Monday, October 25, 2004

Remediating Public Insanity

Like the white-power groups with whom it's surreptitiously aligned, the extremist wing of the GOP thrives on the resentment and insecurity of an uneducated, white economic underclass. Calculating thugs like Rove and Norquist have broadened and implemented these feelings, and turned them into an absolutely deadly form of paranoid self-pity.

I've been wondering what can be done with these people after Kerry takes office. It's a crucial question, because as it stands now they're in serious danger of doing violence to themselves and others. I think the most logical action is for Kerry to restart, immediately, a couple of FDR's New Deal programs. The Works Progress Administration, which ran from 1935 to 1943, was the best known of these; it employed 8 million Americans, who built and repaired infrastructure all over the country. It ought to be brought back by all means, along with the related Civil Works Administration program. But I think that another, lesser-known program would be equally worthwhile.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, which operated from 1934 to 1937, was an environmental remediation program that put millions of people to work maintaining and restoring America's wetlands, forests, beaches, and parks. Because these projects can take time, the program provided free lodging for workers, allowing the government to keep costs down while still providing workers with a living wage.

We have plenty of work to do along these lines. Restoration of wetlands, such as is being undertaken in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a huge task that requires a huge number of workers; they would not only get steady work for years, but also come to understand environmental science.

With this program, everyone wins. The usual right-wing arguments don't apply. It's not welfare, not a handout. It decreases unemployment, obviously, and it may teach workers a trade. It also benefits municipalities; unsightly and dangerous sites can be cleaned up and developed, or turned into parks. It benefits homeowners, by raising property values. It can bring local and national benefits in terms of increased tourism (by attracting birdwatchers, for instance). In some cases, it will make areas safer, reducing medical and legal costs at every level.

Perhaps most important, it could bring a sense of common ownership and civic involvement to people who've been hoodwinked into viewing the environment and the government as enemies. It could make good citizens out of people who are currently in thrall to demagogues, who've taught them to be hostile to their own best interests. The Right's rhetoric is spiritual poison; it's estranged millions of people from their own laws and their own land. Kerry needs to hire these people to rebuild the country, and pay them good wages, and give them an allegiance to something more noble than dumbed-down, warmed-over laissez-faire economics.

Kerry has to win these people over, at all costs. If he does, he'll be able to cripple and isolate the Right, and cut them off from their most fertile recruiting grounds. If he doesn't, they'll become shock troops in an endless, slow-motion insurrection that'll make what Clinton went through look like a walk in the park.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, first of all there's a bunch of 'em that need to be in prison. Starting at the top 'o' the heap for war crimes. These people have been infesting the bowels of our government like cockroaches from the Nixon administration, and even longer than that. When they are all safely behind bars for many, many a year, then I'll go for rehabilitating those who show promise. Otherwise, they will continue their truly evil ways.

Phila said...

Hey, I agree..lock the criminals up and throw away the key! It's the underclass I'm talking about here...folks with no power who've been brainwashed into voting against their best interests all these years. The people who've been doing the brainwashing should be locked up, and put to work turning boulders into sand. The people I'm talking about "rehabilitating" are their victims, just as much as the rest of us.

Just wanted to clear that up...

NYMary said...

I think you've got a point, except that the cultural environment has changed so much since the 30's. Perhaps if it were pitched as workfare....

Phila said...

NyMary,

Oh, it'd have to be completely different from the 1930s version, partially because of the regulatory landscape, and partially 'cause we know so much more about site remediation and ecosystems nowadays!

But you're right: the most important factor in the success or failure of a project these days seems to be what you name it.

I hope Kerry and his folks are giving some thought to these problems, though, because just like in Iraq, we need a plan to win the peace.

echidne said...

I like your last sentence about winning the peace. And this is indeed an enormous problem. I read a book about it a year or two ago (can't remember anything more), and it's incredible how the resentment that should have been aimed at the corporations and the wealthy was steered against the minorities and women and the 'godless'. Still, I believe that not all of this had to be steered; the white poor men do resent the minorities and women a lot, for all sorts of reasons.

But improving the economy would be very helpful and your ideas about the environmental projects are quite good. Maybe something similar to the concept of "A City Year" could be created, with longer term career patterns for those who find it especially interesting? Sort of like domestic Peace Corps.

magnolia said...

great ideas. federal works programs for the environment makes more sense than creating wars for the unemployed, and as a tree propagator (from seeds) I LOVE IT.

Thersites said...

If we can afford $200 billion for a useless war, we should be able to squeeze out a few nickels for something like this....

von Nostrand said...

Here Here Bouphonia! Not only do you have fine taste in blog templates, but your suggestion that Kerry reach back to the New Deal is very well taken. Unfortunately, in order to do that we may need another crisis on the scale of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, it is hard to not be alarmed by the present economic situation with regard to consumer and public debt, and our severe trade imbalance. I just hope we aren't soon longing for the "good old days" of 2004.

I'll have to blogroll ya. Nice work.

von Nostrand out.

von Nostrand said...

Here's my site if you're interested.

Thersites said...

I wonder if there isn't some way to address the simmering underclass resentment through a more nuanced understanding of gender politics. Oddly enough, I thought of this as I was watching the new Eminem video, where a young woman is cannily presented as one of the Eminem army. Crudely put, disenfranchised young women outnumber disenfranchised young men. A well-designed appeal to them might be the way to go.

These thoughts are incohate, I admit, but whaddya think? Something there?

Phila said...

Thersites,

That's a really good point. If disenfranchised white males traditionally tend to be suckers for GOP agitprop, disenfranchised female voters are more likely to be apolitical and passive. Surely, that's the worst of all possible worlds!

I have absolutely no ideas here, but it's a good thing to think about. I hope to God some variant of this discussion is going on somewhere in the Kerry camp.

NYMary said...

Disenfranchised young women tend to be apolitical because they (a) accept the poltical position of their fathers/boyfriends, or (b) are too fucking busy trying to work and school and raise kids. Ecnomics, it seems to me, is the only way to reach them. Of course, I teach community college in a small town, so my representatve sample is probably somewhat skewed.