From democracy to social Darwinism

The American movement from representative government to reprehensible government

rep·re·hen·si·ble   [rep-ri-hen-suh-buhl] –adjective : deserving of reproof, rebuke, or censure; blameworthy.

There are clear signs that the American social contract is on a reverse course from human compassion to animal instinct. The most pressing factors in this devolution are twisted economics, confused moral values and imbalanced political power. The shift toward politics red in tooth and claw is nearing completion across the entire political spectrum. Now the question is what to do about it.

Specifically the nation is debating what guarantees (if any) should be provided in the social contract with its citizens. If rights to affordable health care and social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance are not the guaranteed product of U.S. citizenship, then what does the future hold for those in need? And what role, if any, should government play?

The debate over issues such as these drew hard line attention upon election of Tea Party candidates claiming a mandate to reduce the size of government and with it, government spending. Rising American debt does threaten the security of the nation and our global challenges include 3 expensive wars in the Middle East, spiraling energy costs, trade imbalances with multiple nations and large-scale unemployment at home.

The result of these pressures is a cumulative move toward a bottom line mentality. The trends are clear. American businesses that survived the economic downtown hunkered down after the crash, hoarding cash, refusing to hire more employees. Even stable companies rich in cash refused to hire, preferring to draw more productivity from existing employees.

The employment picture has fitfully improved in 2011, but not fast enough to put millions of disenfranchised Americans back to work. The protracted sag in employment has been depicted as a potential “new normal” where unemployment remains 10%. Some analysts suggest the real unemployment level is near 20% if you add in people who have quit looking for jobs. Neither case is good news for lower and middle class America.

Behind the scenes a more sinister view of the “new normal” emerged as politicians committed to cost-cutting and reducing government rolled out broad plans to slash state budgets and eliminate collective bargaining for government workers as well. Legislative bills were introduced to not only cut government spending, but also to take control of the social contract at its most visceral level, controlling or eliminating the ability of government and union workers to engage in collective bargaining to negotiate their working conditions and wages. This is Social Darwinism in action.

At the federal level, the proposed Pathway to Prosperity budget bill introduced by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) goes even further in its efforts to edit the American social contract. Ryan’s proposal seeks to overturn national health care reforms and suggests “repairing a broken Medicaid system” because “one size fits all” is an ostensibly “onerous method” for implementing health care.

The Ryan budget proposes replacing the current Medicare system by issuing government voucher checks equal to approximately three months of typical nursing home care for seniors. But the Ryan budget seems to raise more questions than it answers. When asked by talk show host Bill Maher what would happen to seniors once the voucher money proposed in the plan ran out, former Republican National Committee (RNC) chairperson Michael Steele could only reply, “We don’t know.”

The Pathway to Prosperity is actually full of such “we don’t knows.” It also contains language that reeks of double-speak. For example, it proposes “saving Medicare” by privatizing it, never mentioning that seniors would need to cover more than 70% of their total care.

Meanwhile the Ryan budget proposes individual and corporate tax reforms that deliver plenty of tax relief for corporations and the wealthy while doing little to protect the economic welfare of middle-class Americans supporting an economy 2/3 dependent on consumer spending. How is this a pathway to prosperity? To gut the middle class in favor of top down economics is a sure path to collapse in our consumer-based economy.

Arguably it was a lack of regulation among top-level speculative interests that led millions of middle class families to lose their retirement savings and even their homes. In other words, the wealthy were allowed to gamble with America’s future while taxes from middle class Americans have been used to pay the debt.

Depressingly, it appears the Pathway to Prosperity wants to recreate these cycles again by privatizing even more government functions, pushing social security (of the generic brand) into the craw of raw market forces that produced the recent recession. The Ryan budget proposes turning our nation’s social contract over to the very same corporations, investment bankers and insurance companies that nearly bankrupted America in 2008. This is plainly reprehensible politics at its worst.

With a sustained push toward privatization and deregulation, America is rapidly becoming a nation of Social Darwinists and mercenaries. We’ve already gone down that road with massive privatization of our current military operations and the results are frightening. A mercenary military culture led to torture, prisoner abuse, and the soiling of America’s reputation by military vendors. All these behaviors are reprehensible symbols of a Social Darwinism in politics driven by partisan pursuit of power and greed. And it has been occurring on both sides of the aisle; one through the aggression, the other by passivity in the face of such aggression. It all adds up to the same thing; a reprehensible failure to protect the architecture of a health social contract for America’s citizens.

The Pathway to Prosperity seeks to foster these corrupted values here at home, freeing corporations to exploit the middle class at every turn. Even our Supreme Court has gotten into the act, with five conservative judges consistently passing activist judgments favoring rights of corporations over individuals.

The Ryan budget cynically contends the United States has the “highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, driving jobs overseas.” This is an operative lie based on the idea that a majority of large American corporations actually pay those taxes. Need proof? Global corporate giant GE recently admitted it paid no corporate taxes at all for its fiscal year even as it accepted millions in corporate welfare payments from American tax dollars. Meanwhile the company cut thousands of workers from its payrolls here in America.

But facts like these do not stop politicians lusting for power and casting favors to moneyed interests. Using fear-based language designed to frighten Americans into believing the current social contract is unsustainable, the Pathway to Prosperity budget cites an “existential threat” posed by growing government debt. But strangely the Ryan bill makes no mention of unrestrained military spending that runs into trillions of dollars. During the Bush presidency military spending was treated as an unbudgeted national expense, a policy that sucked billions out of the economy as investment in social programs, public education and infrastructure repair costs was blamed for creating debt or called too expensive.

Instead of acknowledging the unsustainable war elephant in the room, the Ryan budget attacks Medicare using charts showing bloated red graphics to scare people into thinking the program is unsustainable. The solution is simple: tax all Americans including the wealthy who currently pay nothing into Medicare and the program shortfall begins to disappear.

The privatized health care industry already operates this way, creating corporate health care pools to lower overall liability. It is also how so-called Obamacre proposes to level the playing field for Americans as a whole. By requiring all Americans to participate in a health care insurance program, it increases the revenue pool necessary to pay for everyone’s coverage by decreasing the burden of liability for health care insurance companies and health care providers. This is not a perfect fix. In fact all it does initially is increase profits for health care insurance companies. But it is a step in the right direction and the moral thing to do because with additional moves to control costs it can create a health care complex that can cover all Americans while eventually eliminating pre-existing condition clauses now used by health care insurance companies to exclude people with from coverage.

What America needs is a public option in which all citizens can enroll at an affordable level, and without penalty for pre-existing conditions. Right now millions of Americans are excluded from gaining coverage based on so-called pre-existing conditions while even basic health care insurance can be prohibitively expensive for individuals that do not work for giant corporations. This is a system of institutionalized discrimination that amounts to class warfare. The Ryan budget takes that discrimination to new heights, targeting the elderly and poor by cutting programs like Medicare and Medicaid by 70%. Ryan essentially proposes balancing our national budget on the backs of the elderly and the poor. This is Social Darwinism at its worst, and the most reprehensible of actions.

The real challenge is not only how to pay for health care of course, but how to control costs associated with delivering it. The Ryan budget ignores this fact because it is favors profits for huge scale insurance companies and health care providers that do not want to give up opportunities to create monopolies over health care markets.

Already smaller hospitals are being forced to consolidate in order to compete in the health care industry. Economics 101 states that corporate consolidation ultimately reduces competition leading to price escalation. Meanwhile consumer expectations related to health care have escalated, with patients essentially demanding expensive treatments that may or may not guarantee positive outcomes. We all need to understand that even good health care coverage does not make us immune to disease or immortal. But the existing health care system, by catering to only the healthiest of Americans who qualify for the best insurance pools plays a Darwinistic game of genetic selection.

One of the basic precepts that health care reform should recognize is that life itself is a pre-existing condition. No one gets out of this world alive. But that means everyone should receive fair coverage while they do live on this earth. It also means that end of life counseling and palliative care is sometimes the best option for someone who is elderly and/or critically ill. Yet conservative gadflies pounced on provisions in health care reform legislation providing for end of life counseling. Sarah Palin called them “death panels,” when in fact the counseling proposed in health care reform delivers guidance on compassionate care for the critically ill or elderly.

Meanwhile the real problem in America is the nation’s addiction to a diet too high in salt, fat and sugar, leading to debilitative (yet largely preventable) diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer and other diet-caused conditions. Sadly, these are the foods that large corporations excel in producing. But if the government attacks these foods on principle as unhealthy, its contentions often ridiculed by right-leaning political forces as being intrusive for trying to tell Americans what to do.

The problem does not stop there. While unhealthy diets are literally killing Americans, an insidious level of pesticides, heavy metals and other pollutants have made their way into the food chain and environment, costing even more American lives. Yet a faction of political forces consistently resists environmental regulation on claims that such laws cause harm to business. But the truth is that the environmental pollution harms human health far more than it can ever affects business.

Undermining environmental laws is a form of Social Darwinism because it has been proven many times it is the poor and underprivileged who typically live in areas where environmental degradation is least enforced. Likewise the large segment of the agricultural industry that has become dependent on chemicals, hormones and bioengineering in efforts to industrialize food and fuel production seems to refuse any proposals to change.

So here’s the sneaky truth: The Paul Ryan budget bill Pathway to Prosperity is essentially a “code” message to various constituencies that buy into policies that amount to Social Darwinism and class warfare. Paul Ryan may be an intelligent, motivated young man, but his budget proposal is either deceptive and immoral or painfully naive. The Pathway to Prosperity may be a serious attempt to get spending and entitlement under control, but it does so by ignoring serious baseline moral values upon which the social contract and prosperity of America have been built and sustained. It especially attacks the tradition of compassion and moral values upon which the New Deal was based, and that is foundation on which the modern day social contract is constructed. Until the Pathway to Prosperity engage this fact, it is simply an uninformed anti-government screed, an ideologically polemic rich in numbers and poor in spirit.

There is after all a reason why the New Deal played such a large role in driving America’s prosperity to new heights from 1950 through the 1990s. It affirmed the basic precept that Americans could pursue wealth while still providing for vulnerable members of society. This drove our national pride as well as respect worldwide as we helped other nations prosper as well.

The Neocon Deal would reverse all that, throwing compassion out the window in favor its brand of Darwinistic economics. And this is said with all due respect for Charles Darwin, who would likely been disgusted at seeing his theory of evolution co-opted as an excuse for bad behavior in human beings.

The fact that conservatives promote Social Darwinism is ironic since many on the political right do not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. As many as 50% of Christians in American do not believe in the basic evolutionary principles described by Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species. Perhaps people who refuse to understand the raw truth of evolution cannot comprehend why the presiding social contract of compassion and protection driving American prosperity needs to exist in order to prevent the country from dissolving into a nation red in tooth and claw. Perhaps the Red states are really red for reasons we have not even considered? Their bloodthirsty nature is perhaps obscured by a corrupt veneer of religion?

The truth is that all political parties have played roles in moving America toward the brand of Social Darwinism we’re now seeing played out in politics and culture. What we’ve lost to corporate, lobbyist and personal interests is representative government. Instead what we have now is reprehensible government, as in every man or woman for himself or herself. Social Darwinism. In case you have not figured it out by now, this is how great societies go into decline.

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