The Americans for Prosperity Foundation‘s “National Defending the American Dream Summit” held last weekend at the Marriott Crystal Gateway Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, was an assemblage whose only distinguishing feature was its astonishing homogeneity both in thought and in demography. While channel surfing through C-SPAN, I caught a full camera pan where the unbearable whiteness of being bludgeoned the mise-en-scene. When they were not loudly applauding President Obama’s (and America’s) failure to win the 2016 Olympic games, high-fiving each other and laughing, they were raptly listening to speaker after right-wing speaker reinforce all their assumptions about how the world works.
The Ann Coulter clone, Laura Ingraham, (who called Megan McCain “plus size” for daring to criticize right-wing talk radio) was one of the speakers; so were Newt Gingrich and CNBC’s Larry Kudlow. They threw red meat to the AFPers by venting their hatred of government, taxes, Democrats, the environment, regulations, and President Obama. Kudlow got a huge ovation with the applause line: “Obama doesn’t know a bloody thing about economics.” He then launched into a laughable disquisition on the “successes” of supply-side economics.
It’s amazing that even after the entire Wall Street house of cards collapsed a year ago requiring the public sector to rescue the private sector these fierce advocates of free-market fundamentalism can still show their faces in public, let alone gather to rail against the evils of the government that saved their asses.
But what do you expect from an organization that Koch Industries bankrolls just as it once bankrolled the John Birch Society?
I got to thinking about how all those people who despise their own elected government made their way to Arlington for their little rally. Those Americans for Prosperity “delegates” arrived for their convention using roads and airports the government built and maintains. They flew knowing the government would keep them safe through its hundreds of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees. They could count on getting to their destination knowing the plane had undergone government inspection and was deemed mechanically safe so that no AFPer would end up in a fireball due to faulty planes. The government’s air traffic controllers made sure their planes didn’t collide during take off, landing, or in mid-air. They got to their hotels in taxis that couldn’t charge exorbitant rates because they’d lose their government licenses if they did. When they turned on the showers and faucets in their hotel rooms they used water the government brought to them through a network of public works projects, maintained by government employees. They ate at restaurants where E. coli, Salmonella, and other food-born pathogens are held at bay by government regulations and inspectors. And when they signed the contracts to book their flights and accommodations they knew that the government’s courts would uphold their rights if the other party reneged.
Yet they hate government.
And then I thought about the thousands of other human beings whose labor make life possible for these libertarian fanatics who view themselves as atomized individuals disconnected from society. I thought about the people who designed the planes they flew on, the roads they drove on, the building they held their rally in. I thought of the people who changed the sheets in their hotel rooms or brought them beverages or cleaned their toilets and carried their bags and were stationed ready to provide services of all kinds. And I thought what would the AFPers do — yes, even the billionaire David Koch — if these people withheld their labor? How could these AFPers in their free market, go-it-alone fantasy world accomplish anything if it weren’t for the labor of all of those thousands of people they take for granted? And the biggest villains at the AFP convention (other than the government and Obama) were labor unions. The anti-union venom that spewed forth from the podium sounded like Pinkertons readying themselves to fire into a rally of the Knights of Labor. And why not? Who’s better suited to play the role of our era’s Henry Clay Frick than David Koch, the seventh richest man in America?
It was a convention hall filled with “Mister Potters” from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The speakers I saw in two dimensions on C-SPAN sounded to me to be greed-driven, selfish and self-centered, with a smug certitude about how the world works that only a life of privilege can bestow. The love of possessions is like a disease among them. Yet they also possessed the annoying, whiny tone of the aggrieved “victim” as if they haven’t been in power for the past thirty years; as if their free market fundamentalist ideas have not been tried already only to fail miserably. To these AFP fantasists there was no Savings and Loan crisis where deregulation cost American taxpayers $150 billion. There was no Long-Term Capital Management bailout. There was no Enron and Worldcom and Tyco that cost thousands of shareholders their retirements. There was no Argentine and Russian currency crises. No “lost decade” in Japan. No dot.com bubble. No housing bubble and collapse. And no “troubled assets.”
No, for the AFPers all of this pain and suffering we’re now experiencing, all of the unemployment, all of the foreclosures and bankruptcies — all of it — is somehow the government’s fault or the environmentalists’ fault or the labor unions’ fault. It’s everybody else’s fault but their own; and it’s certainly not the fault of their beloved capitalism. And that last point is the one with the richest irony: the AFP worldview calls itself “libertarian” and “conservative” but refuses to take any personal responsibility for anything.
Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author
Follow Joseph A. Palermo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peeweethemonste