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The Conservatives Lose the Culture War

When the Springs votes out TABOR, things are looking up

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 07, 2009.

In Colorado Springs recently, Republicans find themselves draped with the shards and repercussions of a stupid law they convinced the public to buy into for mythic reasons and short term and class-specific benefit. From its miasma of conservatism Douglas Bruce appeared, and from his loins we got the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, called TABOR, voted in by a lame understanding of its inevitable results among voters. Today, the City of Colorado Springs, like many others, is going broke because it predictably cannot support itself. There is a movement for a ballot amendment to remove the city from its own more restrictive TABOR law passed in a show of fiscal macho.

The state’s version of TABOR was adopted in 1992, limiting the growth of state and local revenues by a formula tying inflation plus annual population changes to taxes, called revenue accumulation. This appealed to GOP mythology that big government is the problem, and that we need to hamstring elected representatives. It’s been a financial disaster, creating a permanent revenue shortage. State programs and services combine against each other for survival, and deprive government of constructive methods to address needs. This was as Bruce intended, because it appeals to the prejudices of mostly white Americans to watch supposed inferiors fight for financial crumbs to demean them and grant a whiff of social superiority to those who didn’t always feel the love.

The culture wars of the last several decades have really been wars for control of America’s mythologies, nearly entirely false and far less impressive or inspiring than the facts. They began, really, when Nixon realized that conservatives needed the support of the often racially bigoted Southern Democrats, and so announced his Southern Strategy that over the years converted the once rural, bigoted white, and Democratic South into the GOP sphere. It was a better fit, in truth, and today the Republicans are on the verge of becoming a regional political party. Having unloaded the southern states and received well nigh an actual mandate last November, Democrats are melding into a more coherent and possibly even constructive party, although it might be the liquor talking. Not so in the GOP. Listening to various Republican hopefuls debate January 5th to become the new national chairman was like listening to children argue who loved their dead daddy more, disturbing for any number of reasons.

First, of course, because the daddy was Ronald Reagan, who wasn’t all that beloved by conservatives during his Presidency because he wasn’t conservative enough, and in fact often was totally pragmatic. But on the 5th, Republicans emoted his name and feigned tearful allegiance as if, allowed, they’d want to publicly crawl into his casket to lick his face to prove it. Really disturbing.

Second, because conservatives don’t trust their fellow citizens, although they claim the opposite. They shield their prejudice behind a new Glossary of Terminology, and don’t use the term citizen at all, and substitute Taxpayer, a holy being in their eyes because it’s the taxpayer who supports all government programs, good or bad, whether true or false. They try to implant the notion that only hardworking and successful Republican businessmen pay taxes, with some exceptions, and that these are the same folks who serve in the military.

They don’t want the public to fixate on how few corporations pay any taxes, how surprisingly few wealthy people, given their incomes. They want to fixate on the amount of taxes some of the wealthy hypothetically pay, although taxes could be doubled without affecting their life style at all. The same tax increase that affects the lifestyle of the wealthy not at all but escorts many lesser brackets to the streets, they pose as heroic patriotism, even if the wealthy can live off inheritance and not work. They want the blue collar workers to feel welded to their wealthy superiors because both supposedly pay taxes, whereas inner city blacks and Hispanics – who are cheerfully presented as welfare drones – and immigrants – who are presented as all illegal and of a foreign religion and devoted to overthrow of America – do not.

But it was mostly disturbing because it illustrates the conservative belief that poorly educated male Americans can be trained to act against their own common interests in order to entertain in their own minds macho myth that they are valued as equals by those far more successful and wealthy. This is done by subtle cues about shared prejudices, or shared social values, or common fears. It’s how Reagan felt totally safe in fabricating his own war time experience, his own little mythology that the public, by and large, didn’t catch at all, because they don’t read history, because they don’t read. That happens when public schools are subject to denigration and financial penalty so that the obvious and sure result is only the children of the upper classes will in bulk know what is going on.

Just another reason to be glad Denver Public School Superintendent Michael Bennett is going to be our Senator, Colorado Springs has to sleep in the bed they made and fouled, TABOR looks like it may be gone statewide in a few years, and the public may admit it needs to pay attention more.