Thursday, November 08, 2012

LIKE "SOCIALISM" IN 2008, "MAKERS AND TAKERS" IS AN UNEXPLODED MEME-BOMB

You remember the Joe the Plumber story, right? JTP meets Candidate Obama, Obama says economy works best if we "spread the wealth around," JTP cries "Socialism!," McCain campaign latches on to JTP -- but none of this prevents an Obama victory, and JTP is soon a footnote in history and a bit of a laughingstock.

Except that wasn't the whole story. After JTP injected the word "socialism" into our political discourse and the right-wing media and tea party Astroturfers spread the virus around, mainstream liberal ideas began to seem sinister and dangerous to a lot of Americans. Part of the reason "stimulus" became a bad word was that it was equated with "socialism"; "Obamacare" was "socialism" (and "Obamacare" is still struggling in the polls, even after the guy it's named after won reelection); fear of "socialism" help drive the GOP takeover of the House in the 2010 midterms.

I'm concerned that the same thing is beginning to happen with the right's "makers vs. takers" meme, with the "takers" described as people who just want "free stuff" from government. It didn't get Mitt Romney elected (and its appearance in the "47%" video may have been one of the biggest contributor's to Romney's defeat), but the right isn't letting go of it. It may poison the discourse for the next few years the way "socialism" has poisoned the discourse for the past four. And this may be worse. It's often being invoked in racially ugly ways. And even when racism isn't explicit, the alleged "takers" are portrayed as lazy, shiftless parasites. The parasites are you and me and everyone who voted the way we did on Tuesday.

Consider Bill O'Reilly Tuesday night as election returns came in:
"The white establishment is now the minority," O'Reilly said. "And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?"
Consider Ann Coulter yesterday on Laura Ingraham's radio show:
"If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached. We have more takers than makers and it's over. There is no hope."
I'm worried about this because, while Republicans have been rage junkies in need of anger management for some time now, their rage has mostly been directed at public figures -- the Clintons, Obama, Reid and Pelosi, the Evil MSM. Now every individual Democratic voter is the Antichrist. Every individual Democratic voter is a bloodsucking leech. Ted Nugent tweets, "What subhuman varmint believes others must pay for their obesity booze cellphones birthcontrol abortions & lives." Someone goes to a polling place in Pennsylvania and hangs signs in the parking area that say, "NO PARKING FOR DEMOCRATS - WALK THAT WILL BE THE MOST WORK YOU DO ALL DAY." Ordinary citizens are the new scapegoats, the new people who must be crushed to save America.

Now, of course, a lot of people in Democratic voter groups -- blacks, Hispanics, women, gay people -- are used to being targets of hate. But this is a way for the right to paint a target on people without making an overt appeal to racism or sexism or homophobia. Hate these people not because of their gender or sexual orientation or skin color, but because they are using the government to steal everything you have. Hate the parasitism, not the people.

(As I know from growing up in Boston during the busing crisis, bigotry gets power from pretending not to be bigotry. The anti-busers insisted that the battle was about "neighborhood schools," not race, even as they threw rocks at school buses carrying black children.)

Will calling out the "takers" for wanting "free stuff" work? I don't know. But it's going to be the right's main message for the foreseeable future. And if there's an increasing number of violent attacks in the future perpetrated by people who explicitly invoke this meme, and aimed at ordinary Americans, I won't be surprised.

16 comments:

Victor said...

Yeah, I agree, Steve.
A lot of these people are rage junkies, who crave power, and always want to be on the winning side. They live to stomp on other people - whether it's metaphorically, or for real.

Why can't they all just "Go Galt!" and leave ther rest of us alone?
Oh yeah - see above.


Kathy said...

...bigotry gets power from pretending not to be bigotry.

Amen! And I'm so glad to know that as a woman I'm not a member of the white establishment, despite being almost blindingly white. There's some snark in my comment, but truly I am glad not to be part of a group that sees everyone else as the "Other".

Philo Vaihinger said...

This stuff about socialism is very old hat.

Goldwater and Reagan both called Medicare socialism and even Soviet Communism.

The correct reply is that socialism is a good thing and the even some features of Soviet Communism were good things, too.

Not that truth works at all in US politics.

Philo Vaihinger said...

All the same, we really do need to combat the idea of the right, with their Ayn Rand and their bumper-stickers, that socialism is about spending - much less stealing - other people's money.

We can do this by reminding people that the government actually has the right to tax people for purposes of which they might not personally approve, and this is not theft even if the purpose is to improve the lot of someone else.

Another is to point out that what someone legally has, pre-tax, is not what is "rightfully his," much less what he deserves or is his fair share.

In the case of the rich what they have pre-tax far exceeds their fair share and what is rightfully theirs.

In the case of everybody else it is far less.

And at the same time we need to combat the idea that it makes good sense to leave all the decision-making about how society's wealth, and that means society's work, is spent to the uncoordinated choices of individuals, some of them highly privileged individuals, rather than making the chief part of those decisions a matter of collective social choice through democratic politics.

The results of radical individualism are not merely unjust.

They are also stupid.

Rick Massimo said...

Essentially, we need to keep asking conservatives the question that is absolute kryptonite to them: "Can you give some examples of what you're talking about?"

Once they have to provide actual nouns and verbs to prove what they're saying, they change the subject real quick. Even Our Media Stars have gotten (a little) better at this. Once Mitt Romney put a number on his disdain, it was poisonous.

On the other hand, I am worried about their limitless potential for self-delusion:

"The anti-busers insisted that the battle was about "neighborhood schools," not race, even as they threw rocks at school buses carrying black children."

I bet 99% of those rock-throwers would have been grievously offended at the suggestion that they were racists. Because they were throwing rocks at the buses, you see, not the kids.

And that was before Fox News and Rush Limbaugh were around to tell them they were right.

Palli said...

Or reminding people that Romney and other 1%ers: TAKE money out of the American banking system and commercial circulation to store tax havens;
TAKE jobs out of the US to avoid paying even the federal minimum wage to Americans;
TAKE tax deductions for expenses of lifestyle choices only the wealthy could afford anyway,
etc.
Sorry, for the caps but the Romney's take a lot from the United States. Palli

Unknown said...

Now every individual Democratic voter is the Antichrist. Every individual Democratic voter is a bloodsucking leech.

And this is different from before how?

Liberalism has long been a mental disease to these people, and all of us are forfeit. I'm not seeing anything new here

flipyrwhig said...

Yeah, I don't see how this is different than the state of affairs we've had for decades. Republicans are Republicans because they think it's not fair that someone is getting a free ride from the government while they themselves work hard and get screwed. Other than that, it's a party of rich people and religious crazies, the end.

Raenelle said...

This has been the essential argument against democracy since Thucydides took after Cleon the Tanner. It was the inspiration of the elites to oppose the Confederation and call a Constitutional Convention. It's an ancient argument, and I think we should meet it on its merits. The Republican philosophy is Hurray for me, and fuck you. That's what unregulated capitalism is too. In its naked form, it's selfishness itself and very unattractive. That's why Republicans end up essentially opposing democracy. That's why they are always in search for cultural wedge issues that distract from their essential "I got mine, and I'm not sharing." We should point to it directly, describe it accurately, and then do everything we can to make sure that the voting apparatus is safe from the undemocratic forces.

Philo Vaihinger said...

RAenelle, you have omitted entirely the class bias in practise of the rule, "everyone for himself."

Roger said...

Joe the Plumber a forgotten footnote?

He ran for the House in 2012 and got over 66,000 votes (out of approx. 285,000 cast).

We haven't heard the last of this slaphead grifter.

Raenelle said...

Holy crap, Philo. You're right. And in an important way. Thanks for pulling me back to earth.

: smintheus :: said...

If Republicans keep spewing hatred at the half of America that voted for Obama, they may finally manage to discredit themselves permanently. They've gone beyond sneering at 47% in the last two days; they're into "God Damn America" territory.

: smintheus :: said...

Hah...I see that Steve said exactly that yesterday.

The New York Crank said...

"I'm concerned that the same thing is beginning to happen with the right's "makers vs. takers" meme, with the "takers" described as people who just want "free stuff" from government."

Steve, ain't you heard? The Socialist Gubmint's gonna give each one of us takers a genuine great big nylon rip-proof swag bag, with Barack Ovama's picture on it. And forget taking stuff from the Gubmint. We're gonna be allowed to walk into the homes of any makers we like and take their stuff. I've been thinking about what I'm gonna carry out from some rich dude's home in my own swag bag:

First, I'm gonna grab somebody's gun. Mind you, I'm not gonna take it. I'm gonna grab it.

Then I'm gonna get me a passbook from an offshore bank account. You know what I mean. Gran Cayman Savings and Loan Association, or Community Farmers and Goatherd;s Bank of Zurich, or some[place like that. And you can bet I'm gonna take the free beach chair they must give you when you open an account there for $40 million.

Finally, I'm gonna stuff my swag bag with a great big pile of stock options. And maybe also with a mink coat for a hot woman I know.

Then I'm gonna call my boss and say, "Take your job and shove it. I'm not touching anything greasy any more. You go tell Mitt to fix his own damn car elevator."

Crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Lex Alexander said...

Hate these people not because of their gender or sexual orientation or skin color, but because they are using the government to steal everything you have. Hate the parasitism, not the people.

An excellent policy to adopt toward banksters. I shall begin at once! Thank you, sir.