Thursday, March 10, 2011

Winning an election is not the same thing as conquering the world

Let's be clear about what happened last night, what it indicates about who is in charge of the governor's house and the state legislature right now, not to mention the Senator elected last November to replace Russ Feingold.

This is a takeover of our state government by people who do not believe in democracy of, by, and for the people.  They are people who believe in the superiority of corporate executives, of billionaire-power brokers, who believe that the money empires they control ought to make laws, decide the fate of the nation, render organized expressions of workers and the poor mute or ineffective, and when opposed, simply run over us.

Senator Ron Johnson is famously a fan of Ayn Rand* whose philosophy is about exactly that, and how the elite power-brokers ought to run the world, that the masses are not smart enough to have a valid say in how business or government is run, that the elite rise to the top and ought to rule the world. Even our state and federal courts are being reshaped to reflect this view.

Just one example, Antonin Scalia, the most conservative and ideologically rigid Supreme Court justice, is highly suspicious of popular democracy. Meanwhile, he has also been wined and dined by billionaires like the Koch brothers, and you see how all this points to a particular nexus of folks around a common theme of rule by the elites.

Now throw into this corporate and cultural ideology of elitism the vasts amount of money at their disposal to control the media message, to form mystery 'interest groups' that can buy endless ads to shape a message, the creation of Fox News as a fully owned and operated tool for the dissemination of false and misleading information, yes, but mostly to stoke the flames of the racism and resentment that remain hidden deep within the heart of this political culture, then add the Supreme Court decisions that allow corporate money to flow into our political campaigns, that give corporations 'rights to personhood' under the Constitution - when you put all this together, you begin to see the larger picture here and what is really at stake in Wisconsin's political moment.

Then add this to the mix: the combination of all this corporate money wedded to a right-wing religiosity that, though calling itself Christian, bears no resemblance to the gospel of the Beatitudes, woe to you rich, Matthew 25, the story of the rich young man, or of Dives and Lazarus, much less sacrifice for the sake of others, and you have a scary grandiosity that believes what we just saw in Madison last night is the will of God, and, me, Scott Walker, the man doing this, God's wonderful instrument.

The Koch brothers and Karl Rove don't care about God or the gospel or religious belief, but they are perfectly happy to use folks who have these beliefs in the service of their cause. And that may be one of the sadder aspects of the deterioration of the nation's political discourse over the past 30 years.

Add all this together and you have a very scary era in U.S. politics. Thanks to The Progressive magazine, we now know the religious zeal that inspires our crash-and-burn governor, Scott Walker. When folks are motivated by religious zeal, feeding a sense of their own grandiose role as servant of God, look out - what happens will not be pretty. No room for compassion, compromise, or even thoughtfulness.  Lives are being tossed around, shaken up, damaged, all in the name of God, and the corporate powers smile at it all because it also means that more money will flow out of public schools to private, from the impoverished city to the affluent suburbs, from mass transit to roads and individual cars, from saving our precious natural resources to giving them away for profit, from government as service to privatization of government services also for profit.

When the Koch brothers and Karl Rove win an election, they don't believe they have won the opportunity to serve the people in the way they think will do this best. They believe they have conquered. The victory is not about service, it is about smug conquest over those they perceive as enemies, as if we are all the target of their need to get back at someone for their own deep wounds and resentments, some unhealed deep grievances of their own life stories.

A prayer from the streets
And so I strive for compassion even now because I also know we are charged not to hate our enemies, to pray for our persecutors. In this case, we need to do that in the streets, in the offices of our legislators and in the Capitol rotunda, in the recall campaigns, and in our faith communities and neighborhoods. Part of this 'prayer' is our voices raised against the injustices being perpetrated in our state and bearing witness to a different kind of society than the one these folks have in mind.

We have seen what that other society might look like in the throngs in the streets and the state Capitol in Madison these past three weeks. We've seen it in the free food, the pizzas ordered from around the world, the angry but respectful crowds, the solidarity among workers and students of all kinds, in the diversity represented there.

This is a long post. Needed to vent this on this inglorious morning in my state. Come join us in the streets of Madison on Saturday.


*From a paper by Ayn Rand:
"Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life."
I don't want to live in a world run by people who believe this.

Photos: Margaret Swedish

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