Thursday, September 15, 2011

The New Morality in America

Paul Krugman has written a very important article in the NY Times. He looks at the splintering of America into two moral views. The traditional society that values society and government programs as part of the fabric of a civil society. And the new face of rabid Republicanism that hates government and declares itself for an unforgiving "libertarian" vision of relations between individuals:
Back in 1980, just as America was making its political turn to the right, Milton Friedman lent his voice to the change with the famous TV series “Free to Choose.” In episode after episode, the genial economist identified laissez-faire economics with personal choice and empowerment, an upbeat vision that would be echoed and amplified by Ronald Reagan.

But that was then. Today, “free to choose” has become “free to die.”

I’m referring, as you might guess, to what happened during Monday’s G.O.P. presidential debate. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.” Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether “society should just let him die.”

And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”

The incident highlighted something that I don’t think most political commentators have fully absorbed: at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions.


In the past, conservatives accepted the need for a government-provided safety net on humanitarian grounds. Don’t take it from me, take it from Friedrich Hayek, the conservative intellectual hero, who specifically declared in “The Road to Serfdom” his support for “a comprehensive system of social insurance” to protect citizens against “the common hazards of life,” and singled out health in particular.

Given the agreed-upon desirability of protecting citizens against the worst, the question then became one of costs and benefits — and health care was one of those areas where even conservatives used to be willing to accept government intervention in the name of compassion, given the clear evidence that covering the uninsured would not, in fact, cost very much money. As many observers have pointed out, the Obama health care plan was largely based on past Republican plans, and is virtually identical to Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts.

Now, however, compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.

And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
I don't think Germans knew what they really were voting for when a plurality voted for Hitler in 1932. Similarly, I don't think those attracted to radical right in the US really understand just how deeply radical and different that vision of "society" is. Just like Germans didn't know they were putting in place a megalomaniac who would demand that every German die defending their country -- a country that had created death camps and terrorized and abused all of Europe -- die defending their country to the last man as he committed suicide in his bunker. Similarly today, thos "fellow travellers" who are excited by the Tea Party and the radical right of the Republicans have no idea how deeply disruptive and anti-social their political choice truly is. They've fallen for the simplistic messages just as the Germans did. They simply don't know who radically evil the heart of the Tea Party and the rabid Republicans truly is.

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