Politics in the U.S.—at the level of policy-making—has a degree of rigidity, narrow-mindedness, and short-sightedness that causes enormous harm to the security and quality of life of Americans. These constraints are self-imposed; more precisely, they are intentionally imposed by the elite to constrain the voters from exercising their full legal democratic rights of popular oversight. Accepted without a second thought, these unstated and unreasoned taboos prevent Americans from taking full advantage of their vast natural and intellectual resources. The result is a set of interlocked policies that needlessly undermine American security and worsen the general quality of life in American society.
Taboos obstructing honest evaluation of fundamental policy choices prevent American society from moving effectively in new and desperately needed directions. The American system is based on open debate to find answers to complex problems. That is the best system yet discovered for resolving national problems, but it only works when society faces its options honestly. New directions do exist for addressing this set of challenges, but the roads will only be found if we are willing to look for them.
Ironically, these fundamental policy choices—precisely the ones meriting the most meticulous public debate—are typically the public policy decisions made with the least care, the least debate, the least thought. The results include a foreign policy based on military force even when force intensifies hostility; health care as a business rather than a right; environmental policy favoring consumption now rather than preservation for future generations; and an economic policy that has been enriching the super-rich by impoverishing the rest since the Reagan era.
Sure, everyone talks about health care and foreign policy and economics and the environment, but look at content of the debates: it focuses on details. Should we, perhaps, modify the degree of Wall Street regulation a bit (while still leaving the main offenders in business)? Should we, perhaps, talk to international adversaries (in order to get them to do what we previously used the threat of violence to achieve)? Should we, perhaps, add a few soldiers in uniform to your Muslim country of choice or should we use mercenary forces out of uniform (but without altering our goal of suppressing dissent)? Should we, perhaps, pass a new environmental protection law (but without holding corporate executives criminally responsible for their cheating on the laws already passed)? Should we, perhaps, add a sliver of the disadvantaged to the rolls of those favored with health insurance (but surely without endangering the massive profits of the health care industry)?
The basic questions that address fundamental direction are seldom voiced. They are taboo.
- A foreign policy of true compromise with reformist Islam is a taboo subject.
- A health care policy that rejects socialism for the health care industry and institutes socialism for the disadvantaged is a taboo subject.
- An environmental policy that punishes corporate polluters and preserves the environment (allowing economic functions only within those constraints) is a taboo subject (the recent New York Times expose of corporations polluting the nation’s drinking water notwithstanding).
- A financial system that puts society first, employing capital only as a tool for the common good by constraining exploitation and stimulating responsible productivity is a taboo subject.
Americans do have certain cultural/political advantages. Perhaps the greatest is the consensus that those who break taboos are not killed, so, yes, I can voice these complaints in safety, something I would not be able to do in, say, China, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. While I am grateful for this, it does not invalidate my argument. Taboos work more subtly in the U.S.: those who violate them may speak; they are simply ignored. In terms of having influence, if you challenge taboos, you will be cut out of the debate, will no longer be heard, will effectively no longer exist except as an official non-person, an “…ist,” as in “racist, socialist, leftist.” In (we imagine) highly stable, albeit tenuous, Neolithic times, banishment of those who broke village taboos by speaking out may have enhanced group survival; in the contemporary rapidly evolving world, by precluding flexibility, observing taboos invites disaster.
The U.S. has an historic power advantage over its adversaries (even after a decade of behaving like a rogue elephant), the best higher education establishment on earth (albeit a very weak primary and secondary education system), and enormous resources. These advantages give American society an incredibly fruitful array of options. That is, Americans have the collective power to do an unimagined range of different things...if they can open their minds sufficiently to imagine taking new directions toward a fundamentally more just and effective society. Whatever the route to a perfect society, we will never find it (or even succeed in treading water in today's volatile world) if we censor ourselves from discussing the basic options about the fundamental direction of public policy.
These taboos do not arise by chance. Examine these taboos and you will see that each prevents discussion of an issue captured by the super-rich. We cannot discuss the fundamental militarist posture of U.S. foreign policy because that would call into question the war profiteering of arms manufacturing corporations. We cannot discuss the relationship between global overheating and energy policy because that would call into question government favoritism toward Big Energy (in turn of course not unrelated to a foreign policy based on force and collaboration with repressive third world regimes). We cannot discuss the idea of health care as a right because that would not just imperil the wealth of Big Pharma but would start a chain reaction undermining the whole concept of putting the incomes of the corporate elite ahead of the common welfare. We cannot discuss the relative merits of a financial system for the purpose of accumulating capital in private hands vs. a financial system for the social good because that would bring down the whole class system in which Americans sadly do not realize they exist…because the strengthening class system is the greatest taboo of all. Debate is the foundation of democracy; taboos are tools of the ruling class.
The most recent example of how taboos cripple open debate of fundamental social issues is Romney’s blatant effort to reinforce the insidious taboo against discussing class in American society. The reason for this taboo is clear: as long as we are forbidden from mentioning “class” (except to deny the relevance of the concept for our uniquely perfect system), we cannot even ask if class distinctions are getting worse or if the tax code is biased in favor of the upper class or if the upper class (which cannot, by definition, even exist in the U.S.) might possibly be destroying our democracy. And obviously the taboo on discussing classes also conveniently prevents us from seeing the class war that the rich have been fighting with great success against American society for the past generation.
To avoid all such potentially embarrassing discussion, Romney is accusing Obama of running a campaign based on “hatred.” It is way beyond curious that Romney could so neatly have stuffed his foot in his mouth by raising the issue of politicians who run campaigns based on "hatred" just as he decides to put the most mean-spirited man in Washington a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
Romney has handed Obama his response on a silver platter: "Yes," he should say, "this campaign is about hatred." Depriving the most unfortunate while bailing out financial criminals and engorging an obese Pentagon with grossly overpriced weapons designed to defeat an empire that is only visible when Uncle Sam looks in the mirror can go by no better name than "hatred."
Hatred has its uses, and what Americans should hate includes: immoral politicians on the take from the rich to deprive the man in the street just to make the rich richer; big corporations demanding welfare for themselves while denying decent wages to their own employees; financial criminals on Wall St. taking bailouts while designing schemes to defraud homeowners and investors; hypocritical politicians claiming that fleecing the poor to enrich the rich is "patriotism;" war profiteers making $25 million a year who take their corporate headquarters overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes on the profits they made fighting wars harmful to U.S. national security...wars for which they campaigned.
And so, ironically, I reach agreement with financial fat cat Romney. "Yes, sir. You are right. This election is about hatred." And Obama needs to find the backbone to face the divide between the radical right-wing Republicans (unfortunately, the only breed of Republican still standing) and the American people. It has come to this: there is no longer room for compromise. Our house cannot stand 99.9% slave, 0.1% free. We are at war--the people vs. the super-rich, democracy vs. a class system. Those who equivocate and respect taboos are lackeys of the super-rich. Obama needs to decide which side he is on…or Americans need to vote for the Green Party.
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|William A. Cook|