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September 7, 2005

Toxic waters

Posted by Phil on September 7, 2005 3:40 PM

I don't think it's rotten for anyone to want safety and order. The liberal challenge isn't to single-mindedly tolerate even junkies, crazies, and looters; it's to maintain the intellectual/ideological balance between that and surrendering to selfishness and class bigotry. That's hard, that balance; it's hard because it's the entire crux of social organization.

What's rotten is to wall off the unfortunate and pocket the tax rebate we get for pretending they aren't there. Moreover, it's just as short-sighted, impractical, and ultimately costly, in every sense, as any imagined program of liberal molly-coddling could ever be. Class conflagrations are like hurricanes themselves, and everybody who wants to spend money on palliative or protective measures is a chump, until one hits.

Now we see how well conservatives protect us, from external disaster and internal disorder. Now we see to where their policies bring us. It may not have been his goal, but Grover Norquist's vision of government is hopefully small enough to have drowned in the bathtub of New Orleans.

Sunday afternoon some blowhard at our swimming pool was chewing my friend David's ear, saying, out of annoyance with critics of the president, that they didn't get out when they were warned, and now they're looting, so why should I care about them? "I'm not there. All I know is gas prices are up." (I was a bystander to this. I offered, "But those were people who couldn't get out," but he'd have none of it, and I was collecting our stuff to leave, and that way lay only trouble anyway.)

You know those people--and, of course, far worse--are out there in great numbers, but it's sort of stunning to meet them in civil conversation. On the way home I said to Cindy that such people always seem to trap you and go on and on, daring you to challenge them, maybe even dying for you to; and I said it's because that attitude is fundamentally SELFISH, and they KNOW it's selfish (because many of them are "church people"), so they need constant affirmation. And of course common courtesy prevents you from flatly saying, "That's fucked," and so they receive it, or can believe they have.

Then that evening I found that link to someone who called conservatism "a rationalization of selfishness," and felt quite pleased with myself. Except it isn't enlightened selfishness, it's delusional greed, and now we have seen the delusion crumble. They're not protecting society, they're denying they have any obligation to do so. They're denying that the competitive free market produces losers as well as winners, and losing begets losing just as money begets power.

I'm selfish. I want law and order. I want trouble-free public schools. I don't want drifters in my yard. But I'm not under any illusion that we can just invest our dividends, make Bibles available, and society will be secure.

This isn't about any "blame game" or partisanship, this is about ideology, and theirs has been shown for the hollowed-out lie that it is. George Will dropped some Hobbes on Newsweek readers this week, rattling his teacup over the Boschian catacomb into which the dripping-fanged savages pulled New Orleans last week. He did generously allow that this was "a liberal moment" for its illumination of the necessity "and dignity" of the public sector, and that it was "a conservative moment" because only they are sufficiently pessimistic about human nature to protect us from the Leviathan whose scales we so recently glimpsed.

I won't deny there were some bad motherfuckers on the loose last week. We'll never know how many or the true extent of whatever mischief they got up to, but I hardly think they're significant except as an indicator of our authorities' failure: after all, even the Pentagon will tell you there are a few bad apples in every barrel.

But the economic "state of nature" so sacrosanct to today's Republican Party has allowed Enron, Halliburton, the profiteering oil companies, Rumsfeld's Pentagon, and Dick Cheney and George W. Bush to rob American consumers and taxpayers of BILLIONS--far more thoroughly and efficiently than any poor black man with a shopping cart and a stolen gun. They will continue to do so: Halliburton has already won contracts to repair the damage of Hurricane Katrina. Joe Allbaugh, the former director of FEMA who left the agency to his old crony Michael Brown so he could hook up Iraq War carpetbaggers with federal contracts, is now in Louisiana "helping coordinate the private-sector response to the storm." And a healthy amount of all that money will end up in the campaign coffers of the leaders responsible for the damage.

Law-and-order conservatives have done nothing to protect us from man or nature. Only a fool would believe they'd handle a terrorist attack less disastrously than they handled this hurricane. Under their own newly punitive system, they have clearly gone bankrupt.

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