Monday, September 14, 2009

Citizen Protesters, or Ideological Spin Doctors? Part 1

It’s been said that the road to hell is paved with great intentions. This caveat is true, whether we choose to ignore it with regard to the decisions we make as the heads of our households, or with consideration to the social and political policies we choose to follow. Perhaps no single recent policy decision illustrates this better than our choice to go to war in Iraq, a decision which has run up a tab of some $700 billion dollars to date, a death toll of over 3000 American soldiers, and a cost to the country’s global image and credibility which will no doubt take years to repair…all with the intention to protect the country from the perceived dangers of a “rogue nation” with “weapons of mass destruction” in a post-9/11 world. In the time since the rationale given the American people for going to war was proven incorrect, the criticism for this costly venture has been limited to political posturing, what amounted to token investigations resulting in no particular blame, and [the] hundreds of publications revealing how in hindsight pre-war intelligence was both wrong and wrongly interpreted.
In yet another policy intention—this one questionably so—a segment of the American people have (and their leadership) have opted to only now concern themselves with the amount of spending that the government engages in on our behalf.
This past Saturday, tens of thousands of mostly conservative marchers gathered, marched, and rallied in Washington DC against the policies of the Obama Administration with regard to the spending it has employed in its effort to shore up the ailing economy, as well as its proposal to revamp access to health care for the uninsured.
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with marching and protesting as a way to illustrate to our leaders that the American people speak with one voice; its what led the way toward the signing of civil rights legislation and the country out of the quagmire of the Vietnam War. However, it seems the opponents of progressive policy have learned how to take the tool of mass street rallies often employed by progressives, and use it to project the image that they represent the desires of the American people. These so-called “Tea-Partiers” and other conservative anti-tax activists march with the goal of influencing the government to start limiting spending. Not an altogether bad goal considering the national deficit is $10 trillion and growing.
But for many reasons, these “protests” lack either the credibility or the nobility of a true expression of the collective American will (as exemplified by either the 1963 March on Washington or the anti-Vietnam war protests of the late 60s & early 70s). Consider the lack of broad spectrum ideological representation. Are we to believe that these mostly conservative activists and voters represent the will of all (or even most) Americans? Where are the ethnic Americans who believe that the government is overspending in these protests? The Democrats (or their leadership in substantive numbers)? The Liberals…the Moderates? How about those without insurance who feel that government spending is spending too much in the name of the public interest? Considering that there are somewhere between 30-40 million of them, its hard to believe these individuals represent a cross-section of the American electorate.
But during the television interviews of these protesters over the weekend, many seemed to go out of their way to assert that they represented mainstream Americans, and that they were not “fringe” Right-Wingers. Indeed, there were many protesters present representing many age and geographic differences, some with their children and even pets in tow. Strictly speaking, this is true…these are indeed mostly Middle-Class Americans, many who have no economic stake in the companies and business which benefit directly from the bailouts and spending the government has used to prop them up during this economic downturn. However, it’s a good guess that these individuals are probably and overwhelmingly not among the Americans who voted for President Obama (or any Democrat for that matter) in the first place, so it’s a little hard to believe that they are being objective about the reasons for why the government seeks to infuse large businesses with federal funds. One look at the protest signs carried to Saturday’s rally is proof positive that their motives and fears are more ideologically motivated rather than borne of a measured consideration of need.

A group of anti-tax protesters from Saturday, September 12 (take particular note of the signs, indicative of the ideological bents of their political--not populist--position)

Do I believe that government spending is out of control, of course. But what should be of concern is the selective memory of the protesters as well as their propensity to engage in a revisionist view of reality as they justify their opposition. This in turn calls their intent into question.
What's funny is that only now do Conservatives find alarm in the government’s “rampant level of spending,” when it was former President Ronald Reagan who initiated the era of big spending in the modern era of government.

The fiscal shift in the Reagan years was staggering. In January 1981, when Reagan declared the federal budget to be "out of control," the deficit had reached almost $74 billion, the federal debt $930 billion. Within two years, the deficit was $208 billion. The debt by 1988 totaled $2.6 trillion. In those eight years, the United States moved from being the world's largest international creditor to the largest debtor nation (“Reagan Policies Gave Light to red Ink,” The Washington Post, June 9, 2004).

For conservative leaders who support deficit spending, it didn’t seem to be a real issue as long their political party was the one in power and engaged in tax cuts with no commensurate cuts in federal spending spent. Indeed, former Vice-President Dick Cheney validated this as much when in 2002 he was alleged to have said that "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" in regards to former President George Bush’s economic stimulus policies.

To Be Concluded...


  1. If there are so many millions of people without health insurance, why are THEY protesting to counter the conservatives?