Monday, June 21, 2004

Some arguments don't deserve to live

Mick's discovery of the South Carolina stealth candidate Jim DeMint is as enlightening as it is disturbing.
"How can a free nation survive when a majority of its citizens, now dependent on government services, no longer have the incentive to restrain the growth of government?" he asked during a Heritage Foundation lecture in 2001. His prescription? "We must have a new tax code that allows all voters to see and feel the cost of government," he counseled. "Using the tax code to help low-income workers only disconnects them from the responsibilities of freedom."

What a load of crap. The only thing new in this argument is the boldness to say it out loud, but even DeMint won't say such a thing directly to the voters, just to his moneyed supporters. For decades, anyone in the mainstream who believed stuff like this at least had the good taste to be embarrassed (or afraid) to say it out loud. Only fringe nuts like World Net columnist Vox Day would openly make such an argument. Then last year, our friends on the Wall Street Journal editorial page revived this old argument in their infamous "lucky ducky" editorial, once again making it socially acceptable.

How old is this argument? This is one of the original arguments against democracy from the days of the constitutional convention. Only (white) men of property should be allowed to vote because only they have a stake in society. Allowing unpropertied men to vote would lead to mob rule. The "mobocracy" would vote subsidies to itself and society would collapse. For the sake of order and stability, only the (self-proclaimed) better classes should be allowed to vote. European ennobled ruling elites continued to make the mobocracy argument against every expansion of the franchise right up until they were swept away in World War One. After that Europe had the painful Fascist experiment in crudely manipulating the masses for the benefit of a group of murderous psychopaths.*

Reconnecting low-income workers with "the responsibilities of freedom" by taking away a larger portion of their already small paychecks is not likely to make them feel more empowered. It's likely to make them angry. WSJ's "lucky ducky" argument increasing the hostility of the working poor toward the government by taxing them more and reducing services would make them vote for conservative candidates who promise to lower their taxes and eliminate services altogether. I suppose that's possible, but its more likely to increase their hostility toward the wealthier classes who contribute little to the government while reaping many benefits (such as police protection from the resentful poor).

This is not speculation on my part, this is the historical record of the good old days of the nineteenth century that the extremists supporting Bush so dearly want to return. Social security, both as a program and as a phrase, originated in Bismarck's Prussia, a thoroughly reactionary state. The phrase as he used it did not mean security within society for the poor. It meant security of society against the poor. By providing, what we now call, a safety net for the working poor, Bismarck hoped to prevent them joining leftist political parties or more directly creating unrest. There was nothing soft or altruistic in his plan. He knew that if the poor were not given the basic necessities of life, either through fair pay or outright grants, they would take them by force. That the programs were good for the poor was incidental; Bismarck's real goal was to protect the propertied classes from revolution.

When Roosevelt pushed through programs like the minimum wage and legalized unions, he most likely prevented a violent revolution in this country. It's tragic that today's reactionaries do not understand this.

* I know. I know. In any democracy the masses are, to an extent, manipulated by some elite. The manipulation itself wasn't as significant in Fascism as were the methods of manipulation (crude hate mongering) and the goals of that manipulation (destruction of the democracy among others). It's also significant that the manipulators were not part of the elite; they used the mobilized masses to threaten and subdue the traditional elites, and eventually replace them (this is one of the elements that makes it possible to talk of Fascism as a revolutionary ideology).