Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wine-and-cheese Marxists or vodka-and-borscht Burkians--they still rant

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 8/13/2009
This summer I took a break from the blogosphere. Last week when I returned to my familiar trek through it, the shrill rhetoric from all points, right-left-center, was so off-putting that I felt like I had been dropped into a shriek fest. This is progress from reading two or three good daily newspapers?
The rant of the moment was President Obama’s pablum speech to the nation’s school children about the importance of staying in school. With a high school graduation rate among the lowest in the industrialized world, 70 percent or so, I suppose among all the other pressing issues that President Obama must focus, a speech to youth about the importance of staying in school is plausibly justifiable. I doubt the speech will “move the needle” on the high school graduation rate and since the speech doesn’t signify (another new) policy to “fix the nation’s” schools, I don’t expect much “impact” from this event.
Yet, apparently there are many who fear that President Obama addressing K-12 students about the importance of staying in school will have an impact. It will spawn a new generation of socialist/commie/fascists. The slurs of socialism, communism, and fascism, are so shrill and ill-used that it is laughable but this kind of response has caused schools to expend limited resources on notifying parents of the interloper Obama with his controversial messages (“The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough, it’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.”) to the students in our schools and the creation of alternatives to keep the students occupied. As parsed as the school day is already, what valuable time will be lost in teaching to the state mandated tests?
The left wing has it’s “wine and cheese” Marxists, those well educated, high earning, and portfolio managed who sneer at the workings of capitalism, who posture by choosing to invest in or purchase from “socially responsible” dividend paying firms, and who send their children to private schools to keep them away from the “riff raff.” The right wing has their “vodka and borscht” Burkians, who rant at every government “intervention,” who label everything they dislike socialist or communist, who wish to live according to late 18th century policies but unlike the Amish who pretty much do live in the late 18th century, aren’t willing to do much beyond rant.
Just as the wine and cheese Marxists aren’t going to do anything to threaten their interests such as helping to organize workers and poor people into a political force or abandoning the Democratic Party in favor of a more labor oriented party where the interests of workers are front and center instead of Wall Streeters, the vodka and borscht Burkians aren’t going to do anything to undermine the “socialized” aspects of our country like prisons, law enforcement, the court system, or public schools. How many of the vodka and borscht Burkians are going to refuse to eat food grown with an agricultural subsidy? How many will organize a tax protest and refuse to pay taxes that go for roads, police, parks, and licensing boards for such occupations as physicians, dentists, lawyers, school teachers, plumbers, barbers, and the list could go on and on? All of these are “interventions” in the free market, hence, socialism, right? And the cost of funding these interventions are paid for by all of us, whether we use them or not. Sounds like socialism. Yet, I suspect the same groups who rant about “socialism” are the first to line up to support more money for prisons, more for police, more for the military. These are three of the most “socialistic” institutions in the US. Why aren’t the vodka and borscht Burkians demanding that the military be run like Wal-Mart? For the same reason that the wine and cheese Marxists aren’t leaving the Democratic Party for mouthing concern about cutting taxes on the rich.
As ill-informed as the ranters seem to be, Thomas Jefferson’s belief that "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be" (from a letter to Charles Yancy, 1816) seems especially timely. At a time when information is so available, so free of gatekeepers, that a technologically sophisticated people would seek only to validate its fears over reason and understanding, seems a triumph for those who would traffic in fear and ignorance, the antithesis of civilization.

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