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Capitalism: A Tea Party Story

March 17th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Last night I finally watched Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. I watched it for free, streamed from one of many video-hosting websites that enable those of us with no moral qualms about obtaining entertainment illegally to do so. If capitalism is a system in which the best products earn the most profit, people like me are totally fucking things up.

But apparently capitalism has been fucked up from the very beginning, and Wall Street has done more damage to the underlying principles of capitalism than online pirates could ever do. It’s the story of capitalism and its hijacking by giant financial institutions that Moore tells in his film. It’s a story I’m already quite familiar with, but told in Moore’s unique style of film-making whereby you find yourself laughing and shouting in anger at the same time. The problem is that the story is incomplete, and what happened after the film was shot has destroyed its chance of having an effect. I’ll briefly tell the story in my own words, then explain why Moore’s call to action has failed.

Basically, America had a good run for a few decades after World War II, generating all kinds of wealth due to a lack of competition from the world’s other great powers who were busy rebuilding their war-torn nations. The rich had a tax-rate of a whopping 90% and all that money went into infrastructure and improving the quality of life of a thriving Middle Class. An average family could actually get by with just one source of income, freeing up mothers to stay at home and actually raise their children. Unthinkable today, I know, but it really happened. Just ask grandma.

Then along came Ronald Reagan, the perfect corporate spokesman, who sold America on the idea that if we took less money from the rich to pay for social goods, it would somehow benefit everybody. The more wealth the wealthy had, the more would trickle down to the rest of us. Never mind that before it didn’t need to trickle at all—we just took it. But everyone went along with the idea because, after all, Free Enterprise = God’s Way, and if we just work hard enough don’t we all have the opportunity to become multi-gazillionaires? And why should the government take 90% of our gazillion dollars, leaving us with only 10% of a gazillion, which is just a petty zillion or so. How could anyone truly be happy with only a zillion dollars? The government was punishing people for their success!

Well, there’d be no more of that. Reagan completely transformed the American economy to one that favors those at the top, and over the next two decades the Upper Class got richer and richer while the Middle Class somehow, inexplicably, got poorer and poorer. How did that happen? Must be the government and all those regulations on the financial industry. We should keep deregulating so the wealthy can get wealthier and more of that sweet sweet wealth can trickle down to us!

Removing regulations such as the Glass-Steagall Act, which basically prevented banks from gambling with our money, somehow led to banks gambling with our money. Who woulda thunk? The country’s smartest minds went into finance because that’s where the money was, and the methods of gambling got more and more sophisticated until, lo and behold, one day the bubble burst. And it just happened to burst two months before an election in which a candidate promising fundamental changes and a return to an America in which “spreading the wealth” was actually acceptable looked like he was going to win. I’m sure this was a complete coincidence. I’m sure that the 700 billion dollar bailout was, as they said, absolutely necessary to prevent the economy from crumbling into oblivion, forcing us all out on the street to eat from garbage cans for the next hundred years. I’m sure that tying the new president’s hands around his back before he could take office, demonstrating that if he didn’t play ball Wall Street could plunge the nation into Great Depression 2.0 at the drop of a hat, was merely an unintended consequence of the financial bubble bursting when it did.

So Obama gets elected and everyone is jumping up and down and shouting in excitement that things are finally going to change. Economic and social justice was finally making a comeback. All we had to do was get behind the new president as he led us towards that bright and glorious future where every child born in America could once again hope to enjoy a higher standard of living than their parents, where the promise of a home, a well-paying job, decent health-care, and plenty of money for retirement would once again be available to anyone who worked hard and played by the rules.

That’s where Moore leaves off. I can’t wait for his next film, where he explains what went wrong.

But since that won’t come for a few years, I’ll just tell you now. The power-elites who rigged the system so brilliantly came up with their most diabolically brilliant idea to date. They knew there was a growing unrest in the country, an anger brewing over the loss of the old America that threatened to destroy them if it got out of hand. They had to do something, and that something was not going to be submitting to regulations again and giving up the gambling, especially now that the precedent was firmly set that all gambling losses would be subsidized by the taxpayer. Luckily, the script was already in place. It’s what they’d already been doing for decades, only now they had to step it up a knotch because the anger was so much greater.

And thus the Tea Party was born. Conceived by corporations, born of faux-grassroots websites, nurtured by Fox News and strengthened by religion, conspiracy-theories, and racism, the Tea Party movement is the perfect antidote to populist rage. It takes that rage and directs it away from those truly responsible for their suffering and squarely at those who might actually try to alleviate it.

Angry at Wall Street for wrecking the economy and rewarding themselves for it? Well, turn that anger towards those who are trying to regulate it. They’re enemies of freedom! Angry at private health insurance companies for taking more and more and paying out less and less? Well, turn that anger towards those who want to introduce a public option to take the profit-motive out of medicine. They want to kill your grandmother! Angry that you and your wife have to work two jobs each and still can’t afford to pay your mortgage? Well, turn that anger towards those who would raise the minimum wage. They’re socialists! Angry that people are being tossed in prison without due process because it boosts the prison industry’s profits? Well, turn that anger towards anyone advocating judicial reform. They’re destroying the constitution!

Of course it’s much more than that. Angry that there’s a black president? Did you know he’s not even American? Did you know that he’s actually a Marxist and a fascist and a Stalinist communist Maoist? It’s true! He also hates the constitution and sympathizes with terrorists. He’s actually a secret Muslim. It’s a fact! Also, he hates white people. His agenda is basically to take all the money from hard-working white people and give it to fat black ladies who spend all day on the couch and all night making babies. Oh, and speaking of babies, he hates them too. He wants to make abortion mandatory. It’s right there in the health care bill—look it up! And speaking of the health care bill, that’s actually a plot to eliminate society’s weakest members, just like Hitler tried to do. Obama and Hitler actually have an identical political philosophy. I heard it from Glenn Beck—it must be true. After all, he’s on the only fair and balanced network on television. I don’t even bother getting my news from any other source, except my church pamphlet. Did you know that Obama is also the Anti-Christ? Yep, he’s secretly planning to help Muslims destroy Israel, at which point Armageddon can finally begin. There’s no doubt about that—it’s right there in the Bible.

I could go on. But you get the point. Legitimate anger + lies from politicians + lies from the media + racism + religion = 0. Anger alone might accomplish something, but anger mixed with all that other crap will get us nothing.

Michael Moore ends his film by calling on everyone to stand up and do something, to get out and fight the powers-that-be, the people who destroyed the middle class and got extremely wealthy and powerful in the process. And we’re all mad about that. At least, the 95% of us who have less money than the richest 1% combined. We’re all angry at that 1% and if we all joined together and got out there and marched on Washington, marched on Wall Street, demanding a return to economic justice, they would not be able to stop us. The people, when united, always have more power than the institutions that preside over them.

But we are prevented from uniting because half of us have been duped into believing crazy horseshit, and they won’t even allow themselves to listen to reason. As long as the only ones out there marching are those who are calling to block the reforms that would help them, the people are losing the fight. The Tea Party is often looked upon as some benign curiosity, often treated as a source of amusement for liberals, but it’s actually much more insidious, much more significant, much more destructive than that. It is the biggest thing standing in the way of the America we have now—of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation—and the America that once existed, the America that they themselves long to have again.

This story will continue, and it can go either way. Perhaps the wealthy will one day go too far and the bubble will burst, Fox News will be exposed for what it is and the right-wing Bible-thumpers will come around and realize who’s side they should have been on all along. These people are not our enemies—they’re victims just like us. Maybe if we keep reaching out and seeking new ways to explain to them what’s really going on, they’ll redirect their anger back where it belongs.

Or maybe that will never happen, and they’ll continue unwittingly serving the interests of the very people who are making their lives miserable, and their misery along with ours will continue in perpetuity as earning a living becomes harder and harder, our rights and freedoms diminish further and further, and we slide ever so gradually into serfdom.

Capitalism, when all the players are honest and have society’s best interests in mind, may actually be the best social system. But when all the key players are dishonest and have only their own best interests in mind, capitalism leads inevitably to slavery.

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