Ideology: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture; b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture; c: the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program. In other words, one’s personal and/or political ideology is defined by her beliefs about what she thinks will allow society to function better.
In recent years, politicians and pundits have cautioned us against reverting to our respective ideological corners, and refusing to engage in compromise. They say that no one wins when we are incapable of working together for the collective good, and I tend to agree with this assertion. Where these same people err, however, is in affirming the idea that the ends of each ideological spectrum are equally detrimental to the continued prosperity of “the American people.”
The debt ceiling “crisis” which looms over the American economy like a dark and foreboding cloud represents clearly the ideological divide that has the American political system stuck in neutral, and slipping steadily into reverse. But this chasm isn’t “new.” It started roughly 30 yeas ago with the Reagan administration (which raised the debt ceiling, by the way, more than a dozen times without having to check its conservatism at the door). Reagan and his neoconservative progeny relentlessly imposed on the populace the idea that government was big and bad and pretty unnecessary. Inevitably, government would drain you of your freedoms — all of them. In their view, the government and those who were of the government would raise your taxes year after year and you would have nothing to show for it. Government would destroy your ability to achieve the American dream.
Indeed, with expansive government control, you’d be unfairly subjected to a public school system, a national postal service, an ambulance or fire truck should you ever have the need, an agency that ensures your burgers don’t routinely come with lettuce, tomatoes, and e.coli. It provides for an environmental protection agency which ensures that Business X can’t dump its toxic waste where you fish, and a national infrastructure that isn’t bursting at the seems, or crumbling beneath the surface…actually, scratch that one. But, you understand the point. Obviously, this is merely a minor difference in perspective.
Except that it isn’t minor at all. As the Pew Racial Wealth Gap Study recently pointed out, the economic policies largely championed by anti-government lawmakers in the last 25 years have severely affected the livelihoods of Americans who have been well-served by the “intrusive” hand of government. Because without it, persons of those groups remained both separate and perpetually unequal. And here is where the current ideological divide got its start: it was in the audacity of minorities to want to be equal, to want access to opportunity.
But for folks, granting access to the outsiders resulted in their own loss. They misinterpreted Civil Rights as minority rights or Black rights or poor rights or women’s rights — namely, everyone’s rights except for theirs. It was terrifying for the powers-that-be to acquiesce to the persistent erosion of their own power — driven by “big government.”
Enter 2011 party politics, and the debt ceiling debate. There is no real debate, no real crisis of which to speak. Congressional Republicans are holding up a routine practice for the sole purpose of political posturing — so that they can finally cut government spending (which is a legitimate issue) by gutting programs designed to aid the nation’s most vulnerable, and its middle class alike. Indeed, one side of the aisle still believes in expanding the opportunity to achieve the American dream; on the other side, if you don’t already have it, or plan to inherit it, then you shit outta luck.
And sadly, poor or middle class people concerned with “runaway government passing on debt to their children and grandchildren” have bought into a narrative that serves no one’s interests, unless they are wealthy ones. Make no mistake about it, this is class warfare. The problem is that many Americans unfortunately are disillusioned about which class they actually are in.
In the last few days, I learned about the current Governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue. North Carolina has traditionally been a politically divided state, sometimes led by a Democratic Governor, but legislatively controlled by Republicans. In this ruinous Tea Party era, Governor Perdue has vetoed Republican bills that seek to roll back protections on abortion, off-shore oil drilling, jury awards in medical malpractice suits, environmental restrictions, and bills which give businesses more freedom to deny benefits to unemployed workers. Now, because her state legislature is Republican, nearly all Governor Perdue’s vetoes have been overturned. But her purpose in vetoing these bills hasn’t been to win. No, Governor Perdue wants to go on record having made a clear distinction about where she stood when North Carolina made a U-turn on progress.
I suspect that if no deal is reached in the debt ceiling debacle, and the country’s economy plummets into default, at least I’ll know where my President stood. And who stood against him.