Since the latter part of the last decade of the 20th Century, the once-great United States of America has fallen into a trap. That trap is that we can continue to be great without paying the price for greatness.
Everyone knows the price but no one is willing to pay it. The price is a higher cost of living. It is the result of wasteful expenditures by government.
Government spending is not wasted on the poor, or on education or on the elderly or even on medical care for those on welfare or the children of poor families. It is not wasted on Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. Government spending on the people is never wasted. It is what makes a great country, like Sweden or Norway or Germany or Spain or France or Italy or Great Britain. These are all great countries. But not because of the Volvo or Siemens or Gucci. They are great countries for the way they treat their people.
The Right Wing of the Neocon Party in this country likes to ridicule these countries. And these countries, if they ever do recognize that it is happening–which is probably unlikely–would merely smile. The idea that a certain segment of Americans, the least sophisticated, least educated, most superstitious and hypocritical could mount an attack of sarcasm on Europeans is ridiculous. The only thing that Europeans do not have that we have is space. On the other hand, they have about a thousand years of true culture, education and experience over our Right Wing Neocons. Thanks to world-wide communications, however, they also have every aspect of American culture which they choose to enjoy.
Do you think that the French worried when these gun-nut, pseudo-patriotic, born-again, morons were calling french fries “freedom fries?” France was far too savvy to participate in a foolish, wasteful war against a country like Iraq in order to contain one man. If we had not been the most powerful, warlike and reckless military country in the world, we would have been a laughing stock. But war is not funny…ever.
Then, when the Neocons in their arrogance and bravado continued their attacks on what was reasonable and sensible…and when this group of Right Wing fools in the Bush Adminstration was re-elected, Europeans got mad. With some justification, they began to turn against a people for whom they had literally poured out sympathy two years earlier. They quite naturally resented being told what they must do by a country that they had supported and offered any assistance two years earlier, when it truly was important. Bush and Cheney were seen by the world as war mongers. They were.
What kind of ideology would attack long-time friends and allies for their failure to participate in what was billed by the Bush Administration as a cake walk? If it was a cake walk, why would they be necessary? Why would they care that the French or Germans would not want to enter Baghdad and experience, as Dick Cheney said, the citizens spreading rose petals in their path?
The reason that the Bush Adminstration could not understand this has to do with a very narrow political ideology, almost a religion. Europeans were not interested in becoming Fundamentalist Christians. Even in this country, we began to understand that fanaticism had become mixed with politics.
There is an example that demonstrates what was wrong. It is not merely coincidental that the Office of Special Counsel in the Bush Administration, responsible for insuring that government employees are not harassed for their sexual preferences or their political beliefs, hired law school graduates from the as-yet unaccredited Ave Maria Law School, founded by Catholic anti-abortion advocate and philanthropist, Tom Monaghan. It was no accident that the justice department of the Bush Administration hired 150 attorneys from Pat Robertson’s Regent Law School. Regent Law School was so poorly rated that it took ten years for it to be accredited.
The head of the Office of Special Counsel, and these law school grads sat on hundreds of files of complaints and dismissed a large number of them without any action at all. The Regent graduates in the Justice Department were put into similar situations where their personal beliefs rather than their law school education were the criteria. One, Monica Goodling, with almost no experience at all, became the liaison between the White House and the Justice Department, involved in the firing of 8 U.S. Attorneys around the country who would not follow instructions on investigating or indicting Democratic candidates or officials for political reasons. They were fired because they were Republicans first and fanatic ideologists second. The Regent graduates were hired because they understood that political ideology came first and impartiality second.
The head of the Office of Special Counsel was eventually investigated by the FBI and forced out of office for incompetence and illegal political cronyism.
So this begs the question why people who are so dedicated to religious beliefs that they attend university law schools of very modest reputation but singular religious focus should be offered positions of great responsibility in government. If they attend these schools because of religious belief, while they may be socially responsible and dedicated to helping their fellow man, it has become clear that they also tend to proselytize. Normally even that would not be a problem. But these were people…some must still be in place…whose religious beliefs and political beliefs citizens expect will not become intertwined when making decisions that affect everyone in society.
When those kinds of individuals are selected for their political loyalty and support of a policy that coordinates with their personal religious beliefs, then their service becomes suspect. Always and in every case, the good of the people comes first, not an attorney’s personal religious beliefs. Both Pat Robertson and Tom Monaghan are hyper-serious advocates for their religious beliefs. The problem is not with their believing them or preaching and converting people to their way of thinking about a deity. The problem is not with their starting law schools that may be attended by people who will go out in the world to defend those beliefs. The problem is when government tries to pack departments with loyal party members who want to apply these kinds of beliefs to government that must be administered for everyone, not simply one segment of society.
This is a secular nation. We do not allow religious groups to insinuate themselves into government in order to create laws for the entire society that have their origins and application in the religion of a few. It is why our government often seems so slow and cumbersome. Two examples: both Robertson and the Catholic Church are anti-abortion and anti-homosexual. We must consider when making laws that there are circumstances when an abortion is necessary. We must remember that medical opinion says that homosexuality is determined at an early age and is not a transient personality trait.
This is the reality. The fantasy is what we would all like to believe. That Santa Claus will really come. That physiology is perfect and all children can really grow up to be President, and that the extraordinary circumstance, for most of us, that men who are attracted to men and women who are attracted to women are for some reason a part of nature. That is the reality and we cannot change it by prayer. But the Neocon administrations, like that of George W. Bush hire these people in order to perpetrate a fantasy. And they do it for one reason: votes. Right Wing Fundamentalist Evangelicals now use marketing and promotion techniques and hyperbolic rhetoric to create church memberships of ten to twenty thousand members who will do what their pastors tell them. The Catholic Church has tens of millions of members who are told by the Church how to behave and more and more these days, how to vote.
So let’s go back to the original idea. We have all kinds of people who believe in things that are not real. People believe in ghosts. They believe in Bigfoot, in UFOs. They believe that America was a country of total equality at a time when a large percentage of the country were slaves. We believe that it was somehow our destiny to come here and conquer this continent, replacing those who lived here as owners. A whole section of our country was inhabited and controlled by people who spoke and talked about freedom and equality yet owned other human beings who had neither.
So fantasy and reality have always lived side-by-side in this country. Slavery was real, especially for the slaves. But equality was a fantasy, believed by many who could rationalize it to the point of anger when challenged about it…about owning other human beings. The point is that we often ignore reality in this country. There were real slaves who were real people; there were real plantations, real masters and real, backbreaking work. What was not real was the acceptance that slavery was wrong. It was such a horrible, and once in place, intractable situation that it became unreal. It was happening but it was so wrong, such an enormous invasion of human rights of others that we looked away. Sometimes something is so evil that many cannot handle even the thought. They turn away in horror and only the strong who can face the reality are able to create change.
We have formed some of these situations into great myths. For generations we created the myth that Americans went west to seek the new frontier to expand the country. The fact is that our families moved west to find wealth and a more open lifestyle. We created the myth that it was all about opportunity, with liberty and fairness towards all. Of course, now we understand that we were not fair to women until the early 1900s when they fought and won the right to vote. We were not fair to African-Americans who were deprived of an education until the early 1900s and then not given equal treatment as citizens until the 1960s. We were not fair to the entire populations of the former Spanish lands of the Southwest whose lands and wealth we simply confiscated. Nor were we completely fair to our Japanese-American citizens whom we interned for several years during WWII.
Were we fair to many young Americans who were drafted, inducted into the Army, sent to Viet Nam and died there, while others, including a man who eventually became President of the United States and his Vice President evaded the draft? If that were not enough, was it fair that these two draft dodgers later sent soldiers to their deaths in a war they created by lying to the American public?
So is it a fantasy or reality this concept of American “equality?” The best we can say of it is probably that what we have done is the best we could do. We changed for the better those things that we were able to change. And we made the best of those situations that we, as a society, were not yet ready or could not yet find the majority to change.
So what is our current reality? Do we even know what it is and, if we do, are we willing to look it straight in the eye? We know from the tea party marchers that some of us are completely and totally confused and others, as a result of their confusion, are simply angry at everyone. They make complaints and make derogatory comments about the very people who are in the process of addressing those problems! They become so frustrated that their racism, once sublimated by rational thought, again surfaces as they thrash about, manipulated by those on the Right who have a very specific reason for their protests–to defeat those who would cost their corporate interests money or change in policy, like reducing their profits from health care insurance.
The current reality of the country is this: We made a serious mistake in 2000. We allowed the Right Wing of the Neoconservative Party to steal the election from Al Gore. Some will say immediately—good! We didn’t get Lieberman. Well, that is good now, but remember that then, we had no Iraq war and never would have had one. We would have had a liberal President and a liberal Vice President.
We would have continued to pay down the debt and, at some point in that era, someone would have decided, probably at least partially for political reasons, to go after health care reform. Lieberman would have had a bigger prize than he does now from his health insurance lobby money…the Presidency. He would have been the logical guy for Gore to put on health care reform and if he succeeded, it would have been a centerpiece of his own run for the Presidency in 2008.
It would have been done, if at all, four years ago, in a second Gore term, Lieberman might have fought for it aggressively because he would have wanted to use it for the Presidential campaign in 2008. Obama would have been off the radar. Thus, Lieberman, instead of fighting against health care as he is now, because he needs insurance money for the next campaign which he will probably lose, he would instead be the hero of health care reform. He would have moved more to his natural side, the Left, and maybe hired on a Senator from Illinois as his running mate. A Jew and an African American. Our mothers would be proud. But we had a different reality. We had eight years of Bush incompetence.
We can dream, fantasize. Things would be different now. Four thousand more American soldiers would still be alive. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive. Saddam Hussein would have been assassinated by either a bomb or an air strike, depending upon how aggressive we could get him to be. About a thousand Iraqis, mostly the palace guard would be dead and we would be at least a trillion dollars richer. We probably would have been hit on 9/11, but there is a 90% probability that Osama bin Laden would be dead and a huge number of Al Qaeda…almost all of them…dead. U.S. Manufacturers would not have sent jobs abroad; banks would not have speculated; Fox News would never have gained a foothold; there would have been no Depression and the deficit would be approximately $6 trillion rather than $12 trillion…and going very, very slowly…down.
Instead of our first black President, we would have the first Jewish President and the first black Vice President. Social Security would be solvent and Medicare, soon to be part of a new national health care system would be part of an expanded national health services system that would include, Medicare, expanded Medicare, (dropping the age to 55), SCHIPS, expanded and improved Medicaid, the VA.
The majority of Americans would be in the regular health care system, which, under insurance guy Lieberman, would be a competition between the for-profit health insurance companies and the non-profits, which would once again be Blue Cross and Blue Shield. These companies which always had been the low-cost non-profit alternatives until Reagan, would have been converted back to non-profits and to offer reasonable health insurance rates and good service. During Reagan they were made for-profit, so that health care could “compete and be more efficient.” Sure, and where’s my Florida swamp land!
I’m guessing Lieberman would have figured out a way to restore these companies to non-profit status, killed the monopoly regulations and simply let everyone compete. It would have an effect similar to that of the so called public option. The non-profits would compete with the for-profit companies. Lieberman would have sold all these things to the insurance industry four years ago. Today we would be working on extending it to almost everyone. Lieberman may be a turncoat but he understands power. He would have made the insurance companies an offer that they could not refuse–do it or we’ll go to a single payer system. After all, if he were going to become President, he wouldn’t need to be in their pockets exclusively. He’d have a lot more industries to loot for campaign funds.
So, this plan would be in effect right now and we would be looking in 2012 for Lieberman to run on his success at accomplishing all the above during the Gore era and his then viable promise to improve on it in 2012.
Lieberman, as you can see, would have been a great vice president, and perhaps even a great president. But the cold, hard reality is that Bush became President and Lieberman took another path. Our reality today is different and so is his. He’ll never be President, never be Vice President and a very high probability that he will never be a Senator again after this term.