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Great Leap Backward
Posted by Henry Meyerding on Feb 1, 2014 - 7:48:26 AM

President Barack Obama
Every time there is a major election, we are inundated with hype from each political party, which in the US means mainly Democrats and Republicans. We recognize that this hype is mostly lies that were specifically concocted to influence voters to vote for or against something. This just makes people more apathetic. Most people feel strongly about and support candidates or issues they believe in. When both parties engage in unrestricted deception, reasonable people do not believe them and have no reason to support any candidate they put forth.

When an honest person tries to do something that they have promised and they do not succeed, they apologize for their failure. An honest leader will recognize their failure and change what they are doing in one of two ways: they change what they are doing to try to succeed where they formerly failed, or they stop doing what failed. An example of this kind of political honesty was done by Arnold Schwarzenegger, when he was Governor of California. He surprised me very much by a) Proposing a whole collection of bog standard Republican nonsense, b) putting these propositions to a vote of the people, and c) when people clearly disapproved by a clear majority of the electorate, he admitted: Gee, I must have been wrong.

The worst case frequently happens when true believers in extreme ideas gain positions of power. These are men and women who hold an irrational and uncritical belief in notions about the world and attempt to impose these ideas on the rest of the world. An excellent example of such a person is Mao Tze Tung and his “Great Leap Forward.” It was responsible for more deaths than World War II, mostly through starvation. Philosophy aside, I think we can agree that this was an example of bad government at its worst. No admission of failure, or apology, was ever forthcoming.

Another excellent example of this kind of approach to governance is the current Republican Party in the United States, especially the more extreme religious-right-wing elements within the party who are advocates of sweeping changes to the very nature of what government is. Thier ideas about the role of government are largely Biblical (Old Testament), which is to say that they are advocates of feudal monarchy, with themselves, or monied interests, at the pinnacle of power. Their economic ideas are unfounded, radical and disastrous, and mostly based on the novels of Ayn Rand. This is not a firm foundation for success. Oh, they sound OK when spoken of in simplicity and eloquence, but in every single instance when they have been put into actual practice, the results have been uniformly catastrophic. Of course that doesn't matter to a true believer. They continue to say: "this is true and must work. Oh, it failed miserably? Well, let's do it again and it will work this time. [Repeat]"

If you dispute that these policies have failed, then look at the economic history of the United States over the past forty years.  This has been a time when the ruling class has moved steadily to the right. Republican moderates of the 1950’s would be viewed as advocating radical left policies in the GOP of today. The Democrats have followed almost lock-step with the Republicans in this march to the right. Oh there are stalwart and persistent left-of-center individuals in each party, but the center keeps moving to the right.  And both parties have gradually been successful in deregulating and abandoning the Keynesian economic model that influenced most government policies in the 40 years before the Nixon presidency. If we listen to the policy announcements from the GOP, we hear one thing, but if we look at the actual facts, we see another.

If we compare the US before Reagan with the US during Obama, a period that has been characterized by increasingly ideologically right-wing administrations, we see that we have gone from being:

  • the world’s biggest creditor nation, to the world’s biggest debtor nation.

  • the worlds biggest exporter of finished goods and importer of raw materials, to being the world’s biggest importer of finished goods and exporter of raw materials.

  • a nation of comparatively narrow distribution of wealth for a developed nation, to the largest income disparity in a developed nation, with the largest concentration of wealth at the top.

  • a nation of low unemployment, to a nation of high (real) unemployment.

  • a nation where everyone could afford higher education, to a nation where only the wealthy can afford a higher education without incurring massive debt.

  • a nation with the best, most developed national infrastructure, to a nation of bankrupt municipalities with crumbling infrastructure and no real investment to correct this problem.

  • a nation of government surpluses at all levels of government, to a nation of bankrupt governments.

  • a nation of prosperous communities and cities, to a nation with beggars and homeless people in every community.

  • a developed nation that was reducing the poverty of its people, to a nation of high, and increasing, extreme poverty.

  • a nation that spends more and more on the military, and less and less on programs for people.

  • a nation where almost anyone who worked hard and applied themselves could get a good job that paid a living wage, to a nation where the working poor have almost no hope of improving their condition or escaping poverty.

  • a nation of rights, liberties and laws, to a nation whose government spies on every citizen, and invades their privacy at will, and where there is one set of laws for the rich and another for the poor.

This list could be a great deal longer. This is the reality of the changes that we have experienced in the governance of our nation. Things are better for the extremely wealthy, the wealthier you are, the better you make out. Things are far worse for most of the rest of us.

In truth, our nation has experienced a great leap backward at the hands of these ideologues. The United States of America is nothing like the nation I grew up in half a century ago. And, as I cast my eyes about this nation, as it actually is today, I have a very tough time locating things that are better. Oh, there are things that are better: women’s rights, gay rights, racial equality, for example, are greatly improved from the late 1950’s”¦ but all are under siege. The rights and expectations of every citizen are being whittled away every day somewhere. The rights and privileges of huge corporations and the wealthy elites grow as ours shrink. This is a dynamic that is as old as Nebuchadnezzar, and it works the same in Washington DC as it worked three thousand years ago in Babylon.

Unlike ancient Babylon, at least in theory, we live in a representative Republic, so we ought to be able to do something about this great leap backward. What is required is solidarity: we need to get together and vote for rational men and women who will try to actually solve problems rather than perpetuate them with rhetoric and sunshine.


Cliffside Malibu




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