It has not been a good spring for the proponents of economic deregulation. Consider the following:
Item: Goldman Sachs has been accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of defrauding investors by creating a complicated bundle of toxic mortgage securities and then deliberately selling them to investors while secretly investing against the securities because they believed the bonds in the bundle would fail.
Item: A coal mine operated by Massey Energy experienced a catastrophic fire that claimed the lives of 29 miners. Massey had a history of safety violations before this disaster struck. Its CEO, Don Blankenship, had spent millions to get a judge elected, who then ruled against the plaintiffs in a suit claiming Massey had engaged in fraud.
Item: An oil drilling rig operated by BP (British Petroleum) exploded in the Gulf of Mexico causing a massive oil spill that threatens coastal marsh lands and wildlife across the entire Gulf region. The resulting leak allegedly could have been prevented had BP installed a safety device that is required in many other countries (but not the United States).
Notice a pattern here? If you are a tea-bagger, you probably notice that the government didn’t protect us. You would therefore claim that these incidents are another example of a broken system of our democracy and would then start looking for government agencies or elected politicians to blame. You’d focus in particular on the Democrats since they are the ones who got elected in 2008 (led by the guy whom you aren’t entirely convinced is even an American citizen).
You’d end up believing firmly that the only way to get things back the way they should be is to demand your right to be free of taxes, free of government interference, and free to carry your guns with you to political rallies and Starbucks.
On the other hand, if you are a thinking and concerned American citizen, you notice that each of these disasters occurred because of loose or non-existent government oversight and regulation of the industries that were the real culprits in the events. And you also are aware that the real issue turns on whether policy makers favor or oppose such a role for government.
The patterns of the picture may be perceived differently, but that fact doesn’t mean that both are accurate perceptions. In fact, the tea-bagger perception is based on ignorance and prejudice and is not deserving of serious discussion, notwithstanding that it gets a lot of what would otherwise appear to be serious discussion on Fox News and right-wing talk radio.
Part of the problem that confronts the country in this era of institutional distrust is the willingness of many Americans to pay the most attention to the message that has the most appealing ring to it. Ronald Reagan came to this realization early on in his political career, and he built his legacy on it.
Thus, he spoke of “morning in America,” as if he had discovered a long lost secret about the country. In reality, all he was doing with that, and other emotional, flag-waving sound-bites, was cloaking a radical policy prescription in feel-good language. And it didn’t hurt one bit that he was calling Americans out of the “malaise” that had developed after a decade marked by the Viet Nam War, the Watergate scandal, and the Iran-hostage crisis.
The country was longing for a sense of patriotic fervor, and Reagan deftly supplied it. And, to make his prescription even easier to take, he told everyone that the country would be better off with less taxation, thereby introducing the tax revolt that has become the mantra of the “re-born” Republican Party he spawned.
George W. Bush took Reagan’s approach to the next level. He used the flag and love of country in a way even Reagan hadn’t considered “doable.” He took the country to war under its banner. “Freedom” became the catchword of the decade, and it, too, was an easy sell, since everyone wants to be free (never mind how the word is defined) and since no one wants to live in fear of terrorism, which Bush conveniently and cleverly linked to an absence of freedom.
And so, he led us into a war that never should have been fought, while at the same time pushing the corporatist economic policies that have now come home to roost fully, as evidenced by this spring’s trifecta of disasters.
And it was all cloaked in “freedom”: freedom, as in “freedom from government intrusion” (never mind the illegal wiretapping that Bush inaugurated under the amended Patriot Act); and “freedom from government bureaucracies” (never mind the Katrina disaster in which government bureaucracies remained inert while thousands lost everything they had); and “freedom from government regulations” (never mind the financial crisis that resulted from unregulated lending institutions that bet ours farms on their portfolios).
And, of course, it was that last “freedom” that led to the economic meltdown that has the country struggling with the worst unemployment in almost 30 years, for which tea-bagger types are all too ready to blame Obama and the Democrats.
And while they’re at it, they are happily trying to label the oil spill in the Gulf as Obama’s Katrina. This kind of simplistic reasoning, if it can be called reasoning at all, typifies the tea-bagger mentality. Katrina was a natural disaster that the federal government exacerbated by ignoring its role. The oil spill is a disaster caused by corporate greed and a lack of government regulation. Anyone who finds meaningful similarities in the two probably thinks the mine disaster in West Virginia last month was caused by the Obama administration, too.
The truth can be hard to discern if you aren’t paying attention, but it isn’t all that hard to see if you are.
And the truth is that within the last month, the three disasters that have occurred (or come to light in the case of Goldman Sachs) are the payback for policies that may sound in “freedom” but are in fact born of a far less noble sentiment: it’s called pure, unadulterated (and unregulated) greed.