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Week in Greed #17: Conservatives Storm the Week in Greed!

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Some of you will have noticed that the comment sections of the Week in Greed has gotten a little … chippy of late. A number of conservatives are now reading the column. Good.

The left and right in this country are growing more isolated—and therefore alienated—from one another. Ask yourself: How many of my friends/acquaintances hail from across the aisle?

I felt it was important for Rumpus readers to hear what conservatives have to say for themselves. So I spent the past month interviewing a bunch, some in person (I found Angela, for instance, in the Denver airport, highlighting a Glenn Beck book), and some on-line.  I apologize to them in advance for my severe editing and slight reordering. My goal was to capture the gist of what they had to say, not to argue with them. I’ve added brief editor’s notes with factual clarifications when necessary.

***

Angela, a financial analyst, lives in Eagle River, a small city outside Anchorage.

WiG: What does “conservative” mean to you?

Angela: Family, religion, and less government.

WiG: How do you get your news?

Angela: Fox News. I’m a semi-regular viewer.

WiG: Are you following the election coverage?

Angela: Not really. All they do is throw mud at each other.

WiG: Are you familiar with the platforms of either party?

Angela: Not really.

WiG: How do you know what the candidates intend to do?

Angela: It’s whatever I hear on those shows, and I might look something up on the Internet.

WiG: On what sites?

Angela: None in particular.

WiG: What gives you confidence that Mitt Romney will be a good president?

Angela: I’m concerned about the jobs, and preserving traditional values, and our foreign policy, protecting ourselves. I think it’s horrible what happened to the ambassador [in Libya].

WiG: Do you feel President Obama was responsible for that?

Angela: Of course. He said it was over a stupid video. And he didn’t put extra protection on the embassy even though it was the anniversary of September 11th.

WiG: What do you know about Romney’s specific plans to create jobs?

Angela: [Shrugs]

WiG: What do you know about his tax plan?

Angela: [Shrugs]

WiG: What do you like about Romney?

Angela: His religion. I’m Pentacostal, so I don’t agree with his views, but he seems to have more traditional values than Obama.

WiG: In what specific ways are his views more traditional?

Angela: [No response]

***

John, a father of two, works as a manager at Safelite, the auto glass company, and lives in Ohio. Both his parents were both teachers, but he was “politically clueless” until college, where he became a Reagan supporter. He was offended to hear people in a bar cheering because the President had been shot. He’s also troubled by paying too much in taxes, as he feels the government is a bad steward of his money.

John: I consider myself a conservative, probably a little more libertarian than Republican. The term to me means rugged individualism, pursuit (not guarantee) of happiness, and the freedom to be the biggest success or fuck-up I want to be.

WiG: I, too, remember Reagan being shot. I’m shocked people were cheering. Have Obama’s calls for political civility impressed you?

John: The president’s calls for civility are essentially a political inoculation against the same. Same as when Warren Buffett says he doesn’t pay enough taxes. When Rush calls Sandra Fluke a “slut” or when Bill Maher calls Laura Ingraham a “cunt,” that’s going too far. Politics is a blood sport and you play to win period.

WiG: Given your debt concerns, do you support measures such as closing loopholes for giant oil corporations? Or for millionaires?

John: Loopholes for corporations is kind of a straw man for me. Who owns these giant companies? In most cases it’s you and me with our mutual funds. If we tax these folks they will pass that cost back to the consumer, raising prices and making the business environment more difficult. For millionaires, you could do it, but they will lawyer up and figure out a way to not do it.

Romney’s recent dumbfuck move by saying that 47% don’t pay taxes is untrue. It’s 49%. When Obama says that “we are asking people to pay their fair share,” there is really nothing fair about it, because 86% of all income taxes are paid by the top 25% of income earners.

[Editor’s note: this statistic is accurate, and reflects national income distribution. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the top one percent of American households possess 34.5% of our national wealth. The top ten percent possess 74.5%. The bottom 50% possess 1.1% of our wealth.]

John: …As for entitlement programs, both Social Security and Medicare are set up badly, a weird blend of capitalism and socialism that will only end badly. I believe there are folks that genuinely need assistance. I believe there are a ton of folks who are scamming.

WiG: What do you mean by “folks scamming”? Are there non-partisan studies about such practices? I ask because the argument for limited government seems to assume widespread incompetence or malfeasance. As with “voter fraud” claims, the integrity of this argument resides in the evidence of such abuse.

John: I don’t have a study, but from a few sites found info that the federal government made improper payments of around $125 billion last year. I think that whoever is president should tighten that shit up immediately. Maybe “tons of people scamming” is urban legend, or I could just be plain wrong … I think Romney is counting on Reagan’s model of lowering taxes, revenues to the feds increase, folks start new businesses and hire more folks who pay taxes. Yep, trickle down, but it worked.

[Editor’s note: “Reagan’s model of lowering taxes” did not increase revenues. It increased the national debt by 186 percent over his two terms.]

John: I think Romney is some “Ozzie and Harriet” type corporate weenie, that the country needs desperately at this time. He seems adult and not cool, but a fixer of sorts and I would like to see him in there. My core values translate to them in getting the debt under control, reforming entitlements to get people working, creating an environment where business can flourish, and him making polygamy the law of the land. Just joking, one wife is enough.

WiG: What do you mean by “reforming entitlements to get people working”?

John: I mean put the work portion back in “workfare.” I think on your side it’s a sign of pride that we have 53 million people on food stamps. If people need it, I’m good with it. That number horrifies me, I want people to win and win big and buy a yacht.

[Editor’s note: The claim that Obama sought to strip the work requirement from welfare is untrue.]

***

Jack is a senior editor at a small public relations company in northern New Jersey, and is gay.

Jack: Mitt Romney isn’t the Reagan that at least half the country would like. But I argue that we don’t need another Reagan—that example was given to us already. All we need to do is imitate it … By the usual and accepted measures of economic health, Obama’s strategy of more government intervention, regulation, and top-down economic control has been a failure. The growth rate has limped along at about 2.2%. No recovery period in recent history has seen growth this weak. The unemployment rate has persisted at or above 8% for about three-and-a-half years running, which is also extraordinary for a recovery period.

WiG: Given that our economy was shedding 700,000 jobs a month when he took office, what measures should Obama have taken?

Jack: I don’t believe he could have done anything about that particular problem at the time…

WiG: In your view, how and why did the economic meltdown of 2007 occur?

Jack: Contrary to the narrative that was pushed on us, “deregulation” was hardly the culprit. We can trace the problems back to Federal Housing Authority and HUD regulations, and the even more pernicious Community Reinvestment Act. The deregulation which followed was only at the margins … Of course, the emotionally satisfying explanation is that the whole mess was caused by Wall Street greed.

WiG: What should a President do when the economy he inherits is slumping? It sounds like you feel government should do as little as possible, and allow the free market to call the shots. Is that accurate?

Jack: In a perfect world, yes, that would be accurate. But we didn’t have a free market in the first place. There is no way a free-market solution was going to work in a decidedly unfree market environment…

As for my philosophical objection, the government cannot “create jobs,” nor can it “put people back to work.” These are not functions of the government as outlined in its charter, and the idea makes no sense in the first place. I want all politicians to stop claiming otherwise.

WiG: This morning, me and my kids walked past the elementary school they’ll go to, which is being rebuilt. There were about 25 guys working on the re-build, which was funded by taxpayers like myself. How is this not government creating jobs?

Jack: You answered your own question. Those jobs are funded by you, not the government. The government is merely the means by which your money is diverted to that project. Now building a school is of course a good and useful thing. But such a project does not represent an expansion of the economy—the resources used to build the school were diverted from another part of the economy. In fact, there are instances where rebuilding a school may not be the best use of resources. Believe it or not, there are times when it is more useful to renovate a chain of go-go bars, or build a new Wal-Mart.

WiG: Can you talk about your stances on social issues?

Jack: After the freakshow that was the DNC convention, I am quite honestly worn out by all the angry estrogen. But I will talk briefly about abortion. I was informed by a grad-school colleague of mine that until I have a uterus, I don’t have a right to an opinion about abortion (never mind the fact that I am thoroughly pro-choice). The stridency of these broads cannot possibly be making them many friends.

WiG: What do you mean by “angry estrogen”?

Jack: I prefer to let your readers chew on that one.

WiG: Honestly, Jack, you clearly pride yourself on being intelligent and precise, so what are you saying here?

Jack: …Sandra Fluke exemplified both the angry as well as freakish aspects of the DNC convention. She delivered her speech with a very large and secure safety net cast by her (extremely angry) handlers, as is always the case when she speaks publicly. Ms. Fluke was described by President Obama as “one tough and poised young lady.” He wisely left out the adjective “smart.” Insultingly, Ms. Fluke was foisted on us as some kind of intellectual powerhouse, an eloquent voice against the forces of white male patriarchy. Yet when Rush Limbaugh called her a rude name, suddenly she became this delicate little creature who was being bullied, and all rallied to her and cradled her precious little head and told her that Rush is, well, he’s just a big meanie. There, there now, child—it’s OK, Uncle Barack is on the phone, sweetpea.

… As for gun control, I am as staunch a supporter of the Second Amendment as I am of the First. The Left would have us remain as sitting ducks, relying on “Hate Crimes Legislation” to protect us from homophobes (or any other type of thug). I can’t imagine anything more “self-loathing” than that. While I am not actively against such legislation, I claim the right to arm and defend myself. I am convinced that if Matthew Shepard had carried a gun, he’d be walking among us today. As my friends at Pink Pistols say, “Armed gays don’t get bashed.”

… I won’t allow my blood to be spilled all for the sake of some vague, contradictory, and bossy opinions that others hold about “the common good.”

WiG: You believe Matthew Shepard would still be alive if he’d carried a gun. So was he a victim because he allowed himself to be? Given that we all might be victims of violent crime, should everyone carry a gun? Would this decrease, in your view, gun violence?

Jack: No, I don’t blame Shepard for his own death. But the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is of little benefit to either of those gentlemen now. I don’t argue that people should or shouldn’t arm themselves. It’s a decision that each individual will make for himself.

WiG: Do conservatives respect your sexual orientation? How do they express this respect? Is it in their policies toward homosexuals? Can you be specific?

Jack: Most conservatives I interact with respect and agree with my political point of view. As for sexual orientation, my mission on the Right is not to alert them to the virtues of hot man-on-man action. Of course many of them raise an eyebrow at my sexual orientation and romantic proclivities. But once we have a discussion about John Locke, the Rule of Law, the Founding fathers, the Constitution of the United States, and F.A. Hayek, I have made a friend for life. (A hearty laugh at Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s expense never hurts, either.)

This is a discussion that is impossible to have with a Liberal. It begins and ends with the same not-very-original charge that I am like a Jewish guard at Auschwitz and do I realize that the Republican party hates me?

I have never received hate mail nor have I ever been the recipient of personal invective from a conservative. The totality of vitriol comes from the Left. A recent example of gay Leftist hatred came courtesy of the ever-repulsive Dan Savage. He called GoProud “house faggots for the GOP.” We point out to Savage that it’s better to be a house faggot for the Right than a field faggot for the Left. Who has a better shot at cutting the master’s throat while he slumbers? My money is on the house faggot.

***

Jack’s making a particular kind of joke here—one with violent undertones. It speaks to what John said earlier: that politics is “a blood sport.”

My intention was to allow conservatives to speak for themselves. I interviewed a bunch, and chose three voices that struck me as representative. My not-so-secret hope was to dig beneath the binary dogma—to unearth the hopes that might unite us. I was after solace.

That I failed, and so abjectly, should occasion any number of emotions. At the bottom of them all is helplessness.

No there is no way for me to reach these folks: Angela who regards “politics” as some vague source of paranoia, John, with his friendly need to make sure nobody unworthy gets their hands on his dough, and least of all Jack, for whom politics is an arena to strut his intellect and externalize his self-loathing.

But politics isn’t about projecting your pathologies into the public arena, and it’s not about hurting people. Its essential mission is to enact morality in the world, to make the rules by which we care for everyone, not just ourselves. What matters isn’t who “wins,” but to what human effect? Is the greater cause of justice advanced? Is opportunity expanded? Is the suffering of our citizens reduced?


Steve Almond's new book Against Football will be out just in time for the NFL season. Gulp. More from this author →