The United States is a country divided between two ideologies of how a democracy should be run. One side holds that democracy (yes, America is a Republic, but we’re taking literary license here) should protect and promote the individual’s right to pursue happiness, with the government an enforcer of basic tenets and laws, with as little interference in the free market as possible. The other side holds that democracy should promote equal rights and freedoms for all, with the government serving as a tool for social justice.
Both positions are valid. The “democracy for the greater good” held sway from the Depression through the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties. Since the Reagan era of deregulation right through to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” the country has veered farther to a “democracy for individual rights.”
In the hands of the late-twentieth-century GOP, this brand of democracy has transmogrified into “democracy for the rights of certain individuals.” Namely, those who accumulate or inherit wealth. Namely, those who accumulate wealth at the expense of the collective good. Namely, those who inherit wealth and don’t give a damned thing back.
Yet, many of George W. Bush’s supporters would say they voted for a moral imperative they believe he represents: less government, in the form of less taxation primarily and no interference in health care, and less interference in “individual” freedoms such as the right to bear arms; more government regulation against individual rights deemed as immoral for a government to uphold—namely, abortion and gay marriage; and government aggression against terrorism or what the Bush Administration defines as terrorism.
What has confused those who voted against Bush is how his supporters can reconcile the hypocrisy of their beliefs. Or how they can reconcile what they voted for with what they’re getting.
For starters, “less taxation” translates into a few hundred or thousand dollars to 98 percent of those paying taxes—and translates into a few hundred thousand for the 1 or 2 percent of the wealthiest taxpayers. The ethics are questionable, which is why one thinks the self-proclaimed moralists would protest. Their lack of ire on this issue leads to the conclusion that Bush supporters (even under prosperous ones) believe that “less taxation” is more critical to the nation’s welfare than “fair taxation.”
No interference in health care means that individuals bear the burden of health care costs—costs which for the most part will continue to grow unabated as pharmaceutical companies, medical researchers and insurance companies enjoy unregulated spending and investment. The individual’s choice will be to either find and hang onto a job offering adequate benefits (as long as there is one) or save pre-taxed dollars from an income that is shrinking (at best, stagnant) and saddled with debt. Presumably, Bush voters earn enough to take out a couple of hundred a month out of their paycheck (and afford the deductible) and have the time to price-shop appendectomies and the optometry skills to figure out which eye doctors are better for Mindy’s astigmatism. Americans sure like to spend time being consumers. Guess for Bush supporters, the individual’s freedom to shop—even if it means boning up on anatomy, disease and treatments—beats guaranteed healthcare for all.
Which takes us to the issues of “more government in issues deemed morally wrong by some parts of the votership.” For lack of a more succinct summary. Now, Bush supporters will say, the shoe is on the other foot. Those who supported free choice can now be in equal dismay about a government that restricts it, as much as those against abortion and gay marriage were when the government kept its mitts out of it. Not that gay marriage was ever even an issue—but with the pre-emptive strike policy working so well in Iraq, why not apply it at home?
Yes, we can now look forward to the Bush Administration anticipating the issues of Americans (especially those investing in Wall Street or born to wealthy families or trying to add another 50 franchises in the Pacific Northwest) and pass pre-emptive laws to address them. Not enough morality? How about mandating Bible study? Too much anti-American sentiment? Why not ban criticism under the guise of Homeland Security? Not enough volunteers for the war on terrorism? How about forcing them to join?
This probably isn’t the time or place to debate the wisdom of the Bush Administration’s policies on terrorism. It seems that more people voted to keep the war president with his war—even if the reasons he went to war are, by everyone’s standards except GWB’s, dubious. There isn’t a historical precedent for war presidents of unpopular wars being re-elected, so it’s hard to say what will happen. Except if you count Lincoln.
Some things the Bush value-brigade won’t see: regulation of the porn industry (or free porn, for that matter); less sex, vulgarity or violence in the media (heck, the President’s own daughters couldn’t even dress properly for his acceptance speech); prohibition; or outlawing tobacco or gambling. Are these vices any less “immoral” than others? Naw. They do rake in a lot of bucks, though, and restricting someone’s ability to make money—well, that’s not what values are all about, for Pete’s sake.
You won’t see philanthropy making a comeback. No Kenneth Lay turning into Robin Hood. No opening of The Halliburton Public Library or The Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum.
You also won’t see a decline in: drug use, pre- or extramarital sex, or divorce. Do these issues undermine the moral fiber of individuals less than others? Nope—at least, no red-blooded red-state voter would admit it. Why, then, aren’t the moralists crying out against these ills? Could it be that a number of born-again Christians and right-wing talk show hosts indulge in these activities and probably want to continue to exercise their rights and freedoms along these lines?
What would you call this? Selective morality? Family values? A moral imperative? You could call it that. But it’s still hypocrisy. And it’s still wrong.
The other thing, sadly, none of us will see burgeoning under the righteous banner of the Bush Administration. Politeness. Civility. Generosity of spirit. Joy. Beneficence. Humility. These are values that seem to be undervalued by all American citizens.