Blackwell. "Decent housing is important to us. But they're not rights. And we have to begin to say that what's important is that we in a rational way are able to reform these programs in a way to save them.
"And, yes, if it means that somewhere down the line individuals have to make sacrifices, because the rationalization of the system means we save it, but we are also doing it in a more efficient way.
"I don't think too many Americans will object to that. At the end of the day, we're going to get back to making sure we're in a position to finance the wars in which we engage. Does that mean we can do that without sacrificing? No. We have to make sacrifices. But what's more important? Our freedom and security or the gluttony of the federal government?"
Blackwell isn't a random crank. He runs the Ohio affiliate of the Faith & Freedom Coalition (the latest political project of freelance morality consultant Ralph Reed, the former head of the late and unlamented Christian Coalition) and is considering a run against incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown for the U.S. Senate. His electoral chicanery in 2004 endeared him to conservatives in the same way that Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State who helped steal the 2000 election for George W. Bush, became a GOP rock star, albeit temporarily.
Just the same, Blackwell is breathtakingly callous. He dismisses things like clean water and decent housing as being nice to have, but not things that members of a civilized society can claim as a right. At the same time, he claims that human needs must take a back seat to paying for our wars.
Unfortunately, this is a standard article of faith among hard-core conservatives who believe that the primary functions of government are to secure the borders and wage war. Everything else is an infringement on personal liberty.
Again, most civilized societies believe that clean air, clean water, adequate food and decent shelter are basic human needs that are necessary for survival. Meeting those needs for everyone is the most basic obligation for any group of humans from a tribe to a nation-state.
A cursory glance through the history books will tell you that as human social organizations grew larger and more complex, the need to make sure that basic needs are met for all members of society became a prerequisite for growth.
From the Romans to the present day, this formula hasn't changed. Individuals can only do much on their own. It is when people come together collectively that great things get done, from the aquaducts and roads of Rome to the Internet of today. And the way that civilized societies act collectively is through government.
We'll leave aside Blackwell's belief that paying for war is more important than clean water and decent housing. Instead, consider what is at the heart of what Blackwell and other Tea Partiers are saying - that nobody has a fundamental right to anything, not unless they can provide it for themselves.
Is this what conservatism has come to? To no longer have any interest in the public good? To say that being a citizen of the self-proclaimed greatest nation on Earth is no guarantee that your basic human needs will be met? That providing for these human needs is governmental gluttony, while waging war is the most important, and the only legitimate task, that government can do?
You can't get a more starker contrast than this. Does this nation still believe in the vision of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, of government working for the common good? Or does it believe in the Tea Party vision of every man for himself, and too bad for you if you are poor, jobless, sick, or homeless?
This is why it is senseless for Democrats at every level of government to try and compromise with Republicans who hate government, don't believe in the common good, and think the so-called magic of the free market can solve every economic and societal ill.
Thankfully, more and more Americans are catching on to the idea that selfishness is not a good organizing principle for our nation, and have begun to see that the rich and powerful -- the people who have been subsidizing the Tea Party movement over the past couple of years - only care about getting richer and more powerful.
This doesn't mean that the values of liberalism are winning. It only means that the people who are willing to fight for these values against the nihilism of the Tea Partiers have a better chance of prevailing, and perhaps saving what's left of our democracy in the process.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.