Monday, November 02, 2009

The Third Estate Wants Its Way Again

This morning's Politico attributes the death of centrism in the Republican party to the overwhelmingly insatiable demands of the far-right riffraff. The sans-culottes throngs certainly have pitched some pretty parades over the past few months, haven't they? Heads have, metaphorically speaking, rolled and more are almost certain to take their place underneath the unforgiving guillotine. Yet, to insist that this was a movement spearheaded by the party itself would not be correct. This summer the GOP establishment tried to harness the energy of the rabble and found that it marched to no one's orders but its own.

“I don’t give a crap about party,” said Jennifer Bernstone, a tea party organizer for Central New York 912, which helped to lead the anti-Scozzafava charge. “Grass-roots activists don’t care about party.”

Says Everett Wilkinson, a tea party organizer in Florida: “We are not going to allow our [movement] to be stolen by the GOP or by any political party.”

In comparison, a recent article underscores the means by which Republicans and Republicrats have been able to keep control over their flock. Its name is, unsurprisingly, low taxation and less government. In conservative states in the South, such as Alabama, residents have been less inclined towards open revolt as a result of being placated by the same predictable tactics. Arguably, these policies have kept the entire state, if not the region, solidly backwards and lagging behind the rest of the country, but if taxation has been equated with wasteful, corrupt liberalism for so many years that people no longer know how to tell the difference between the truth and self-serving spin, then therein lies the heart of the matter.

Relatively low taxes help attract businesses and retirees to the state, Gov. Bob Riley (R) said.

But teachers' lobbyist Paul Hubbert said Alabama's relatively low taxes also limit governments' ability to provide good schools, roads and other services.

Ay, there's the rub. Much of quality of life is a trade off and in seeking the short-term gain over the long-term fix, we all end up behind the times. Soft-soap never cleanses the same way as the temporarily abrasive nature of hard truths and a corresponding good scrubbing. As for red state realities, in a place where conservative Democrats still reign, albeit with little difference between that of their Republican counterparts, here are these same talking points with a slightly different spin.

State Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said Alabamians like low taxes.

He also said relatively low taxes are a big reason Democrats still control Alabama's Senate and House of Representatives, while legislatures in several Southeastern states, such as Florida and Georgia, are controlled by Republicans.

"I think it's because we've been conservative and very prudent about raising people's taxes," said Barron, who chairs the Senate's agenda-setting Rules Committee.

Here we have big Republicans with an R and little Republicans with D, but one should not be confused somehow with the distinction. All are Republicans.

But state school Superintendent Joe Morton said there's a drawback to relatively low taxes.

"It's hard to be No. 1 in education if you're No. 50 in spending capability," Morton said. "Everybody wants us to be better in education, and it's hard to do that with very, very limited capital."

Hubbert said Alabama's tax ranking puts the state at a disadvantage in providing education, health care, roads, police protection and other services, factors he said many companies consider when scouting office or plant locations.

"Probably it's not too impressive to some of the major corporations looking for a place where the quality of life might be as important to them as cheap wages," said Hubbert, who is executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association.

This is what a 9/12 world would look like. Those who have grown up with excellent public schools, well-respected higher institutes of learning, well-maintained roads, sufficient police and fire departments, a literate, well-informed populace, and all the other amenities and creature comforts that stem from it like a good Farmer's Market and a Whole Foods every three blocks---you would have to forsake such things. People like me and many others who were raised without the amenities that so many people in blue states and blue cities routinely take for granted find the rhetoric of these conservative loons nonsensical for many reasons, this being only one of out of many. And along these same lines, I raise the question: What would a 9/12 world look like?

If you enjoy begging Washington, DC, for a federal grant to fund a deserving and necessary program that the state claims it doesn't have the money the support, then stand up for a 9/12 world. If you think waiting hours at the DMV because not enough tax revenue exists to fund additional sites that would reduce the burden, the throw your weight behind a 9/12 world. If you believe public transportation means a grand total of five aging buses, no rail system to speak of, and a five hour wait in between stops at certain locations, then the 9/12 crowd is for you. If you think the success of a high school football team is far more important than educating and instructing teenagers so that they are best prepared for college, then pray every day we'll someday reach a 9/12 world. If you are more than willing to recycle each week's worth of plastic, glass, and aluminum, but find that such services don't exist at all, or instead of being picked up at your curb are relegated to one drop-off location twenty-five miles one way from you in the middle of the city, then the 9/12 folks are your kind. If you find yourselves wondering why culture seems to be confused with a thousand identical Walmart Super Centers, not even one solitary art gallery, then be my guest, join the 9/12 movement.

I could keep going, but I believe I have made my point. No one in his or her right mind stands for corruption, waste, graft, or greed of any kind. I read an article the other day stating how peoples' opinion of government had shifted dramatically over the decades. Immediately following the New Deal, seventy-five percent of people surveyed believed that government was efficient and had its own best interest at heart. Now, according to the survey, that number is somewhere around twenty-five percent. I've come to realize over the past nine months that it will take more than just the implementation of a successful agenda to change skeptical minds. People want results, true, but it takes years to reverse pessimism this extreme and this systemic. When we fight back, our arguments often reveal our privilege quite unintentionally. We do not often talk directly to those who oppose us, we either talk over them or we do not find analogies and lines of discourse that appeal directly to their sensibilities. Some will not listen and I acknowledge that, too. Still, many people on the other side simply have never had anyone bother to question their assumptions or to respectfully set forth a contrary view, both of which would go a long way towards pushing the debate forward not bogging it down in continued stalemate. As it stands now, it seems as though we are speaking separate languages, and though both might have a common ancestor, no one is willing to learn the native tongue of the other. Simple bipartisanship is not sufficient. We have to think beyond party. Party is what got us into this mess and it certainly will not get us out of it, either.

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