Where Social Darwinism Meets Theocracy
Dr. Joseph A. Palermo
At the 1988 Republican National Convention, Vice President George H.W. Bush talked about a “kinder and gentler” America.
Four years later Patrick Buchanan scared the hell out of the country by declaring a “culture war.” In 2000 George W. Bush gave us “compassionate conservatism.”
The Bush stratagems were cunning responses to focus groups and public opinion polls that show beating up on the poor and the weakest among us can make people feel uncomfortable. In 2012 we can expect more culture war rhetoric, but it will be clouded by the soothing sounds of reasonableness and moderation.
The trick thus far for the Romney-Ryan ticket has been to pretend to want to “save” Medicare even while putting forth Ryan’s “voucher” plan that would end Medicare, not only “as we know it,” but end Medicare PERIOD. The lies and distortions about their schemes for privatizing Medicare (which have been swirling around Republican circles for decades) are the 2012 election’s equivalent of “kinder and gentler” and “compassionate conservatism”: empty slogans designed to beguile voters.
What we’ll hear all week at the RNC are expressions of an ideological witch’s brew, a fusion of Ayn Rand’s Social Darwinism with the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s vision of an American Theocracy. Rand glorified sociopaths. Falwell believed the Bible foretold a nuclear Armageddon. They’ve got no choice but to pander to their Christian evangelical base as well as to their corporate overlords; a bone goes to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council while a juicier chunk of meat will go to the Koch brothers.
The Romney-Ryan Republicans are giving us Rand’s Social Darwinist economic prescriptions, which hold that if an individual lacks the wherewithal to thrive in a “free” capitalist society that person deserves to die in a gutter somewhere, merged with Falwell’s social diktats banning abortion (even in cases of rape and incest), gay bashing, a militarized foreign policy, and a continuation of the “War on Drugs.”
If they advocated only the Randian side of the equation there at least would be no restrictions on abortion, gays could go their merry way, and everybody could smoke weed. Things like school prayer, the 10 Commandments in public buildings, abstinence-only sex “education” would be laughed out of court. Conversely, if they gave us a truly “Christian” set of governing principles, (as opposed to the Falwell strain), omitting the Randian Social Darwinism, we’d at least get a government that cared a little bit about the poor, took care of the weak, and might not be so quick to go to war.
As it stands, we get the Social Darwinism without the libertarianism, and the religious strictures on individual behavior without the compassion for the poor and the valuing of peace. In other words, we get the worst of both ideologies.
This epistemological schizophrenia is secular yet religious, amoral yet moralizing.
And lo and behold! The Republicans’ idée fixe just happens to serve perfectly the interests of the ruling corporate elite in American society! It’s a menu of ideas that give the 1 percent everything it wants. (The Supreme Court’s ruling that money equals speech and corporations deserve stronger Constitutional safeguards than people codify this worldview.)
It’s as though with every minute of right-wing talk radio, every 24-hour news cycle at Fox, and every spittle of words strung together by Romney, Huckabee, Priebus, Ryan, and the rest of them at the convention, they have set out to prove to the world that power equals knowledge, and the ideas that are the most widely disseminated in any society are those that best serve the narrow class interests of its ruling elite.
It’s kind of funny that a tropical storm is heading toward Tampa right when the GOP is kicking off its lovefest. Since about 1900 the American people have looked to the federal government for help when their locales are hit with natural disasters — you know, the government we’re all supposed to despise.
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Before earning a Master’s degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor’s degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master’s degree in History from San Jose State University. He is an Associate Professor of History at California State University, Sacramento.