Amidst all the talk from both conservatives and “progressives” about how President-elect Obama’s cabinet and economic-recovery choices are destroying either the nation or his own commitment to progressive ideas, it might be useful to think about Georgia Congressman, Paul Broun, who identified President Obama as a Marxist, communist, socialist, fascist.
That’s Congressman Broun, not some local rube Klansman who dropped out of sixth grade when he found out the alphabet had more letters than he wanted to learn, and then got his non-graduate education from Rush Limbaugh’s College of Oxycontin.
Is Broun part of a grand corporate-conservative, right wing conspiracy to denigrate, disparage, and disrupt the Obama administration even before it begins? Look at his track record. Google him. Check his Wikipedia entry. Is this a guy that the designers and controllers of any successful conspiracy would trust with their secrets and plans? Would Dick Cheney even let this guy kiss his boots? What if Broun really is as dumb as he sounds on TV?
Progressives may have at least two major problems with the concept that blockhead stupidity, rather than a national or international conspiracy, drives Broun. First, a conspiracy gives us something specific (if intangible) to fight against. How much easier it is to work up energy to struggle against a clever, devious, malevolent foe than against the sometimes sober, ex-football jock who is just about smart enough (with his wife’s help) to match his tie to his socks in the morning. After all, who wants to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent?
Second, accepting that this Congressman, representative of the people, local luminary, etc., etc. is actually an ignorant, bigoted blowhard would be an indictment of the concept of our government. Creating a government of the people, by the people, and for the people was supposed to give us better governments than people used to suffer under. Better than hard drinking, short tempered Henry II, who, nine centuries ago, replaced trial-by-combat with trial-by-jury and gave England the concept of a government of laws. Better in the modern world than that scruffy, bearded, failed baseball player who saddled Cubans with all the evils of universal healthcare and education.
The problem is the reality we see every day on blog postings, online political discussions, and Faux News. There is a huge percentage of this nation’s population which actually believes that men like David Broun are intelligent, educated leaders. David Broun doesn’t have the slightest clue that there are differences between Marxism, Communism, Socialism, and Fascism. They are all simply codenames for “bad” in the same way that Capitalism is a codename for “good.” The codenames differentiate “them” from “us.”
This is part of an appalling national ignorance. Millions of people still believe that Iraq had WMDs, and that Saudi Arabia funded the 9-11 attacks because they’re our allies. These voters believe that the Bible mentions abortion and that televangelists are more reliable than the gospels. They share Sarah Palin’s belief that dinosaurs and humans did coexist but that Christians and Moslems can’t coexist.
The real problem with this ignorance is not that it is pervasive, but that it is intentional, willful, and celebrated. Being ignorant has become synonymous with being macho and patriotic. It is no accident that we have been led for eight years by a man who celebrates his illiteracy and schedules macho events for photo ops. Ignorance has become something to be proud of.
With the focus on his immensely profitable “moral majority” business, most people have forgotten that Jerry Falwell made his first millions operating “segregation academies” in the anti-civil rights South. Back when public schools were the breeding ground for inquisitive thought, teaching children to question racism and corporate cold war ideology, Falwell set up private schools that promised only two things:
- White children will not have to sit in the same classrooms as black children;
- No child will be taught or encouraged to think independently or to question parents or other authorities.
These palaces of ignorance and bigotry made Falwell an instant multi-millionaire, and funded his growing broadcast ministry. And they served as a model for other business-minded churchmen. Schools that taught children to be obedient and complaisant were both less threatening and more profitable than schools which taught children to actually read history, or to think about things they were told by advertisers.
Back when television news was journalism instead of a personality parade, the cameras focused on the truth in Littlerock and Selma and then Haight-Ashbury and Saigon and Kent State. But the facts that TV showed were uncomfortable; we don’t want to see ourselves like that. So we attacked the messenger for bringing painful messages and any teachers who taught us to take such facts seriously. We learned that ignorance was more comfortable than knowledge. We learned not to question our leaders or the commercials they fed us.
As multinational, multi-industry corporations took over broadcasting and print media, they saw the commercial benefits in Jerry Falwell’s model. They removed journalism from “news” and encouraged us to celebrate ignorance and to trust others to make decisions for us. In this effort they found willing allies in the for-profit mega-churches, always looking for new ways to stir people’s passions and draw their “prayer offerings” as well as corporate sponsorship.
The result is Faux News, the politics of religious hate, and the culture of proud ignorance. The result is a prideful contempt for the sovereignty of foreign nations (particularly those with “strange” cultures or religions) and a growing hostility to our own Constitutional rights.
But now the Bush/Republican economic crash gives us an opportunity to turn this around. President Obama has announced a “massive public works initiative” to help build us out of Bush’s recession. In the ‘30s, Roosevelt used a similar approach. He built roads and schools and libraries. He pushed rural electrification. He created the Civilian Conservation Corps. Think of that – environmental activism back in the 1930s!
Roosevelt did more; he had the National Writers Project, and literacy programs and programs to preserve and to create art and music. It’s always easy to get a politician to authorize funds to build a school. But it’s much harder to get any politician to spend money to adequately staff a school, or to feed hungry children well enough to give them the nutrition to learn.
Roosevelt understood that improving the lives and education of our nation’s population could only benefit the nation. He gave education, jobs, and food to people whose race barred them from voting. He birthed the generation that would exploit the G.I. Bill to make ours the most productive nation on earth, two decades later.
Now President Obama is designing a plan to help our nation recover from eight years of greed-driven, short-sighted, fear-mongering jingoism. Of course he will push to spend billions to build things. We don’t yet know whether he will push to spend billions to build people who will shine in our future like the boys coming home from WWII shone.
The opportunity for progressives is to push the Obama administration to change our national course – to return to the old-fashioned belief that knowledge and education were good things. Eight years of ignoring the facts provided by Intelligence experts, the facts about global warming, and the facts that our core industries were slipping away from being able to compete with foreign companies, provide us with examples we can use to explain the value of education.
We have to demand that education become a centerpiece of Obama’s rebuilding plan. And we have to resist when corporations and their lapdogs rail against programs to adequately staff and equip schools. We need to remind the world of the successes attained by graduates of the New Deal literacy programs and the G.I. Bill. We have to proclaim that today’s children are no less deserving of opportunity than the children of the 1930s. And that today’s soldiers should not be coming home to less medical care and educational opportunity than our fathers had, returning from WWII.
Articles by Tom Hall: