As the controversy and demonstrations in Wisconsin continue, it occurs to me that the Tea Party and the Right in this country might be well advised to be careful what they wish for.
It's hard for me to believe that anyone would be naïve enough to think that if we could get rid of the unions, give tax breaks to the rich and to big business, allow corporations and lobbying groups to contribute to political campaigns without limit and without any public accountability, and restrict health care to those the insurance companies could profit by, we would find ourselves in some Eden of free enterprise, good (i.e. severely limited) government, and general national well-being, but that is what those behind the Tea Party, the NRA, and the rest of the vast right-wing conspiracy would have us believe.
Don't get me wrong – I believe conservatism is a legitimate economic and social philosophy that can genuinely be held by people of good will. I don't agree with it for a minute, but I also don't think that liberalism has all the answers. I'm a firm believer that when there is the opportunity for constructive conflict and respectful debate over differences, we all get smarter and we come out with better ideas than either side of the debate would have come out with on their own.
And so I have two problems with the current political debate. First of all, as I've said before, it's not respectful of honest, sincerely held differences. And let me be clear here, I'm not talking only about the Right. I have no more use for posters showing the Governor of Wisconsin in crosshairs or calling him a Nazi or a dictator than I have for the comparable rhetoric about the President. And unlike some of those who reflexively respond "the Left does it too" when I criticize these excesses on the Right, I don't think much of "an eye for an eye" as a tactic. As someone said, all it will lead to is both of us being blind.
But the bigger problem I have is with honest, sincere people on the Right seeming oblivious to the unquestionable fact that they are being led by a small number of interests in directions that seem to have much more to do with benefitting the interests of the leaders than of those being led. The Koch brothers are not humanitarians – they are clearly out to advance the interests of their own business and those of their business allies. The NRA is out to make sure that arms manufacturers are profitable and they don't care who gets killed, just as the tobacco companies before their excesses cost them all their credibility, were out to sell cigarettes and were willing to lie and fabricate claims about the health effects of smoking.
And in Wisconsin, these same forces see the opportunity to kill the labor movement, particularly in the public sector once and for all. Why? Not because unions are so bad or are corrupt, or whatever else they say, but because the public employees' unions are the only force big enough to compete with them on their own turf. If you look at the figures on campaign contributions since the Supreme Court's disastrous decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, you will see that of the top 20 contributors to campaigns, all but two were private corporations and lobbying groups, and those two were public employees' unions. If the misguided governor of Wisconsin succeeds in crippling the public unions in that state, other states will follow and the one force that can provide some counterbalance to the private interests, however small and outnumbered, will be eliminated.
So, to my friends on the Right I have to ask: do you really think a government of big business and the rich, by big business and the rich, and particularly FOR big business and the rich is in your interests? And even if it is in your individual interests, do you think it's in the interests of the country? What should the working class, the poor, and the steadily disappearing middle class do? Move? And do you think this is what the Founders had in mind when they wrote a Constitution that, to a degree unsurpassed by any document before or since, protected the rights of all against the tyranny of a few? Think about it, and be careful what you wish for – you just might get it.