“Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.” – Lyndon Baines Johnson
If there’s one thing you could always count on from ole LBJ it was a Texas sized portion of folksy goodness. Well, that and starting massive armed conflicts under false pretenses. Hell, anybody who’s married to someone named Lady Bird has to be so chugged full of country sayings that his gums would be busier than a funeral home fan in July if he tried to get ‘em all out at once. That one up there might be my favorite, right after the time he said Gerald Ford was so dumb he couldn’t fart and chew gum at the same time. With regards to LBJ’s quote, it seems as though political discourse in this country has been reduced to acts of unrelenting barn burning rather than barn raising—a fact which would, via the logic of Johnson’s aphorism, make us all jackasses. In his own defense, LBJ tried to build himself a barn while he was in office and the past 40 years of US political history has been a record of people trying to tear that barn down.
Despite his many (and I mean many) flaws, President Johnson had the good sense to declare a War on Poverty before declaring war on the North Vietnamese. We were going to build a Great Society back then. It was during the LBJ White House that we established Medicare and Medicaid, while bolstering Social Security and creating the now-defunct Office of Economic Opportunity to promote a series of antipoverty programs that helped the US see its’ poverty levels drop from 22.2% in 1963 to 12.6% in 1970—the biggest such decrease in American history. But, almost as soon as it was born it got about the business of dying. After Reagan was elected in 1980, the OEO was abolished and scattered over the vast governmental landscape while the past 30 years has seen the systematic weakening of our social safety net from both Republican and Democratic administrations. It should come as no shock then that the projected national poverty levels from census figures for 2011 are the highest they’ve been since 1965 when the War on Poverty was just getting underway.
These were the last of the salad days of American Progressivism. Each succeeding decade has further stunted the growth we as a nation made in alleviating our social ills. If you’re looking for indices that back this up beyond increasing poverty rates, you need only turn your eyes upward to see the ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else in this country. According to the that hotbed of liberal elitism known as the CIA, the United States ranked 100th out 140 measured countries based on its Gini index, a system used internationally to determine economic equality among nations. It turns out that we as a nation have slipped behind such luminaries of social welfare as Venezuela and Nicaragua in terms of income equality. We are also ranked an impressive 31st out of the 34 countries in after-tax/transfer wealth distribution within the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development, which contains all of the world’s developed nations. And it could be getting a lot worse before it gets better.
These days there is a new, prevailing ethos in Washington and in many parts of the country that can be best exemplified by presumptive Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan. You will hear many people call it many different things—Neo-Conservatism, Libertarianism, Tea Baggery—but, I have a new umbrella term under which all of these groups can be lumped: Regressivism. Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and his ilk quite literally want to send America back into the 19th century. This is the America of simple-minded folk who watched one too many John Wayne movies as kids and think they’re cowboys, as opposed to folk who simply talked like cowboys and advocated for social justice, like our boy LBJ. In choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has officially completed his rapid transition from a platform of fiscal conservatism to one of unabashed institutional oppression.
Paul Ryan could only have come from Wisconsin. The only states in the union that might vie for it’s title as the King of Unchecked Lunacy in American Politics are Arizona and Ryan’s next-door neighbors in Minnesota. However, this has proven to be a down year for both states as Michelle Bachmann had her ass handed to her in the primaries and the Supreme Court struck down much of Gov. Jan Brewer’s plan to turn being hispanic into a stoppable offense. Wisconsin’s pedigree of insanity has remained strong with Governor Scott Walker winning a controversial re-call election and vowing to do to organized labor what Andrew Jackson did to the National Bank—namely, kill it. Despite the onerous nature of the recent machinations of Walker & company, they don’t even hold a candle to the civil liberty-obliterating mayhem that was instituted by Wisconsin’s own Joe McCarthy during the early 1950s as his House on Un-American Activities Committee terrorized the nation like a playground bully with a pellet gun. Things were so bad back then that my hometown Cincinnati Reds actually changed their name to the Cincinnati Redlegs for a few years to avoid suspicion of being a bunch of dirty commie ballplayers. Nevermind the fact that the Reds were formed in 1869 when Lenin was still a twinkle in his daddy’s sperm, McCarthy instilled enough fear in the American public that ownership changed the name faster than an Aroldis Chapman fastball.
Now, with Walker keeping the home fires burning in the land of cheese curds and draft beer, the 42 year old Ryan is going to take a crack at spreading his demented brand of conservatism to the masses. Ryan has previously cited the philosopher and bitter old hag Ayn Rand as one of his biggest influences, although he has since backpeddled a bit on openly advocating her views. Rand’s theory of objectivism has as its central tenet that everyone’s goal in life should be their own individual happiness, or, to borrow the words of Oliver Stone, “greed is right, greed works.” If you ever have the misfortune to run across some jackass going on about “Who is John Galt?”, you can tell him that he’s a two-dimensional character that could have been written by an 8th grader with a macbook and a developmentally appropriate level of self-aggrandizement.
This is essentially the view of human nature that Paul Ryan takes. He believes that everyone just needs to mind their own damn business and let the brilliant and industrious members of society flourish and, if some people can’t keep up, well then tough shit. It is his stated goal to destroy the programs that make up America’s already ragged safety net. In his first version of the now infamous Ryan Budget Proposal, Paulie proposed that we scrap Medicare as a federal program and make it entirely state run, thereby ensuring that the entire American South and much of Middle America is provided with second/third world healthcare in a first world nation. As an anonymous, but apparently influential conservative leader disclosed in a letter after Ryan’s pick as Veep, “If I lived in Mississippi, even as a Republican, I wouldn’t be too happy to hear the Republicans want to end my federal Medicare and have the state of Mississippi run it!”1
As for Medicaid, Ryan wants to completely scrap the program as it stands now in favor of a series of woefully underfunded block grants distributed to states based on some twisted actuarial table that estimates the minimum amount of money that can be given without losing votes in an upcoming election. As The New Republic points out, the Kaiser Foundation estimates that anywhere from 14 to 27 million low-income Americans would lose their health insurance under the Ryan Budget plan, and that’s not even counting the estimated 30 million Americans who will receive health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Basically, Ryan is that particular breed of hypocritical Libertarian that believes in small government except when it comes to defense spending and social issues involving gays or fetuses or vaginas. While I do think that Ron Paul is a bigoted, delusional buffoon, at least he’s a bigoted, delusional buffoon with some semblance of ideological integrity. Being an anti-war Republican presidential nominee is a fool’s errand, but the good doctor did it anyhow because it was consistent with his belief structure. That’s not who Paul Ryan is. He is a man who believes women who are impregnated during the course of a rape should be required by law to have their rapist’s baby. Ryan’s philosophy and budget proposals underline the fact that he simply doesn’t believe in the idea of society. Being part of a working, successful society means caring for your neighbor and making individual sacrifice for the collective good. Paul Ryan doesn’t believe in the collective good, nor does he believe in social justice. He is a man obsessed with self. He is what Rome looked like right before the Huns sacked the everloving hell out of it. Before this week, Romney’s campaign was just a benign tumor in the body of America. With the addition of Ryan, it became malignant.