Much of the conflict between progressives and reactionaries these days seems grounded in fundamental disagreements about the role of government in human affairs. I used to think those disagreements were limited to a few fringe issues where the lines were fuzzy and honest opinions might differ . . . but lately I’ve been convinced that the differences are much deeper, much more fundamental, and much more dangerous.
To begin, reactionaries start with the premise that no one should be forced to ‘invest’ their tax dollars in ventures they don’t approve of. In his daily diatribe against all things progressive, for example, John Hood rightly points out government subsidies for the Randy Parton country music complex in the northeast part of the state are probably not appropriate uses of public money. I have long considered the whole business of economic incentives to be wrong-headed - and Hood and I are surprisingly aligned on that issue. Unfortunately, John relies on extremes to make a point that cannot sustain generalization.
But if I as a taxpayer am being forced to "invest" my money in an enterprise, that is a different story. What if I dislike country music? What if I'd prefer a taxpayer-subsidized outlet for Broadway show tunes? Or opera? Or Gregorian chants? Choosing among musical genres to favor with government largesse is not something politicians should be doing. Let them focus on legitimate needs -- keeping the streets safe for nightlife of all sorts -- and the rest will work out fine.
But what if I disagree about ‘investing’ my tax dollars in keeping the streets safe for corporate cronies of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. 'My' tax payments are going to fund the excesses of companies like Haliburton and Blackwater, and I don’t like it one bit. Is such a war a ‘legitimate need’ worthy of reactionary praise? I’m guessing Hood would say shut up and pay – and if I don’t like it, I can try to change things through elections. Aside from my friends in the tax-revolt movement, most people would agree that I don’t get to choose where my taxes get spent.
On both of these extremes - the invasion of Iraq and the Randy Parton project - it seems easy enough to find agreement among most people. Average North Carolinians would likely have difficulty understanding subsidies for a country music complex, while they’d fully support at least the illusion of funding for national defense.
It’s the vast middle ground, however, where agreement is more challenging and where reactionaries lose their footing. Issues concerning the environment, education and healthcare, in particular, strike me as areas in which private enterprise has a track record of miserable failure. Governments properly own land to make it available for the common good. Local, state and national parks would not exist if left to private enterprise. Poor people suffer immeasurable harm when healthcare is left to market forces. And the gap between haves and have-nots widens dangerously when education is a scarce resource made available only to the affluent.
Reactionaries like Hood don’t care a damn about the common good. They’re all for the rich getting richer and the poor getting screwed. They figure the environment will just get so bad that eventually ‘market forces’ will step in and clean it up. And if you happen to be a poor, uneducated serf who gets cancer or lead poisoning along the way, tough shit. Which isn’t surprising since Art Pope, North Carolina’s right wing sugar daddy, is footing the bill for all their knee-jerk opinions. Imagine if these people actually had to compete in the marketplace of ideas on their own merit. Would anyone actually pay to read what these guys think if they weren’t backed by Art Pope’s money?
Enormous wealth buys a lot of influence. It corrupts government, it subverts democracy, and it generally undercuts the common good. That’s just what North Carolina reactionaries are all about . . . and that’s what elections are all about. Will we be a state of the rich, for the rich and by the rich? Will we be a state where our elected officials are more accountable to the purse strings of Art Popes? Or will we be a state where everyone has access to public education, clean water and air, and good health care?
This is what Democrats stand for.