Monday, February 19, 2018

From Ronald Reagan to Rand Paul: Americanism's Great Failed Notion May Be "Personal Responsibility"

When Reagan intoned that government was the problem, not the solution, he set in motion the modern concept of governance -- less is more. What was truly needed was "personal responsibility." How very American and how, quite likely, dead wrong.

Ronald Reagan, performance artist and inventor of homeless people.

The presidency of Ronald Reagan did mark a change away from government solutions to societal problems and toward individual solutions to societal problems (hope you catch how oxymoronic that is). And the snark in the caption to the above photo is not snark at all. Even during his time as California governor he worked to get the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the streets where, in his view, they belonged.

When you multiply Ronald Reagan's anti-government-as-solution stance by Rand Paul's government-can't-regulate-me dictum you'll likely get a society that doesn't know what the fuck it's doing or is supposed to be doing. And that's the world I see shaping up in American life today, though its roots are back in the Reagan years.

Conservatives might say it represents a victory for their ideology, while liberals will point out you get what you pay -- or don't pay -- for.

If you like what we've got here in America, then maybe the conservatives have a point. But I offer this in rebuttal. (First I want to stipulate that what FDR and LBJ accomplished with their agendas are not all that different from what Eisenhower did or Truman and Nixon would have done for social services and environmental protections. After all, Nixon gave us the E.P.A. and expanded Medicare, and Truman did try to introduce a national healthcare system.)
  • Should we be happy with a healthcare system ranked 37th in the world for quality and close to highest in the world for cost?
  • Should we be happy having far and away the most murderous society in the developed world and yet the highest incarceration rate?
  • Should we be happy getting a D+ grade from the American Society of Engineers for the state of our infrastructure?
  • Should we be happy with a Congress who just massively lowered taxes on the wealthy and corporate interests at a time when income inequality is hitting nosebleed levels?
  • Should we be happy that Congress is making noises that due to our huge deficit -- exacerbated by the recent tax cuts -- we have to make major reductions to our Medicare, Medicaid, and social-safety-net spending?
  • Should we be happy having spent over $4 trillion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only to secure Iranian hegemony in Iraq and Taliban ascendance in Afghanistan?
If you're not happy, you're like me. What's more, there are few reasons why we should be in such predicaments.
  • The cry "we must take responsibility for our own success in life!" is remarkable in the face of near historic levels of employment. Where are the freaking goldbrickers?
  • Corporations are at near-record highs for the amount of uninvested capital they're sitting on, and yet they need a massive tax cut that they can't invest or use to drive up already peaked demand?
  • With the aforementioned low unemployment, the federal government in its wisdom is encouraging states to demand a work requirement from its citizens in need of Medicaid at a time when most of those who qualify are already working, are pregnant, elderly, or disabled?
  • After decades of wage stagnation a modest increase in reported wages (2.9% year-on-year) causes the Fed to raise interest rates in part to drive down wage pressures?
  • At a time when we need to encourage immigration to expand our economy and reinvigorate our workforce (make it younger) in order to underpin Social Security and Medicare, we as a country are trying to cut legal immigration in half?
  • Is it wise to round up undocumented workers by the millions and deport them, leaving major farming and food-production industries with unfillable holes in their workforces?
The spirit that drives these well-documented aspects of our current situation, and the likely outcome of new policy prescriptions, is rooted in nationalism, white supremacy, and fear of the deterioration of the Ozzie-and-Harriet world that disappeared something like a half a century ago.

It's also hilariously ironic that everything that we've done to deregulate our country and promote personal responsibility has been done by or is encouraged by laws and regulations.

Somehow I think government-as-the-problem, deregulation-as-the-solution, and the promulgation of personal-responsibility-as-salvation might have driven our country -- literally -- off the rails. We might want to rethink how important individualism is to a functioning democracy and begin to reshape our country as one that is not afraid to work synergistically for the common good.

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