I’m prone to believing in conspiracies. It’s not something I talk about often–much less admit to in every day conversation–but I can’t deny that it’s true. It probably has something to do with my evangelical upbringing in which every toy was potentially a demonic Trojan Horse and every Saturday morning cartoon a platform for nihilistic Hollywood elites to infiltrate the homes of America, brainwashing her innocent youth with secret gay messages and pro-drug Eastern philosophy. I am a child of the tail end of the Cold War, coming of age during the great Satanic Panic when every stranger–and even a friend or loved one you thought you knew well–could possibly be a spy. Or a devil-worshiping, child-sacrificing witch.
Yeah, it probably has a lot to do with that.
And then, as a very young teenager, I discovered talk radio. Rush Limbaugh taught me that there was a vast left-wing conspiracy intent on corrupting this nation and rotting it at its core. Every feminist was a hateful zealot out to destroy the very idea of masculinity. The gay rights movement was a crusade of perverts and child molesting communists whose aim was to infiltrate society one teaching position at a time, gaining access not only to children’s bodies but also their minds. Environmentalists were evil Earth-worshiping pagans with their hippy sights set squarely on capitalism and the American way. Some of this was said outright, some of it probably inferred. The implications were clear.
Generally, now, I consider myself pretty levelheaded. My political views have pivoted 180 degrees as I’ve grown older. I’ve completely rejected the religion I was raised to practice. I typically think things through these days before expressing strong opinions, whereas before I would just go with that gut feeling that Stephen Colbert has made famous in his truly insightful conservative-mocking monologues. I am cynical and overly skeptical, but I feel like this cynicism is informed with more than three decades of life, learning, and experience, as opposed to just some book written to scare the shit (and money) out of god-fearing parents or some hypocritical windbag in a Florida broadcast studio. But as seasoned and rational as I’ve come to be, the fact of the matter is that, on a primal level, conspiracies often resonate with me.
I think my propensity towards the conspiratorial is the reason John Dickerson’s latest piece at Slate really got to me. I am a big fan of Dickerson–his voice is conversational, his tone reasonable, and his knowledge deep. In his scalding 3,000 word essay posted yesterday, though, he adopts a rare and deeply cynical tone as he takes the Democrats to task for talking a big game about income inequality to a suffering nation, while displaying little willpower when it comes to actual policy. He notes that their tone has recently softened in deference to the powerful corporate interests that fund their campaigns:
“Proof of how gently politicians are treating the wealthy was on display last week when President Obama spoke to the Democratic National Committee. The president has said that addressing income inequality will be the centerpiece of his remaining time in office, but when the president spoke to the DNC, he didn’t mention income inequality at all. Democrats support ‘opportunity for all,’ he said, whereas Republicans support ‘opportunity for a few.'”
This new language is reflected in policy as Obama puts forth a “purely political” budget that will never pass, adorned with a few poll-tested entitlement bumps that won’t scare off too many of those Americans blinded by the Republicans’ destructive and supposedly populist anti-tax platform. It’s reflected in the fact that, though the stock market is up 103% since Obama took office, only the wealthiest 1% have collected 95% of the resulting riches. Dickerson explains how even the mere mention of this glaring disparity in the public sphere is seen as an attack by some in the privileged class. This is evidenced by billionaire Tom Perkins’ unfortunate Wall Street Journal op-ed comparing the treatment of our nation’s wealthiest to the persecution of German Jews in the time leading up to the deadly 1938 attacks known as Kristallnacht.
Tom Perkins is, of course, completely delusional. America’s wealthiest enjoy unprecedented power, influence, and pleasure. Their money decides elections, guides policy, and buys them toys that Howard Hughes could only have dreamed of. And the opposition has been toothless. Especially when, Dickerson notes, compared to the danger–both regulatory and physical–the rich faced during other, earlier periods of horrible inequality, threats represented most famously by the administrations of both presidents Roosevelt.
And, ironically, it is New Deal policies that powered the creation of a semi-pampered middle class, allowing the wealthy to live extravagant lifestyles without fear of the anti-rich rage that marked the beginning of the 20th century. They had it so good. And now they’re abusing the system so shamelessly that the hoi polloi is taking notice again.
The reality is that, though Obama and other Democrats have adopted some of the language of the Occupy movement when it is convenient for them, the policies do not match their populist rhetoric. And though Occupy forced a long overdue conversation in America, the major talking points were co-opted by a Democratic Party that pretended to take them seriously just enough to satisfy those of us watching MSNBC from our couches.
So, yes, I’ve grown and I’ve learned to look at things more rationally. Sometimes I even overlook things intentionally in order to quiet the cognitive dissonance one must endure these days to support a national political party. But a good conspiracy still gets me. And it’s hard not to read conspiracy in a political system that with each election ensures the next will be even more expensive and more impossible for a person of reasonable means to actively participate in. It’s hard not to see a big stinking Illuminati-style conspiracy when you watch your “progressive” party halfheartedly pursue more revenue while the opposition brazenly refuses to allow it to be spent on anything that doesn’t benefit powerful moneyed corporate interests…yes, the same moneyed corporate interests that fund the Democratic Party. It almost feels as if they both have something to gain by keeping the other in power.
And as the world creeps toward another Cold War, this kid who lived through the tail end of the last one knows for certain that the battle for our nation’s soul is not happening in some spiritual world that manifests itself in toys, cartoons, or communism. It’s happening in the backrooms of Washington and the boardrooms of Manhattan.