Monday, December 24, 2007

E. Coli Conservatives

First, this quote from a comment thread...

...The libertarian backwash who have been cheerleading for Doktor Paul these past two months will no doubt be able to "prove" that the problem lies in too much gubbmint interference in the Holy Vocation of commerce. Too bad the Tokyo Trotter left in a snit, as I was looking forward to another meaningless list of links to Ludwig von Missing-a-screw.

That comment from Mrs. Robinson's thread sets the tone for this essay from Rick Perlstein's blog.

First, they came for the spinach.

I remember the day last September. The supermarket had a new kind of salad dressing, one that looked like it would taste good with spinach. I went to the produce section to buy a bag. But they all had been recalled. Three people had died from E. coli contamination from eating spinach. I decided I could live without the spinach.

Next they came for the peanut butter, and I didn't pay much attention. I don't much like peanut butter.

Then they came for the tomatoes. Then the Taco Bell lettuce.
Then the
mushrooms, then ham steaks, then summer sausage. I started worrying.

Then, they came for the pet food.

I remember the sinking feeling, hearing that dogs and cats had died eating contaminated food. Then the flash of guilt—had we poisoned our dogs? I remember hearing the name of the manufacturer, my wife searching the web frantically for a catalogue of its products, the stab of fear when we found the name of the food our own dogs eat. Then the wave of relief—it was only canned food; our dogs eat dry. I began investigating more. One of the things I learned was that the Food and Drug Administration hasn't been able to confirm "with 100 percent certainty" that the offending agent didn't go into human food. Then it neglected to reveal the name of the tainted product's U.S. distributor.

It is time to get to the root of the problem. I blame the conservatism.

With this riff on Pastor Neimoller's timeless lines he's just getting warmed up.

Thanks to Sara Robinson's Christmas message (linked above) and a good night's sleep, I feel energized and ready to start another year. 2008 is only a few days away and I'm getting ready for yet another charge at the windmills.

I've been studying the conservative turn in American politics pretty much fulltime since 1997. I never was a conservative. But I admired conservatives. The people then running the Democratic Party just did not seem to me strong people. They were "triangulators"—splitting every difference, selling out any principle, in the ever-illusive quest to divine the American people's fickle beliefs at that particular moment. They did not lead. They followed—Chamberlains, not Churchills.

I wrote a book that came out in 2001 about the conservatives who took over the Republican Party in the early 1960s. Whatever my differences with them ideologically, I didn't write a single negative word about the conservative movement for nearly seven years. Until then, I considered them honorable adversaries. They inspired me. They took risks for a cause. They were principled. They were endlessly determined.
I've come to different conclusions now. They were, yes, endlessly determined. It was over 35 years ago, in Conscience of a Conservative, when Barry Goldwater wrote these stirring words: "I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient for I mean to reduce its size." Twenty years after that, President Reagan intoned at his first inaugural address, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

But Barry Goldwater lost his 1964 presidential race in a landslide. Reagan was inaugurated, and we began seeing headlines like "Wide Spectrum of Regulations Set for Reagan Team's Scalpel." But actually, the Reagan team wasn't able to deregulate all that much, or nearly as much as they wished; the political obstacles, in the 1980s, were just too great.

For these brief four years, however, between the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2002 under President Bush and the recent return of Congress to Democratic control, the scalpel has become a machete. We've been able to witness a natural experiment: What would have happened if Goldwater and Reagan had been able to get their way?

Surveying the results, what once looked to me like principle now looks to me now like mania. Conservatism has been killing Americans. The recent food safety crisis is only one case study.

Let's start connecting the dots.

And connect them he does.

He's talking about food safety but that is but a symptom, not a cause. The greater picture, as the opening of the post indicates, is bigger than food. It's about a way of thinking that threatens to poison more than the air, water and food we need. It is poisoning the politics as well.

I'm no supporter of Ron Paul (Doktor Paul? tee-hee...) but he did come up with a good line last week by Sinclair Lewis: If fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross.

I don't know exactly how to resist what seems to be a national flight to embrace an over-weening patriotism undergirded by our own brand of religious extremism that seems at times to be on a slippery slope to fascism, but if an old guy's blog is found in the ashes that much I want to claim as my own.

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