The Republican primary race has been so sordid and depressing that pundits have begun to routinely call it a “death march.”
This term, recently revived by Obama’s advisor David Axelrod (whose boss used it to describe his own campaign back in ‘08), might evoke laughter and perhaps even pity if it weren’t so frighteningly accurate in describing not only the current roster of GOP contenders, but also American—if not global—politics in general.
As Santorum, Gingrich, Romney, and Paul all stumble over themselves on their way to almost certain defeat in November, the corporate cash keep rolling in. Despite the candidates’ seeming incompetence, they have been quite successful in furthering the neoconservative agenda, which includes shifting the discourse—and thus the electorate—ever further to the right while portraying the current President as a radical leftist. Although the Republicans may well lose this election year battle, they are winning the war.
Despite the superficial differences among Santorum the theocrat, Gingrich the plutocrat, Romney the robocrat, and Paul the maverick, they all march to the same drumbeat, singing the praises of the free market while decrying the evils of big government and the “nanny state.” The way forward, they proclaim, is to privatize or eliminate public services like education, roll back laws protecting workers, consumers, and the environment, shift the tax burden from the upper class to the working class, and provide loopholes and subsidies for corporations, who (being people) should enjoy unfettered freedom in their pursuit of material gain.
The tune should sound familiar by now. Whether called free market fundamentalism, neoliberalism, laissez-faire economics, or the Washington Consensus, it was composed by Milton Friedman in the late 1950s, preserved for posterity in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, and adopted in the 70s as the theme song of the political right. It was a particular favorite of Ronald Reagan, and all subsequent Presidents—Democrats included—have cheerfully chanted their own rendition. Indeed, whether by conversion, coercion, or compromise, even the “socialist” Obama has learned to sing along, albeit at a slightly slower tempo than the corporate elite would like.
In many parts of the world, the neoliberal number is hardly music to the ears, accompanied as it usually is by bomb blasts and machine gun fire. Regardless of the rhetoric that free people and free markets go hand in hand, the truth is that the latter are almost always enforced by undemocratic and often brutal means. The examples—Chile, Bolivia, Russia, and Iraq, to name a few—are well known to serious students of history and to readers of Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, which painstakingly connects what she calls “disaster capitalism” with violence, repression of dissent, terror, and torture. To survivors of the dead, the disappeared, and the displaced, Friedman’s magnum opus sounds like a frightening dirge.
Indeed the same requiem can be heard throughout the Earth community, which continues to lose species after species to the industrial growth machine. Among the causes of the current mass extinction (the sixth in geologic history) is global warming, which—owing to a relentless and well-oiled disinformation campaign—has been religiously rejected by the New Right as either not real or not caused by humans (none of the current GOP hopefuls take it seriously). This position conveniently releases from responsibility both producers and consumers of fossil fuels, guaranteeing continued profits for the former as well as for corporations ready to rebuild houses, hospitals, schools, sewage systems, and power grids in the wake of the tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, and other natural disasters that are sure to increase in frequency in the years ahead.
This is to say nothing of the steady demise of the middle class, an inevitable consequence of the upward movement of wealth that corporatism creates and demands. For the hardcore Friedmanites, extreme economic disparity is desirable in that it weakens the electorate by ensuring that most folks are too preoccupied with working and meeting the demands of daily life to pay much attention to politics. How can someone in survival mode be expected to devote energy to protesting the breakup of another union or the repeal of another pollution law?
As political thinkers from Aristotle to Jefferson have understood, a thriving democracy depends on a thriving middle class, and the decline of one means the disappearance of the other.
The good news is that the corporate complex, and the global economy upon which it depends, are both destined to fail because they are neither ecologically sustainable nor politically tenable. As resources become increasingly scarce and expensive, and global wealth is filtered into fewer and fewer hands, the people of the world are being jostled awake from the long sleep of history and the nightmares of Empire. We are coming to understand the true meaning of wealth—the natural abundance of the Earth, the riches of community, and the joy of creativity. We are rediscovering the value of cooperation over competition, of diversity over homogeneity, of giving over having, of kindness over cruelty, of the power of love over the love of power. Slowly and surely, we the people are coming back to life.
The human psyche, according to Freud, is dominated by two opposing forces: the instinct for life (Eros) and the urge for death (which Freud called Todestrieb and his followers called Thanatos). Surveying the desolate political landscape against a sky growing dark with smog, one can’t help but wonder which of these forces will prevail. In considering this vital question, we might turn to a Cherokee story in which an old man tells his grandson about the fight between two wolves—one generous, gentle, and kind, and the other greedy, violent, and angry—that rages within his own heart. Nervously, the boy asks, “Which one will win?” to which the elder replies: “The one I feed.”
Editor: Lindsay Friedman
Darrin Drda is an artist, musician, and author of The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times. He is longtime practitioner and occasional instructor of both Insight meditation and loving-kindness practice, and a facilitator for the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, which promotes ecological sustainability, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment.