Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teddy's Legacy—Taking Back the "L" word—A response

MarieDNC posted a fine piece called "On Sticks and Stones and Mincing Words..." on the Democratic Party Blog. What follows is my comment—

Dear MarieDNC—

You make excellent and important points. When Rush Limbaugh first began gaining traction, my phone machine message recited the definition of the word "liberal" and made the declaration that we need millions more, not less, of them (I don't mean to diminish your sentiment; I really do think that the lowly phone message can be a powerful tool for pithy, philosophical or political statements to friends and strangers).

You also tackle the absurd subversion of language and ideology that has execrated socialism, and you have succeeded in identifying the root cause of its defamation, ignorance.

In many ways, this country was founded on socialist principles, before such an ideology was articulated as an "ism." The idea that community mattered, and that one was not alone in this world, were the underpinnings of many of the various societies that sprang up. And the idea was manifested in community activities from barn raisings and church socials to tithing and civic zeal.

This social conscience and social duty was, of course, mixed with a spirit of rugged individualism, due in part to the nature of the wilderness being faced. However, individualism and independence were not generally equated with personal aggrandizement. In fact, aristocratic wealth and abusive greed were most vilified. America's first great literary artist, Washington Irving, wrote, with vicious glee in "The Devil and Tom Walker," of the greedy and miserly; he made the point that all the wealthy businessmen, religious hypocrites, slave holders, and money lenders were the Devil's people and doing old Scratch's bidding.

It was not really until the mid-1800's with the slaveholding aristocracy, quickly followed by the late 1800's Robber Barons and the rise of "Big Business" that we began to get the mantra of "free market capitalism" being perpetrated on the public (Thoreau's brief foray into "anti-government" sentiment notwithstanding).

Even the conviction that business could do whatever it wanted and that government had no right to interfere was never seriously entertained by the populace, and worker's movements began to emerge almost immediately to counter the abuses of economic power. After relatively few years of unfettered industry, another Teddy, Teddy Roosevelt, ushered in the "square-deal" and its recognition that business must be controlled. His populism was replaced with boosterism and Coolidge's "The business of America is business," followed very quickly by the great depression and our relapse into "socialism," i.e., that the government and business have "social" responsibility, with FDR.

The rabid zeal of the "new" free-marketers was fueled by Ronald Reagan's myopic anti-communism, and therefore, his natural affinity for Milton Friedman's despicable philosophy which claimed that any hint that a corporation has any social responsibility is SOCIALISM. The deregulation wave started under Reagan and perpetuated by both the Democrats and the Republicans has clearly lead us to our current series of economic debacles.

We must reintroduce the principle of "principles" in our public discourse and in our solutions to public problems. The socialism of "social good" must be resurrected. The frustration that offered Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama as alternatives to "business as usual" and the "hope" that propelled Obama into the presidency need to be empowered to take back our language from the double-speak of right-wing think tanks and "death (panel) squads" and demand that our politicians care more for the public, for their true constituents, than for the conscienceless, corporate criminals bankrolling their next run (too harsh? Nope, too true!)

One last point, as much as I enjoyed your posting, I do think one point of clarification needs to be made. When you put down that plastic card, and the pharmacist hands you your prescription, it wasn't free! I know that you know this, but I think in these times, it's important to not allow our thinking to be assailable, even on nit-picking grounds. A social solution is not "free," but a system that recognizes health care, for example, as a right rather than a privilege, is eminently more equitable and, ultimately, more efficient, than the "for-profit," market-driven, "our client is the enemy of our profit" system that we now have in America.

To honor both Teddy's, two of the greatest statesmen America has ever known and two men who exemplified the meaning of the word LIBERAL, we must increase our efforts to accomplish justice in this country and the world.

The greatest threat to democracy is hypocrisy!
Seek Truth! Speak Truth!

Tim McMullen

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