A recent comment in our local newspaper forum led me to think about the state of our national politics. The writer mentioned the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and similar government employment programs during the reconstructionist/New Deal era. The WPA of the 30’s helped to energize the economy and quash the great depression. Though the writer mentioned how useful programs like that could be in today’s economy, I believe the over-the-top rhetoric of the ‘conservative’ community many have made that impossible. Any endeavor in which public money is used for public service programs is now deemed “Socialist” and, if enough money is proposed, even “Communist.”

I wonder how many people noticed some interesting patterns during recent Olympic Games. Commentators (American commentators, not Canadian or British) reviled in the novelty of the fact that the game represented a battle between democracy and communism, just because it was held in China. The reoccurring theme was conspicuous in its placement- with no seeming context for its mention. But, over and over, the point was hammered home: WE’RE different than THEM. Not in a cultural sense (there was enough coverage of those topics), but in a “Red Menace” sort of way. Communism and Socialism have devolved into epithets, evoking the images of dictators and martial law, until they’ve completely lost their actual meaning. This is easy in a country where misinformation is no longer a crime, but a commodity to be bought and sold.

The debate over these words is meaningless, anyway. All ‘Capitalist’ countries have socialist programs. All ‘Socialist’ countries have markets. I would even argue that there are no actual ‘communist’ countries either: they have all devolved into totalitarianism. I will ever argue this of China, though it’s mellowed. With Medicare, welfare, social security, and to a lesser extent, AmeriCorps, it can be argued that America is still one of the largest socialist countries in the world. As a matter of fact, a new country or emergent economy reinventing itself has ala-carte possibilities for economic and political systems. They can pick and choose from a myriad of ideas (if they make it that far), until a categorization is all but impossible. But all these arguments are now drowned out with the rhetoric of ignorance. It’s easier to scream labels at each other than understand each other. My greatest fear is when the generation that lived through the era of the depression and the new deal are completely gone, there will be no one left to show Americans what these programs really can do for a country.

Americans have been trained to hate other countries based on economic systems, of all things. We should be concerned whether a country embraces democracy or falls into totalitarianism, rather than be offended by financial concepts that most of us don’t even understand. Fear of arbitrary labels can destroy nations. No matter how dire our economy may become, we’ll have to face that great programs like the WPA may no longer be possible.

I could have posted this in that same local newspaper where I found that man’s comment. I could try to share this with my local community. Unfortunately, I no longer have faith in the facilities of these people. I’ve been suspect of them since moving here a decade ago, and now I’m surer than ever. The cultural revolution started by two brothers in the 40’s has permanently shaped the fiscally conservative and isolationist Republican ethic into one that strives for worldwide economic control through theocratic and military means. It has successfully packaged and sold this plan to the American public as the American Ideal. And where I live, this ideal is as basic as pickup-trucks and the American flag. Although I’ve noticed the average American retains some basic remnants of that old republican isolationism (which I still think is healthy), they’re still willing to fight and die when called to “defend” this ideal somewhere in the world. Publishing a letter like this locally would, in the end, would reach no one.