conservatives are really arguing for is a return to
the three historic forms of tyranny that the Founders
and Framers identified, declared war against, and
fought and died to keep out of our land."
Midnight Ride of the Rabble
To every Middlesex village
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear.
-- From Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863
Let's be blunt. The real agenda of the new
conservatives is nothing less than the destruction of democracy in the
United States of America. And feudalism is one of their weapons.
Their rallying cry is that government is the
enemy, and thus must be "drowned in a bathtub." In that, they've
mistaken our government for the former Soviet Union, or confused Ayn Rand's
fictional and disintegrating America with the real thing.
The government of the United States is us. It
was designed to be a government of, by, and for We, the People. It's not an
enemy to be destroyed; it's a means by which we administer and preserve the
commons that we collectively own.
Nonetheless, the new conservatives see our
democratic government as the enemy. And if they plan to destroy democracy,
they must have something in mind to replace it with. (Yes, I know that
"democracy" and "democratic" sound too much like
"Democrat," and so the Republicans want us to say that we don't
live in a democracy, but, rather, a republic, which sounds more like
"Republican." It was one of Newt's efforts, along with replacing
phrases like "Democratic Senator" with "Democrat
Senator." But Republican political correctness can take a leap: we're
talking here about the survival of democracy in our constitutional
What conservatives are really arguing for is
a return to the three historic forms of tyranny that the Founders and
Framers identified, declared war against, and fought and died to keep out of
our land. Those tyrants were kings, theocrats, and noble feudal lords.
Kings would never again be allowed to govern
America, the Founders said, so they stripped the president of the power to
declare war. As Lincoln noted in an 1848 letter to William Herndon:
"Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in
wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was
the object. This, our  Convention understood to be the most oppressive
of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution
that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon
Theocrats would never again be allowed to
govern America, as they had tried in the early Puritan communities. In 1784,
when Patrick Henry proposed that the Virginia legislature use a sort of
faith-based voucher system to pay for "Christian education," James
Madison responded with ferocity, saying government support of church
teachings "will be a dangerous abuse of power." He added,
"The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment exceed the
commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The
People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor
by an authority derived from them, and are slaves."
And America was not conceived of as a feudal
state, feudalism being broadly defined as "rule by the
super-rich." Rather, our nation was created in large part in reaction
against centuries of European feudalism. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his
lecture titled The Fortune of the Republic, delivered on December 1, 1863,
"We began with freedom. America was opened after the feudal mischief
was spent. No inquisitions here, no kings, no nobles, no dominant
The great and revolutionary ideal of America
is that a government can exist while drawing its authority, power, and
ongoing legitimacy from a single source: "The consent of the
governed." Conservatives, however, would change all that.
In their brave new world, corporations are
more suited to governance than are the unpredictable rabble called citizens.
Corporations should control politics, control the commons, control health
care, control our airwaves, control the "free" market, and even
control our schools. Although corporations can't vote, these new
conservatives claim they should have human rights, like privacy from
government inspections of their political activity and the free speech right
to lie to politicians and citizens in PR and advertising. Although
corporations don't need to breathe fresh air or drink pure water, these new
conservatives would hand over to them the power to self-regulate poisonous
emissions into our air and water.
While these new conservatives claim
corporations should have the rights of persons, they don't mind if
corporations use hostile financial force to take over other, smaller
corporations in a bizarre form of corporate slavery called monopoly.
Corporations can't die, so aren't subject to inheritance taxes or probate.
They can't be put in prison, so even when they cause death they are only
subject to fines.
Corporations and their CEOs are America's new
feudal lords, and the new conservatives are their obliging servants and
mouthpieces. The conservative mantra is: "Less government!" But
the dirty little secret of the new conservatives is that just as nature
abhors a vacuum, so also do politics and power. Every time government of,
by, and for We, the People is pushed out of administering some part of this
nation's vast commons, corporations step in. And by swamping the United
States of America in debt with so-called "tax cuts," they seek to
force an increasingly desperate government to cede more and more of our
commons to their corporate rule.
Conservatives confuse efficiency and cost:
They suggest that big corporations can perform public services at a lower
total cost than government, while ignoring the corporate need to pad the
bill with dividends to stockholders, rich CEO salaries, corporate jets and
headquarters, advertising, millions in "campaign contributions,"
and cash set-asides for growth and expansion. They want to frame this as the
solution of the "free market," and talk about entrepreneurs and
small businesses filling up the holes left when government lets go of public
But these are straw man arguments: What they
are really advocating is corporate rule, and ultimately a feudal state
controlled exclusively by the largest of the corporations. Smaller
corporations, like individual humans and the governments they once hoped
would protect them from powerful feudal forces, can watch but they can't
The modern-day conservative movement began
with Federalists Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, who argued that for a
society to be stable it must have a governing elite, and this elite must be
separate both in power and privilege from what Adams referred to as
"the rabble." Their Federalist party imploded in the early 19th
Century, in large part because of public revulsion over Federalist elitism,
a symptom of which was Adams' signing the Alien and Sedition Acts. (If
you've only read the Republican biographies of John Adams, you probably
don't remember these laws, even though they were the biggest thing to have
happened in Adams' entire four years in office, and the reason why the
citizens of America voted him out of office, and voted Jefferson - who
loudly and publicly opposed the Acts - in. They were a 1797 version of the
Patriot Act and Patriot II, with startlingly similar language.)
Destroyed by their embrace of this early form
of despotism, the Federalists were replaced first in the early 1800s by the
short-lived Whigs and then, starting with Lincoln, by the modern-day
Republicans, who, after Lincoln's death, firmly staked out their ancestral
Federalist position as the party of wealthy corporate and private interests.
And now, under the disguise of the word "conservative" (classical
conservatives like Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower are rolling in
their graves), these old-time feudalists have nearly completed their
takeover of our great nation.
It became obvious with the transformation of
healthcare into a for-profit industry, leading to spiraling costs (and
millions of dollars for Bill Frist and his ilk). Insurance became necessary
for survival, and people were worried. Bill Clinton was prepared to answer
the concern of the majority of Americans who supported national health care.
But that would harm corporate profits.
"Do you want government bureaucrats
deciding which doctor you can see?" asked the conservatives, over and
over again. As a yes/no question, the answer was pretty simple for most
Americans: no. But, as is so often the case when conservatives try to
influence public opinion, the true issue wasn't honestly stated.
The real question was: "Do you want
government bureaucrats - who are answerable to elected officials and thus
subject to the will of 'We, The People' - making decisions about your
healthcare, or would you rather have corporate bureaucrats - who are
answerable only to their CEOs and work in a profit-driven environment -
making decisions about your healthcare?"
For every $100 that passes through the hands
of the government-administered Medicare programs, between $2 and $3 is spent
on administration, leaving $97 to $98 to pay for medical services and drugs.
But of every $100 that flows through corporate insurance programs and HMOs,
$10 to $24 sticks to corporate fingers along the way. After all, Medicare
doesn't have lavish corporate headquarters, corporate jets, or pay expensive
lobbying firms in Washington to work on its behalf. It doesn't
"donate" millions to politicians and their parties. It doesn't pay
profits in the form of dividends to its shareholders. And it doesn't
compensate its top executive with over a million dollars a year, as do each
of the largest of the American insurance companies. Medicare has one primary
mandate: serve the public. Private corporations also have one primary
mandate: generate profit.
When Jeb Bush cut a deal with Enron to
privatize the Everglades, it diminished the power of the Florida government
to protect a natural resource and enhanced the power and profitability of
Enron. Similarly, when politicians argue for harsher sentencing guidelines
and also advocate more corporate-owned prisons, they're enhancing the power
and profits of one of America's fastest-growing and most profitable
remaining domestic industries: incarceration. But having government protect
the quality of the nation's air and water by mandating pollution controls
doesn't enhance corporate profits. Neither does single-payer health-care,
which threatens insurance companies with redundancy, or requirements for
local control of broadcast media. In these and other regards, however, the
government still holds the keys to the riches of the commons held in trust
for us all. Riches the corporations want to convert into profits.
For example, an NPR Morning Edition report by
Rick Carr on 28 May 2003 said, "Current FCC Chair Michael Powell says
he has faith the market will provide. What's more, he says, he'd rather have
the market decide than government." In this, Powell was reciting the
conservative mantra. Misconstruing Adam Smith, who warned about the dangers
of the invisible hand of the marketplace trampling the rights and needs of
the people, Powell suggests that business always knows best. The market will
decide. Bigger isn't badder.
But experience shows that the very
competition that conservatives claim to embrace is destroyed by the
unrestrained growth of corporate interests. It's called monopoly: Big fish
eat little fish, over and over, until there are no little fish left. Look at
the thoroughfares of any American city and ask yourself how many of the
businesses there are locally owned. Instead of cash circulating within a
local and competitive economy, at midnight every night a button is pushed
and the local money is vacuumed away to Little Rock or Chicago or New York.
This is feudalism in its most raw and naked
form, just as the kings and nobles of old sucked dry the resources of the
people they claimed to own. It is in these arguments for unrestrained
corporatism that we see the naked face of Hamilton's Federalists in the
modern conservative movement. It's the face of wealth and privilege, of what
Jefferson called a "pseudo-aristocracy," that works to its own
enrichment and gain regardless of the harm done to the nation, the commons,
or the "We, the People" rabble.
It is, in its most complete form, the face
that would "drown government in a bathtub"; that sneers at the
First Amendment by putting up "free speech zones" for protesters;
that openly and harshly suggests that those who are poor, unemployed, or
underemployed are suffering from character defects. That works hard to
protect the corporate interest, but is happy to ignore the public interest.
That says it doesn't matter what happens to the humans living in what a
national conservative talk show host laughingly calls "turd world
These new conservatives would have us trade
in our democracy for a corporatocracy, a form of feudal government most
recently reinvented by Benito Mussolini when he recommended a "merger
of business and state interests" as a way of creating a government that
would be invincibly strong. Mussolini called it fascism.
In a previous Common Dreams op-ed, I pointed
out how media and other corporations will suck up to government when they
think they can get regulations that will enhance their profits. We see this
daily in the halls of Congress and in the lobbying efforts directed at our
regulatory agencies. We see it in the millions of dollars in trips and gifts
given to FCC commissioners, that in another era would have been called
These corporate-embracing conservatives are
not working for what's best for democracy, for America, or for the interests
of "We, The People." They are explicitly interested in a singular
goal: Profits and the power to maintain them. Under control, the desire for
profit can be a useful thing, as 200 years of American free enterprise have
But unrestrained, as George Soros warns us so
eloquently, it will create monopoly and destroy democracy. The new
conservatives are systematically dismantling our governmental systems of
checks and balances; of considering the public good when regulating private
corporate behavior; of protecting those individuals, small businesses, and
local communities who are unable to protect themselves from giant corporate
predators. They want to replace government of, by, and for We, the People,
with a corporate feudal state, turning America's citizens into their vassals
Only a public revolt in disgust over this
unconscionable behavior will stop these new conservatives from turning
America into a corporate-based clone of Mussolini's feudal vision. As
Longfellow reminds us, "In the hour of darkness and peril and need/The
people will waken and listen to hear."
It is again that hour, and now is the time for we, the rabble, to re-awaken
our fellow citizens.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com)
is the author of over a dozen books, including "Unequal
Protection" and "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," and the
host of a nationally syndicated daily talk show. www.thomhartmann.com
This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for
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