Conservatism and the Republican Party places as the most important principles the never-ending elimination of government in all forms, a blind, uncritical faith in the power of markets to address all civic needs, the unceasing cutting of taxes as the sole end of public policy, and the promulgation of a narrow, constricting, hectoring version of morality.
More on the flip
[T]here is a darker possibility, already emerging. The Karl Rove team is gradually getting Republicans back "on message." To wit: There's no point in playing a "blame game," as Scott McClellan said fifteen times at Thursday's press briefing. The New Orleans disaster just proves the unreliability of government in general rather than this feckless president in particular. We should be looking forward to rebuilding -- with the private sector taking the lead.
Katrina could even be a political windfall, promoting the ongoing campaign to disparage and cripple government, permanently displacing some reliable Democratic voters from the swing-state of Louisiana, causing the political faithful to rally round their beleaguered president, and knocking even more unpleasant news off the front pages and network news.
This message becomes easy to imprint on the public mind if the focus of our justified anger is directed narrowly at individuals - Michael Brown, Sec. Chertoff, Pres. Bush, Rep. Dennis Hastert, Rep. Tom Delay - for individuals can either dodge and pin the blame elsewhere, or in the case of Brown, fall on their swords. As long as we focus on individuals, it all becomes a matter of tactics, spin, and counter-spin. Especially as the failure of New Orleans was not the failure of a handful of indviduals, but the failure of a worldview which lacks the moral clarity, the generosity of spirit, the humane compassion and the firmness of vision to see that the ENDING of government is the not the ends of government.
If we are to win, we must be prepared to meet the worldview of conservatism head-on and call it on every count. To tie together our criticism of President Bush or Michael Brown or Judge Roberts with a larger narrative - a counter-narrative to conservatism and the Republican Party. Academic debates about father states and mommy states and frames are insufficient - they reak of the namby-pambyism of academic dissertations.
We must be clear - that government is not some beast in Washington that needs to be slayed. The Hobbesian worldview being trumpeted in right-wing circles is wrong - look at the looters, see! We are just one step away from nasty, brutish, short lives. (Of course, it is also historically inaccurate to say that the democratic governments created in wake of the Enlightenment were the children of Hobbes. To anyone familiar with political history and philosophy, it was the very different views of Locke and Rousseau that underpins the democratic revolutions of the late 18th Century. But why let historical fact get in the way of good spin.)
Democratic governments are instruments, tools of the people. Like any tool, it may be used for good, or for ill. We do not blame the hammer or saw for our failure to learn how to use it properly. Likewise, we do not blame it if we fail to properly maintain it to ensure it proper functioning. We do not blame it for failing to achieve that which it was not designed to do. And if we need it to do a greater job, we build the tool necessary for the task at hand. Anyone who has built anything by the honest sweat of their own two hands knows this instinctively.
What we provide is a superior, stronger vision to their weaker, cowardly, selfish one. We know that the tool of government can be used to accomplish together things which we cannot achieve struggling alone. Where in the response to Katrina, convervatives see bureaucratic failure, we see police officers, firemen, EMTs, nurses, doctors, National Guardsmen, and private citizens being held back from answering their countrymen's pleas for aid by a party that does not believe in supporting them, by a party that believes politics counts more than principle.
WE know that it does not have to be this way. We built the Hoover Dam. We built the TVA. We permanently rescued senior citizens from poverty. We saved Wall Street from it own avarice. We brought electricty and indoor plumbing to every town, every village, every hamlet in this nation. We kept the banks open. We built schools where there were mudpatches and hospitals where there were dustbowls. We gave a college education to every solider and sailor. We told the world we would bear any burden and we meant it. We defeated fascists and communists and tyrants. We sent our young men and women to the smallest village in Africa to build water wells and schools and to whisper in a child's ear: "You are not forgotten."
Conservatism and the Republican Party wants the public to forget all this. Some on our own team seem to have forgotten as well. We need to remind the public what our vision is and why its better. We can't be passive and just expect the public "to wake up."
We must not be afraid to say "We will provide universal health care and everyone will get to see their doctor when they are sick. We will guarantee a college education for all - for every child in America. And if it means that the rich will have to pay their fair share to pay for this, so be it - there are things more important than a new boat or a third summer home. We will defend our borders first to the last from every real enemy that wishes us ill - and we will not chase phantom boogeymen merely because its convenient to do so. And we will free ourselves from the wims of petty sultans and shieks and dictators by providing for ourselves. We will make sure that the air your children breathe and the water they drink is clean and safe. We will protect our landscapes and horizons and endless skies from those who would turn our lands into wastelands of individual avarice. We will provide you with the opportunity to work hard and get ahead and stand up to anyone who gets in the way. We will remove the rot of cronyism and corruption from government. And if we fail, we expect to be called for it.*"
* P.S. That's how you talk about single payer healthcare, college financial aid, renewable energy, land conservation, environmental standards, national security, job training and election reform. You know, with a little bit of the holy ghost.