As if you didn’t know, the Tea Party has been grabbing headlines and primary votes. The Tea Party to me are “Half-Mad Hatters” and for two reasons. First, some of their candidates seem to be downright loony. Take, for example, Carl Paladino, the millionaire candidate who recently won the Republican Party’s primary for governor of New York. Mr. Paladino, with the Tea Party’s backing, reportedly wants to “transform some New York prisons into dormitories and put welfare recipients in them so that they can learn personal hygiene and get some job training. Or take Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party’s darling Republican Senate candidate from Delaware. She is, says journalist and author, Charles Pierce, in an Esquire blog, a “sideshow freak and a crackpot.”
Second, the Tea Party people are only half mad because they are mad at the tyranny of big government but not mad at the greater tyranny of big business that controls government as part of the “Devil’s marriage” between the two that took place in the early 1970s. What resulted was the corpocracy. It was not a shotgun marriage. Politicians give powerful corporate interests whatever they want and get political careers in return, so no divorce is about to happen unless forced upon the two partners.
The Tea Party people wouldn’t know real freedom in a true democracy if it stared them in the face. The reason is that they, like most Americans, haven’t personally experienced the real meaning of freedom and don’t see, or don’t want to see, the many tell-tale signs of the corpocracy that has robbed us of our freedom of self rule and that exploits and harms most Americans daily.1
The Intent of this Article
In this article I want to explore the full meaning of freedom in a true democracy and then close by emphasizing that, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, Americans will be looking through a glass darkly if the Tea Party should ever prevail.
In its broadest context, the meaning of freedom is linked to the notions of power, responsibility and accountability, wealth, poverty, knowledge, and choice. Each of these notions along with the related notions of the “free” market and “warfare welfare” is briefly discussed next.
Freedom and Power
Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman Consul and Orator (106BC-43BC), said that freedom is participation in power. Cicero, who wrote Western civilization’s first democratic constitution, prized freedom. So did the framers of the U.S. Constitution who were heavily influenced by Cicero’s writings. In one of his presidential campaign messages Ralph Nader noted that by Cicero’s definition “freedom is in short supply for tens of millions of Americans.” In this sense, the Tea Party people are half sane.
The reason Cicero believed freedom is participation in power is because power means control and a free people in a true democracy have more rather than less control over whether and how much health, happiness, and prosperity they have. And by “they,” I mean every single American, not just the plutocrats, the corpocrats, or the shrinking middle class. Think of a “liberty quotient” that gauges one’s personal freedom. Now compare the liberty quotient of a plutocrat with that of a homeless person.
The Tea Party people want their own liberty quotients to be sky high. As for people like the homeless, they should be “free,” the Tea Party people say, to take care of themselves as best they can with whatever help they can get, not from the federal government, of course, but from state and local agencies.
So the notion of freedom, call it our liberty quotient if you wish, is tied inexorably to power and control over our lives, absolutely every sphere of it, whether the personal/social/cultural sphere, the economic sphere, the political sphere, or the environmental sphere.
Power, Responsibility, and Accountability
The greater the power held the greater is the need by people subject to the power holder for that power to be used responsibly and for the power holder to be held accountable for its use. This is simply so because wielding greater power makes it easier, even unnecessary to be responsible and accountable and abusing great power can be so destructive: By mostly owning government powerful corporate interests mostly needn’t be – and aren’t – accountable to the American people and certainly aren’t socially responsible. I don’t think the Tea Party people realize that government, especially the big, bad federal government, isn’t nearly as powerful as they think it is.
I call accountability the “guardian value” for the rest of the universal (and ethical) values and responsibility its “helper value.” How can there be, you might ask, any universal values in such a polyglot world? I believe a lawyer turned ethicist-a novel career switch-has the answer for us. Everywhere he looked in his search of recorded history, Michael Josephson kept finding the same ethical values. I have put them into three groups: honesty, integrity, loyalty, and promise keeping; fairness, justice, caring for and respecting others; and excellence, responsibility, and accountability.
When honored more often than not, they are the “glue” that holds our society together and keeps us civilized. Just imagine what would happen if we were a land of people and none of us was accountable for our irresponsibility? Well, short of being animals in the jungle, we are a land of people where the corpocracy is rarely responsible and rarely accountable for its abusive power. As for the Tea Party people, they want personal freedom with no social responsibility and minimal accountability to government for their actions or inactions. “Don’t tread on me” is one of their misguided slogans.
Power, Wealth, and Poverty
Does power beget more wealth or does wealth beget more power? It doesn’t really matter since one goes with the other regardless of their order. Louis Brandeis, US Supreme Court Justice (1916-1939), once said that “we can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.” Obviously, we don’t have both in America. There is only great wealth in the hands of the few and a shockingly high and shameful poverty rate in America.
To the Tea Party people, any federal government aid to the poverty stricken smacks of socialism. They don’t know or want to admit that corporate welfare dwarfs social welfare. They don’t know or want to admit that most people living in poverty don’t live there by choice but are jobless because of the free-market economic system that the Tea Party people praise. Milton Friedman’s free-market theory and all of the presidents and mainstream economists since Ronald Reagan who have embraced that theory have been totally repudiated by “Economic Katrina,” the greatest depression since the Great One to sweep across Main Street America (but not Wall Street).
The widespread poverty in America, Mark Rank says in his book, One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All, is “largely the result of structural failings (i.e., not personal failings) at the economic, political, and social levels,” affects us all, and is thus “an issue of vital national concern.” It is not, as the Tea Party people contend, an issue of personal failings or an issue of only local or state concern. And while they insist that America hue to the Constitution, they seem not to realize that the Constitution was meant by its framers to “promote the general welfare.” I underscore the qualifier “general” because it means the welfare of all citizens and also because the Constitution is intended to “establish justice.” There can be no social and economic justice in America when the welfare of all her people is hugely and shamefully uneven.
In a true democracy the link between power and wealth is loosened, which is one reason the corpocracy isn’t going to relinquish its power without a fight, for if it ends up with less of one, it ends up with less of the other also.
In a true democracy wealth would take on a fuller meaning. In their book, Spiritual Capital: Wealth We Can Live, authors Dinah Zohar and Ian Marshall don’t mean religious or sacred wealth. They point out that the word “wealth” comes from the Old English “welth,” meaning “to be well.” If there were democratic, as opposed to what we have today, corpocratic or undemocratic capitalism, our economy would be able, the two authors claim, to “generate wealth that sustains all our human needs.”
Power and Knowledge
Another link to freedom and power is that of knowledge. I believe that America today, despite its technological advancements, is in its own Dark Ages. The corpocracy has turned out the light on democracy for citizens, both young and old, by privatizing public schools and shrinking public aid to public schools without any complaints heard from the Tea Party people (they like the idea of privatized schools, privatized prisons, and privatized public services in general).
An editorial in USA Today, under the headline “Ignorant Citizens,” wrote about a group of high school students in Arizona who were surveyed on what they knew about the history of the U.S. and civics. The results were appalling. Less than five percent of the students were able to answer enough questions correctly to have passed the citizenship test administered to immigrants. “Simply put,” the editorial noted ominously, democracy requires knowledge. Ignorant youth simply grow up to be ignorant adults too obtuse to know who’s pulling the strings in America and too easy of a prey for demagogues.
Freedom, Power, Wealth, Knowledge, and Choice
It’s axiomatic that freedom, power, wealth, and knowledge give the powerful and the wealthy a wide range of choices in life because they have more control over their own destiny. It also follows as night does day that the powerless and the poor have a narrow range of choices; they usually come down to bleak options like living wage, poverty-level wage, or no wage at all; emergency-room care or no care at all; slum housing or no home at all.
Another way to look at freedom, power, and choice is to think of the late psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s, well-known theory about the hierarchy of six human needs from the most basic to the most psychologically fulfilling when met: physiological needs, security needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, meaningfulness needs, and self-actualization needs. According to Maslow, higher-order needs can only be met when the lower order needs have been met. The “corpocrat” and the plutocrat have a wide range of choices at every level of Maslow’s hierarchy. The materially impoverished have limited choices and are basically stuck at the first level, barely making ends meet. I would guess the Tea Party people are stuck at the second level, resent it, but don’t fully know why. In a genuine democracy the power of choice would be more evenly distributed among the citizenry.
The Tea Party and its Passion for the Free Market
The Tea Party people want the American economy to be regulated by the free market, not by government. In reality, the American economy is regulated by the corpocracy. We don’t have in America a democratic capitalism, we have a corpocratic capitalism. But even in a true democracy, there would, and should, be no free market capitalism.
Adam Smith’s espousal of a free market has been far overblown. The putative father of capitalism made only a passing reference to “the invisible hand” in his “Wealth of Nations” and never once in it used the term “capitalism.” A moral philosopher, he understood the importance of morality, which he believed was manifested in a person’s sympathy for others. He would have recoiled at the very idea of the corpocracy and its capitalism, for Smith thought the emerging corporations of his time posed threats emanating from their unlimited life span; unlimited size; unlimited power; and unlimited license. These threats are alive, robust, and nearly invincible in our corpocracy today.
The proof is already in the flattened pudding that free-market theory is utterly unworkable and destructive. As I have already said, the theory was totally repudiated by the ravages of Economic Katrina that were brought on mostly by a free and reckless market. As author, Thom Hartmann, has noted in his book, Screwed: The Undeclared War against the Middle Class, “one of the most pernicious claims the ‘coporatocracy’ (his term) makes is that business flourishes best in a perfectly ‘free’ market–so all of society does better.”
Proponents of a free market theory have for decades pointed to productivity gains and wage increases as confirmation of their arguments for deregulation and a swift transition from the manufacturing to the service sector, yet the productivity gains are “grossly overstated” because of the unmeasured effect of outsourcing, wages have been falling, not rising, and a resurgence of manufacturing would help not hurt the economy.
America desperately needs a national policy that delineates government’s proper obligations and role both in society and in its market place so as to strike a balance between total government rule on the one hand and total market rule on the other.
The Tea Party and Warfare Welfare
The Tea Party is an unwitting ally of the corpocracy. The corpocracy doesn’t depend on the Tea Party but must always have a foreign enemy here and there as an ally. I’ll explain why that is so.
Professor Derber, in his book, Regime Change, contends that “–today’s regime “can survive only by practicing a foreign policy of bad faith that [he calls] ‘marry-your-enemy.’” Americans, including the Tea Party people, have come to accept (because there is no draft), even expect, America’s endless, winless wars. Since WWII the U.S. has been the most war prone of all nations.
The corpocracy gets by with all this blatant militarism and needless bloodshed by scaring the American people with fear-mongering, half truths and outright lies (or very bad judgment by President Obama in his military escalations), by evoking jingoistic patriotism (i.e., “my country right or wrong”), by blathering about building democracy in nations, and by slandering peace seekers as weaklings soft on the enemy.
What is the point of all the killing, all the squandering of American money and goodwill, all the risking of more revengeful attacks reaching our own homeland? The point is simply and starkly this. U.S. militarism fattens the defense industry, including beefing up its sale of arms (the U.S. is the world’s top arms seller); opens up, protects, and expands corporations’ foreign markets and exploitation of natural resources (oil and minerals) and cheap labor; keeps politicians in office; and distracts the American public from growing socio-economic deterioration at home.
The warfare welfare industry (aka the defense industry) gets a huge chunk of the federal pie, about 50% overall, and that’s not counting what I can’t see, the off-the-record budget. The U.S. defense budget, more aptly called the military budget, is “greater than the military expenditures of all other nations combined.” If we define welfare for the defense industry as any money not absolutely necessary for defending our shores from foreign invasion, then most of the military budget spent on off-shore militarism is a warfare/welfare budget. There is nothing defensive and everything offensive, needless, and senseless about the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War.
The U.S. could save trillions of dollars if it had a corpocracy-free military budget to spend on a realistic defense system. The U.S. could save trillions more if there were no “ordinary” corporate welfare consisting of bailouts for companies too big to let fail; debt forgiveness; discounted insurance; excessive government payments for contract work; giveaways of public resources; loan guarantees; privatization; price support loans; quotas; subsidies; supply restrictions; tariff protections; and tax breaks.
If only the Tea Party people would protest all forms of corporate welfare and help to end all the government’s hated taxation; that, besides borrowing money abroad, helps to subsidize U.S. corporations and their industries, would become a non-issue because everyone’s taxes could be cut substantially.
Through the Looking Glass Darkly
I want to share with you a quote from my new book (in press), The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch. The quote is the answer to my question that I asked of Charles Derber, professor of sociology and author of Corporation Nation, Regime Change Begins at Home, and, most recently, Greed to Green.
In the second of these two books he proposed “requilting the big tent” as a key to changing the regime (i.e., the corpocracy). What he meant was a political realignment of interest groups across a broad spectrum that would include religious voters (“fundamentalists, Christian activists, and social justice workers”); the Reagan democrats (“urban, ethnic, and immigrant workers); suburbanites and exurbanites (“software geeks, soccer moms, and outer-city minorities”); the base camp and aggressive progressives (“minorities, women, labor, and the new social movements”); and conservatives (“Southerners, small business, and pick up truck dads”).
My idea of the People’s Reignbow Coalition that I mentioned in a previous article in Dissident Voice and subsequently in my new book is to carry forward Charles Derber’s proposal. So I asked him if his tent was big enough to include the Tea Party people. Here is his answer verbatim.
Gary – I see no way of uniting with the Tea Party – it’s outside the big tent. In fact, it’s threatening to pull up the stakes and blow up the tent. Anyone concerned with restoring democracy must worry first and foremost that the Far Right could not just support corpocracy but actually replace it with something even worse: some form of Fascist Lite stem or a soft theocratic state. If the economy continues to worsen, the parallels with Weimar Germany in the 1920s become very scary – and the first concern of all progressives should be to ward off this nightmarish spectre. Now, admittedly, the Tea Party is very diverse – and a few Tea branches close to Ron Paul might become allies of the Democracy, Not Corpocracy movement. Ron Paul’s domestic agenda is frightening, but he’s wonderful on foreign policy. He opposes the Empire, virtually all wars, and all intrusions on civil liberties. So some tactical alliances with a few of the more sane elements of the Tea Party, mostly restricted to Ron Paul’s anti-war brand of Tea Party, might bring one of the Tea Party branches very partially into the tent. But beware of most of the Tea Party, whose goal is a state far worse than our current corpocracy.
I can’t say that I disagree with him. That state we may come to if the Tea Party prevails is a full-fledged Fascist state. We are nearly there now. If you don’t think so, ponder what two persons who should know said about the matter. First, Benito Mussolini: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” Now, FDR: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power.”
If the Tea Party and all the neo-conservatives should ever prevail politically, they will emasculate government for the common good and give away even more of the nation’s enormous potential resources for the common good to powerful corporate interests. If that should happen, the Tea Party people and the rest of most Americans will lose even more freedom, power, wealth in its fullest meaning, knowledge, and choice but gain more unregulated marketing and warfare welfare. If it does happen, the backlash could indeed usher in a full-fledged Fascist state of America.
- See my two articles, The Monster in Our Midst, and Democracy Pow!er: The USCD and the Peoples’ Reignbow Coalition in Dissident Voice, March 19 and April 2, 2010 respectively. [↩]