Friday, September 25, 2009

Rush to Judgment

I was watching Jay Leno last night (yes, my wife and I like Jay Leno, though I will say his new show is not as vibrant as the Tonight Show was). Leno’s featured guest was Rush Limbaugh. Here was an opportunity for all to see and hear Mr. Conservative Motormouth pontificate on what is wrong with the country.

From Limbaugh’s perspective, capitalism is good and the marketplace will take care of any woes. The auto industry bailout? Shouldn’t have happened, he believes. It was just a handout to the unions. He compared saving the car industry to an effort to saving the buggy whip industry at the turn of the last century.

Government programs don’t help people because nothing the government provides runs well and stays within its budget, he said. He dismissed Leno’s suggestion that social security and Medicare protect citizens not be able to cope without them.

“The market speaks. The market will fix itself for people far better than a bunch of people in Washington without experience tinkering in it, trying to control it,” he said, adding, “You think it’s compassionate to save all kinds of jobs. The market has more compassion than Washington.”

What was most disturbing during the interview was not hearing Motormouth Limbaugh (I call him Motormouth because I find that he does what most conservative media types do—they talk rapidly as if the flow of their thoughts is sufficient to win arguments, that reason can be trumped by volume, both in words and decibel level). What was most disturbing was hearing a sizable portion of Leno’s audience applauding Limbaugh’s diatribes.

What further disturbs me is that we appear to be living in an age of demagoguery. Anyone with a microphone, or an Internet platform, can stir up passions. Time magazine’s current issue put Glenn Beck’s picture on the front cover with the caption “Mad Man.” The magazine The Week had a similar cover story titled “Mad as hell.” Its cover artwork displayed protest posters including one stating, “Stop taxing us to death.”

I can understand, though not always agree, when there is a dispute over religion and government, or gun control, or the proper way to deal with terrorism.

But I find it hard to reconcile with reality Limbaugh’s audience approvals and the popularity of conservative shock-jocks. They and their audiences seem to forget that government provides essential services. Are they willing to forgo appropriate levels of police and fire protection, waste management, road and highway construction and repair? These same “free marketers” seemingly are unwilling to accept higher taxes to pay for the higher cost of providing services. Do they believe public servants do not deserve wages commensurate with their contributions to society? I wonder how many of them will send back their social security checks, how many of them will refuse to accept Medicare for themselves or their elderly parents? How many of them won’t accept unemployment compensation if the “free market” company that employed them closes the location they work in and shifts their jobs to a Third World country? How many farmers do not apply for subsidy monies? How many of Limbaugh’s followers would accept a tainted food supply chain, unregulated medications that do more harm than good, manipulations of the stock market that benefit the few at the expense of the many?

I, too, want our governments to be more efficient. Let’s hold our elected officials accountable. But even the most well-run private corporation has waste. It can and does make mistakes. To expect government to run better than for-profit corporations is a pipe dream.

And let’s be serious about the value many of our public servants provide. Why would anyone deny our policemen and firemen solidly middle class wages? How many among us are willing to put our lives at risk every day? The same holds true for our military. The freedoms we cherish are protected by our troops. We should not be paying them the equivalent of slave labor wages. The future of our country depends on education. Why would we begrudge teachers salaries worthy of their contributions to society? If teaching paid more, perhaps we’d attract better teachers. Yes, hold them to standards. But pay them according to the impact they have on our future. Anyone out there want to be a garbage man? Doubtful. But sanitation workers perform a vital service. For many years I was an editor and publisher of a business magazine. I was well paid, thank you. But had I not performed my duties, had the magazine not been published, commerce would still have transpired. Nothing bad would have happened. But consider for a moment what would happen if we didn’t have a police force, or a fire department, or a system that picked up your garbage every couple of days.

Leno tried to reason with Limbaugh. He suggested people were fed up with government inefficiency and waste, that programs were good and just needed to be fixed. Limbaugh disagreed and gave his ultimate argument for being against a national health care system. He fears a complete government takeover of our lives would ensue because Washington would be able to dictate what we eat, drink, drive and more, all in the name of making everyone healthier.

It’s a conspiracy theory worthy of Orwell.