Sunday, April 22, 2018
Opinion

In fear of American Talibanism

Can you believe that in 2012 we have to worry about politicians like Rick Santorum trying to restrict women's access to contraception? I thought that particular concern was vanquished in 1965 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut law that banned artificial birth control. Apparently not.

It's distressing that in the hierarchy of my worries this one has to go back near the top. Maybe it will fit between my dread over conservative politicians' efforts to kill public education so they can reduce schools to enterprises run by profit-making companies or indoctrination centers for religious institutions, and the likelihood that my home will soon need a new roof.

Happiness studies suggest people gain more contentment as they reach middle age. But I'm at that age and not feeling that way at all. I fret. Some of it is of a personal nature, like that I work in an industry whose future viability depends on young people (1) reading something longer than a tweet, and (2) caring about the world beyond the Kardashians.

But far more of my worry list is external. It stems from my concern that America's political system can no longer grapple with serious problems. The reason is simple: One of its two major parties doesn't believe in government except as it may reward big business, protect wealth and impose religiously inspired morality through operation of law.

I worry that the Republican Party has lurched so far to the right that its canonized standard-bearer, Ronald Reagan, would be bounced out of the club. He raised taxes 12 times, raised the debt ceiling 18 times and raised average annual federal spending to 22.4 percent of GDP compared with 20.8 percent under Jimmy Carter. Today Reagan's realism would be viewed as traitorous.

This exaggerated conservatism has significant consequences for the preparedness of our country in a competitive world. I worry that other advanced nations seize the future by building infrastructure, educating their young people through college or specialty skills training, and providing universal health care so people aren't shackled to their jobs. Yet Republican primary candidates boast about how they will "get rid of" Planned Parenthood, to quote Mitt Romney. Yeah, Mitt, having fewer low-income and young women on birth control is just the ticket to America's competitive advantage.

I worry that the American economy is now winner-take-all and success requires winning a seat at Wall Street's table of pathological greed. America's financiers remain shockingly unrepentant for the economic devastation they caused in 2008. And their disdain for business ethics will take us to the brink again, if we allow it to. (See Greg Smith, the one-man Goldman Sachs truth squad.) I worry that government's regulatory powers and resources will be unable to restrain Wall Street's self-dealing, and Republicans will succeed in their fight to undo whatever regulations there are.

I worry that soulless capitalism's sugar daddies, David and Charles Koch, plan to amass and contribute $200 million to defeat President Barack Obama. And all that money will slosh around for corrosive television ads to get average Americans to vote against their economic self-interests. There seems to be no limit to the gullibility of the American voter who picks a president based on which ad plays the most ominous-sounding music behind the most audacious lie.

I worry that we get the elected officials we deserve. By electing politicians who claim they can cut taxes and slash the deficit, as well as bring gas prices down to $2.50 per gallon, we get leaders without principles. Honesty is a dangerous trait in American politics. Jon Huntsman doomed his chances with the Republican primary voter by accepting the vast scientific evidence for evolution and climate change, and admitting it out loud. Our level of scientific illiteracy is alarming, too.

All of this is freakishly concerning, and then Santorum comes along with his self-styled brand of American Talibanism that is actually gaining ground. And I think to myself, "Now that's something to worry about."

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