Two years after the great crash of 2008, an economic meltdown that exposed the forces of greed for what they are, the political right is more ferocious than ever. Having presided over the unleashing of the most severe economic crisis since 1929, the right concedes nothing and claims everything. It’s exactly what we should have expected.
The hard right feeds on the carrion by-products of societal breakdown. It revels in the divisions of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation that can be sharpened among the people during hard times. It stirs the resentment of non-union workers against those who are union members, the antipathy of private sector employees against those in the public sector. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the hard right used the fuel at hand to play the same games, to considerable effect in North America, and to catastrophic effect in continental Europe.
In the United States, Canada and Europe, the face of the hard right is etched on the politics of our time.
While Barack Obama was fighting to save capitalism and Wall Street from itself, spending his political capital on corporate bailouts, the far right was sliming him with hate. For some among the ranks of the far right, Obama is an alien, born outside the United States, who has illegally come to the presidency. Last week, Tea Party darling Sarah Palin used Twitter to list as a “favourite” a tweet linked to a photo of a sign labeling the U.S. president a “Taliban Muslim.” This week, she thought she had gone a little too far and claimed that this had been an accidental “favouriting.”
Others portray Obama as a centralizer, determined to take all power into the hands of government, so he can destroy the American way of life.
Obama’s Democrats were routed in elections to the House of Representatives by candidates whose top priority is to ensure that the Bush administration’s tax cuts, for those making a quarter of a million dollars a year and more, remain in place. Funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers and hosted by Fox News, the Tea Party populist revolt corralled angry voters to take aim at Obama while ignoring corporate assaults on the environment, ensuring that the super-rich are lightly taxed and that financial institutions can go back to being unregulated.
The right’s political recipe — a quick return to balanced budgets — would dispatch the United States into a depression, if implemented. Meanwhile, it has been left to Obama to keep capitalism intact by doing the heavy lifting on behalf of Wall Street, while the right prepares to take the White House in 2012.
In truth, if American right-wingers win the White House and majorities in both houses of congress two years from now, they will quickly drop the idea of the balanced budget. From Ronald Reagan to John A. Boehner, from George W. Bush to Sarah Palin, the right has not cared about Washington’s fiscal health. All they care about is letting corporate giants do what they like, while not having to pay for it, or being required to clean up the mess.
For the American right, the deficit is an ideological weapon to be wielded against Democrats. It is a convenient flag under whose folds, the right gets to rail against serious spending to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure and to reconstruct the country’s transportation systems and its cities to combat climate change. The right loves to rant about the picayune cuts it would make by abolishing the Department of Education, National Public Radio and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy deports thousands of Romani people to Rumania and bans the wearing of the burqa to distract attention from the right-wing government’s legislation that will raise the age of retirement in the republic. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed that attempts to turn her country into a multicultural society had “utterly failed.” “We feel connected to the Christian view of humanity that is our identity,” the Chancellor said in a speech to the youth wing of her Christian Democratic party. People who do not accept that view “don’t belong here,” she concluded in a speech widely interpreted as pandering to anti-Muslim sentiments in an effort to boost flagging support for her government.
The city of Toronto has its own tea potty in the form of mayor-elect Rob Ford. Within minutes of being named the winner by local TV stations, Ford declared an end to “the gravy train at city hall”. Ford, whose wealth comes from the label company his late father founded, talks vaguely about corruption at City Hall. But the men and women who are his real targets are those who collect the garbage and drive streetcars, buses and subway trains. He wants to contract out garbage collection, a way to cut the pay of those who do the job. He also hopes to make the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service, to take away the bargaining power of TTC drivers. In addition, he’d dump Toronto’s “fair wage” policy, which ensures that contractors doing business with the city must pay about the same wage as city employees doing comparable work. This rich man’s idea of showing respect for taxpayers — his mantra — is to make the people who work for the city do their jobs for a lot less pay.
Fordism is about making Toronto a city whose employees can’t afford to live in the municipality they serve.
The new mayor has views that range far and wide. On bike lanes: “I can’t support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
On police crackdowns at the G20 summit: “I think the police were too nice. I would have had a zero tolerance approach.”
He’d cut off any municipal funding for Pride Toronto, has mused about Toronto already having enough immigrants, and thinks Oriental people are slowly taking over because they “work like dogs”.
In tough times, the members of the political right play tough. They foment prejudices and hatreds among the Have Nots to ensure that no one effectively takes on the Haves.
Are they prepared to compromise? You’ve got to be kidding.