Time to Pull the Plug?

From where I sit, the biggest flaw I see in the US Constitution today is that it has no way to expel those who seek to undo the operations of the government put into place by its checks and balances. 

And it’s probably too late. Incredulous that adult-looking people would not agree with our worldview, liberals and moderates allowed the insertion of worms into various government agencies and offices. Heads were appointed whose mission was to “end this department.” 

We peacenik environmentalists had no way to call them out. Our temperament, our philosophies, our theologies urged us to work harder at the very make-nice, build-consensus idealism that they had already learned to exploit. Like well-meaning parents whose child brings home a ne’er-do-well fiance,  we told ourselves that “reality” would make them our kind of adult.  Once these leaders got into their offices, learned the requirements of the system, digested the facts gathered in its records, visited its clients, communed with its professionals, they would understand the importance of what we had entrusted to them. They would learn to work for this common good.

But they knew the danger in that process, had seen once-promising leaders co-opted by the system. So they developed institutions and scholars to generate their own facts. They cultivated policies that generated their own clients. To support it, they consecrated themselves to a completely separate house of communion. Thus armed, they came to their treasonous work.

From their new positions, they and their clients fostered new facts and professionals. Now, instead of touring the constituencies and field offices, visiting the workers, they called on their own self-minted scientists. What were once useful media centers, reporting on the tension between people and capital, received funding from this spider web, personal relationships with certain spiders. Local media, linked to people and businesses with less and less power, fewer and fewer resources, withered away. We who attempt to find information are now consigned to watching a puppet show between special interest networks, with no way to cut the strings of the fraud.

It is now long ago that I was trained as a parish minister. And one of the toughest things I had to learn was that sometimes your ministry will face a well-meaning, tender-hearted, violence-abhorring parishioner who is being sucked dry by a family member who will not confront their own addiction. They keep up the facade of a good pledge while privately weeping that they’re losing money to this relative who steals the cash and credit cards while everyone else is watching football at Thanksgiving. And as a parish minister, it was my job to steer this person into Al-Anon, to insist that they ought to confront their own weakness as an enabler and co-dependent.

Yes, brothers and sisters, it is time to look at these despoilers as the myth-addicted money-suckers they are. Tea Partiers take more from the federal purse than they put in it, and then have the nerve to challenge us lefties for our role in running up the deficit. 

Ever the scholar — and with family in the South and a birth certificate that says, “Atlanta, Georgia” — I am happy to have found a book that explains this myth more clearly than all the sociology and materialism in the world. I encourage everyone to take a look at Lillian E. Smith’s “Killers of the Dream,” first published in 1940 and reissued in the 1990s. Although Indiebound lists it as anthropology, it was in fact a pioneering memoir, eschewing personal stories to focus on the social formation of post-Confederate Southern white mythology. She gives far more attention to the roles of women and womanhood than was common in that era. She makes little distinction between the do-good White liberals like her own family and the worst of the racists, citing each as a component in maintaining the destructive family and social cycles. To be honest, she could have written it last week.

But we here in Vermont are not those people, at least not heavily. And like that well-meaning, heart-broken parishioner, we can only address our own role in supporting the addiction of a family member, or make a choice to quit doing so. All it takes is one look at the federal tax tables to see that our role in running up the deficit is that we keep giving money to this odd lot of parasites, ignoramuses, and traitors. We keep talking about “holding Washington together” when, in fact, it has already fallen apart. We need to “follow the money” and figure out how to cut the purse strings.

When my religion, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, looked at the cost of an excessive permissiveness for individual license during the 1970s and early 1980s, we admitted that we needed covenants among ourselves. And that covenants were not enough. We needed Codes of Right Relations, and, occasionally, the ability to expel someone who violated these right relations. We needed to know how to protect the children in our Sunday Schools if someone showed up on our grounds in violation of a court injunction. We needed to know how to secure, count, and deposit our collection plates in order that all the money got where the donors intended it should go.

It is no accident that little Vermont, one of the nation’s leftiest, trustingest jurisdictions, also has a high rate of embezzlement in its governments, its nonprofits, its businesses — heck, even a police officer managed to pull one off for several years. Our myth is that we know our neighbors, we trust Vermonters. That’s the illusion we’re trying to maintain, and it’s just as damaging as the one Smith describes overspreading the South.

It’s time to get serious about the embezzlers in our nation’s capital, for that is what these people are. Just as we no longer support repeated rebuilds in flood plains, we have to get serious about how certain demogogic policies are robbing our national treasuries. 

For this is really what the Tea Party’s last stand is all about: self defense efforts by those bullies who have turned our bureaucracies into a vacuum cleaner of US Treasury assets. Night and day, they are establishing programmatic decisions, implementation loopholes, and special interest contracts that we liberals are having to pay for. One of the biggest wasters is private health insurance, so it’s no accident that the medical-insurance profiteers have hoodwinked well-meaning religious individualists as the scapegoats in the fight to defeat reforms that maintain profits while killing the very loved ones these folks think they’re fighting to defend.

This country is way past the point of trying to persuade our opponents that we read the Constitution better than they do. That effort is somewhat as if the enabler asks the family addict to take DNA test before the next holiday. Debating what Jefferson and Madison intended literally is avoiding what they made explicit: the quest for a coherent, adaptable union. 

I am writing in anger, as a small coterie of parasites prepare to shut down the federal government, ostensibly over the Affordable Care Act. But that is only the tactical goal at this time. Rather like an urban street gang which uses family violence to coerce silence and recruit enablers, their real goal is the growth of their own power. When police departments face a rash of drug deaths or shooting deaths, or both, one tool in their arsenal is “the warrant sweep,” in which they identify the leaders and go after them for even the smallest traffic violation. Things quiet down for awhile.

The President needs to lay out the warrants on the states and districts whose policy follies are draining both personal and public treasuries. I want him to criticize the federal cost when families lack access to preventive care, when constituents go bankrupt due to insurance-self-protection clauses, when unhealthy practices masquerading as “culture” drive up death rates among people who should be working, raising families, fixing up homes.

Faced with the same group of myth-blinded citizens 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln found a way to get them to secede. They have no reason to do so now. On the contrary, they appear to have won the peace at long last. Lincoln said he would save the union by any means possible, knowing it meant the sacrifice of thousands of healthy individuals. Are we willing, now, to pay that price again?

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