Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remediating Public Insanity

I originally posted this back in 2004, in reference to a Kerry presidency. I think it's worth saying again, even if a lot of its phrasing now seems (even more) stilted and quaint. I've updated it by changing the candidate's name; obviously, the additional challenges this candidate faces call some of my arguments into question.

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 if Obama 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 course of action would be for Obama 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. Obama 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.

Obama 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.

(Photo: Civilian Conservation Corps laborers in Lassen National Forest, California, 1933.)


Ali said...

Your haiku - I posted it on my blog. Hope it's OK.

I will remove if you want.


Phila said...

No problem, Ali. Mi escritura es su escritura!

isabelita said...

The "elite" GOP folks, despite being college-educated and affluent, can be as bigoted and nasty as any backwoods clan. I have seen them in action, even in my own family. Their low income fellow GOPers often admire them as the success stories of the "American Dream." And they have got their paws on everything.
How Obama can ever change any of these people's minds is beyond me at the moment.

Phila said...

How Obama can ever change any of these people's minds is beyond me at the moment.

Ditto. And whether he's willing to try is an even bigger question.