The din and clamor of conservatives in Congress, state legislatures, the Tea Party and other political rallies, supposedly wants “the will of the people” to be addressed. But what is that “will” they so vigorously allude to?
“The will of the people …” is a refrain that has been heard from time immortal. It was behind much of the energy that sparked a revolution in the American colonies in the 18th century as it did in Egypt recently. Here in America the popular mantra was revived at town hall meetings by Tea Partiers following the election of Barack Obama. Somehow the will of the people, from which this outcome resulted from, was not the “real” will of the people, or so it was expressed by those in the minority who saw their candidates lose.
This outrage by those on the Right seems to confuse a general population that was just beginning to feel the pain of the awful recession we found ourselves in. The anger that was festering from job losses and corporate bailouts got assimilated into the right-wing anger of those who were apparently shocked that a black man could be elected to the office of President while losing their majorities in both houses of Congress and many state offices as well. The shock that conservatism was not the dominant force many thought, somehow created a delusion by fringe elements within the GOP that the will of the people had been hijacked by a “leftist conspiracy”.
If the “will of the people”, as defined by the Right, is to be believed however, then one would expect most people to agree that we need to cut taxes for the wealthiest 2%, slash spending that invests in jobs and our children’s education and reduce the deficit by eliminating Social Security and Medicare. Yet most polls leave us with the opposite impression.
Now if you’ll remember, I stated before that polls are only as good as the people who initiate them, the way the question is framed, and the sample population used in the poll. Clearly those polls funded by Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers or George Soros would be suspect by those on opposite sides of the ideological divide these people represent. But even mainstream polls can be held up to ridicule by wing nuts if they don’t like the outcome of that poll.
HOW MUCH DO AMERICANS UNDERSTAND ABOUT PUBLIC POLICY?
That being said let me use one recent mainstream poll that seems to show the difficulty in determining exactly what the will of the people is or is not. In a CBS poll that was taken just last week there are three questions that address the issue of health care reform.
The first question asks “Do you think all Americans should be required to have health insurance, or don’t you think they should?”, with 50% saying they should. Yet in the next question one becomes puzzled when those polled were asked “From what you’ve heard or read, do you approve or disapprove of the health care law that was enacted last March?”, with only 33% saying they strongly or somewhat approve of it; the very same law where more people indicated they liked the worst part of that bill – the individual mandate.
What is revealed in the next question brings into to focus why the “will of the people” as those on the Right would have you believe is anything but what they present it as. When asked, “In the next few years, do you think the reforms in the current health care bill will make the health care system better, make it worse, not change the health care system one way or the other, or don’t know you know enough about the reforms yet to say?”, nearly half (47%) answered that they “didn’t know enough” or were unsure. 22% felt the bill would make things better and 23% felt it would make things worse. Let me repeat that: NEARLY HALF WERE UNIFORMED ENOUGH TO MAKE A RATIONAL DECISION ON THIS LEGISLATION.
However, to listen to John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP caucus, the will of the American people is expressed as something that conveys they do not want this health care reform bill. The sad fact of the matter is, as this poll shows, that the American people are clueless when it comes to knowing enough about health care legislation to have a will that is based on knowledge of the facts.
Thanks to right-wing pundits in the media, their listeners and viewers think this reform is similar to “socialized” medicine, that it authorizes “death panels”, allows federal funding for abortions, covers illegal aliens, is a “job killer” and will raise the deficit over the next ten years. Along with some corrections to Democrat’s assertions, FactCheck.org has debunked pretty much all of these myths here, here and here.
THE WILL OF THE MINORITY
So if most Americans really don’t oppose government programs across the board, especially those social safety nets that help keep most American’s heads above water like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, who are these people whose wills are claimed to be violated?
The answer that will lead to the likely suspects of Libertarians (many Tea Partiers) and corporate millionaires and billionaires, is one that expresses a philosophy espoused by social and fiscal conservative Ayn Rand which uplifts an idealized notion of one’s self-interests. Libertarians are pretty much a throwback to the 18th and early 19th centuries when being able to “make it on your own” was more a truism than it is now.
Our new country was in need of adventurous types to go and populate the frontier and make it productive. Much land was literally given away as late as 1893 in the great Oklahoma land rush and the gold rush in Alaska later that decade. These hardy pioneer-types developed the land with their blood and sweat and created the imagery of self-sustaining individualists that are memorialized today in the Libertarian political view. The fact that social conditions no longer resemble the wild and rugged frontier seems to get lost on these people today who easily disregard the plight of crowded, polluted cities and their indigent poor.
They’re not a greedy lot like some of their wealthy corporate partners in crime. They simply believe that opportunities are still abundant today and anyone who applies themselves will make their fortune. Apparently unaware that this doesn’t hold true for most people and that they view anyone who still lives in poverty as deadbeats who just don’t try, they are repulsed at the notion of paying taxes that offsets the social inequalities contemporary societies now have to contend with.
This unwillingness to help the least of us who struggle to make ends meet has a following in a relatively small group of people who perpetuate the continued myth about a “land of plenty” and “a land of opportunity”. What makes their numbers seem larger today than they are in actuality and thus extol the notion that THEY represent the will of the people, is they have convinced many poorly informed apolitical types who have lost their job or fear of losing what they have, that the government is the cause of it and they are here to take more.
Distortions of reality abound on right-wing TV and radio talk shows and stoke that fear by aligning it with racial and religious biases that have traditionally existed amongst low-income people and those whose education doesn’t always include a high school diploma.
A REALISTIC VIEW ABOUT “THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE”
The facts are that most people have very little to be taken away and many today are in need of assistance now until they can once again stand on their own feet. This assistance doesn’t come free but many are misled to believe that the debt that will occur from this tax-payer assistance will not only worsen but is in fact a worse consequence than waiting for trickle down economics to relieve their plight; that view that unregulated wealth will find its way down to the rest of us if we just don’t overtax the wealthy and allow them to run things that serve their best interests.
This is where Ayn Rand’s philosophy, popular with Libertarians, comes in because it is felt that the wealthy will create a productive society since it is in their self-interest to do so. Sadly, Ms. Rand’s idealized vision of the wealthy people dismissed the human component of greed. The reality is that the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is greater now than it ever has been. It was also recently discovered that Ms. Rand herself was a beneficiary of those social benefits she was so often critical of.
For Republicans to presume as they do that they not only know what the will of the people is but that it is somehow steadfastly attached to what the wealthiest 2% want, is a deception that has weaved itself deep into the social fabric of our culture. They have steadily cultivated this belief and the associations of wealthy interests to the detriment of most Americans. Sadly, too many working class families often side with them thinking that they share a common belief whose value had merit two centuries ago but has since died with the agrarian culture it began in.