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Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. So the saying goes.
But is it necessarily true?
What if all the streams, lakes and rivers where this man sought to fish were on private property? What if they were so polluted that few fish could survive in them, and the ones that did were unfit for human consumption? What if these waterways were diverted (i.e. outsourced) to locations this man could not access? Clearly, under such scenarios, having knowledge about fishing would be useless.
What if this man lived in a valley that contained ninety percent of his country’s population, but only ten percent of its fishable waters? What if the rest of the fishable waters were in parts of the country owned and occupied by the remaining ten percent of the population? Surely economic necessity would inspire our fisherman, and many of his neighbors, to migrate to this sparsely populated, resource rich region of his country.
But there’s a problem. The “ten percenters” also control virtually all the media outlets in the country, and for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week—on television, on the radio and in the newspaper—they “warn” the valley people about the dangers of migration. “This sparsely populated region,” they claim, “is not better, but worse, fraught with unseen perils that only those who have historically resided here can ever hope to survive.”
So the valley people believe these media lies, and thus spend the rest of their lives constantly fighting amongst themselves over the few edible fish they catch, while living in constant fear that even those fish, and the waters they live in, might someday be taken away.
Meanwhile the “ten percenters” lounge in their mansions, eat extravagant meals, and laugh at the valley people’s gullibility.
Imagine this no more, because it is the reality of today’s America.
Why, one may ask, can’t the valley people recognize the injustice of their situation and rebel against it? The answer is simple: the demagogy and deceptiveness of the Bourbons.
Throughout American history, and to the present day, the Bourbons have possessed the ability to divide the poor and middle-classes into categories of race, gender, age, income and/or geographic location. Once they are divided, it is relatively easy for the Bourbons to turn each category against the others.
The Bourbons have historically created these schisms through an arsenal of fascist political tactics: Placing the blame for social problems on innocent scapegoats; manipulating fears, prejudices and superstitions; censoring critics through threats and intimidation; repetitiously disseminating “great lies” until they become accepted as truth; and appealing to emotion over reason. When correctly employed these tactics—as America’s recent debate over health care reform has glaringly illustrated—can easily incite a mob mentality, which the Bourbons can then exploit for their own economic interests.
Although the term “Bourbons” was originally used to describe die-hard royalists in Europe, in the United States this word is often used to describe America’s version of “royalty”—those who acquire fame or riches through nepotism or cronyism, and who aren’t about to share them with anybody.
The first of these Bourbons were wealthy landowners in the American South. Prior to the civil war, these landowners profited immensely from the institution of slavery and wanted it preserved at any cost.
Yet slavery had a negative economic impact on many poor, white Southerners. After all, why should the Bourbons pay wages for hired hands when slaves could be forced to work on the plantations for free? Why should the Bourbons use the services of the local blacksmith, cobbler or carpenter when slaves could be trained to perform such tasks?
Naturally the Bourbons were concerned that the poor whites would eventually figure out that slavery only benefited the rich. To quash this potentiality, they trumpeted the doctrine of “State’s Rights” and “white supremacy,” doing it so effectively that many of these poor, Southern whites lost their lives during the American civil war defending the “right” of the Bourbons to own slaves.
Although the Northern victory in this war subsequently resulted in the abolition of slavery, it did not diminish the influence of the Bourbons. Shortly after Reconstruction ended and the Northern troops went home, these Bourbons mandated that all Southern institutions would be segregated by race. The injustices these “Jim Crow” laws ultimately produced caused cartoonist Thomas Nast to condemn them as being “worse than slavery.”
Yet, since the Bourbons deceptively hid these injustices behind the mantra of “separate but equal,” the United States Supreme Court, which had decreed just a few years earlier that African-Americans had no rights that a white person was bound to respect, ruled that these racist laws were constitutional.
When the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s began to challenge “Jim Crow” segregation, the Bourbons, concerned they would no longer get away with paying African-Americans sub-standard wages or bits of tin redeemable only at plantation stores, and fearing the loss of power if African-Americans were able to remove the obstacles impeding their right to vote, again used appeals to “State’s Rights” and “white supremacy” to encourage poor, white Southerners to attack anyone who supported the civil rights movement.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once discussed the effectiveness of these appeals by recounting a conversation he had with white guards while imprisoned in the Birmingham jail. After learning how little these guards were paid, King told them, “You ought to be marching with us. You’re just as poor as [African-Americans]. You are put into the position of supporting your oppressor, because, through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress [African-Americans] in American society oppress poor white people.”
Today there is a new crop of Bourbons, like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Rupert Murdoch and the pseudo-journalists of his Fox “News” channel, all graduates of the Joseph Goebbels school of broadcasting.
The issue currently inciting the demagogy of many of these Bourbons is not based upon race (at least not openly), but upon opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposals for health care reform. And even though these Bourbons are just as despicable as the Bourbons of old, and even though their tactics remain the same, their supporters are no longer confined to the American South. They are now a nationwide army of mindless “ditto heads” who believe that an Oxycontin addicted, draft-dodging hypocrite spews the gospel, and that the Fox “News” channel actually disseminates news.
A recent tactic of these new Bourbons is to denounce Obama’s health care proposals as Nazism. This was evidenced not only in the histrionics of Limbaugh, but also during a heated exchange between Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank and a protester at a Town Hall meeting.
Although it is ludicrous for any rational human being to equate the laudable goal of providing affordable health care to all Americans with Nazism—especially since Hitler and his followers certainly demonstrated scant concern about the health of the weak, the elderly, the infirm, or anyone not considered an “Aryan”—it is also ironic. Many of the very demagogues now using the word “Nazi” to discuss the policies of Barack Obama were, just a few short years ago, vociferously condemning anyone who compared the political tactics and policies of George W. Bush to those of Adolph Hitler.
I personally experienced such condemnations after writing article entitled Bush vs. Hitler. While I did, and still do, believe that these condemnations were simply a way to prevent Americans from realizing how easily, and how successfully, the political tactics of Hitler could be imported into a supposedly educated, democratic nation like the United States, it was a testament to fairness, nonetheless, when even some liberals, like Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, criticized the use of Bush/Hitler analogies.
This sense of fairness has not been reciprocated. As conservative columnist David Broder pointed out in a recent column, no Republican politician has openly condemned Limbaugh’s use of the term “Nazi.” Perhaps this is an indication that the Republican Party is being hijacked, or has already been hijacked, by the three “R’s”: the rich, the racists, and the reactionaries.
Naturally the lack of Republican and conservative condemnation of Limbaugh words prompted me to explore why members of America’s “right-wing” become so vocally outraged when analogies to Nazism are used to describe their philosophies, programs, pundits, politicians and policies, yet remain so conspicuously silent when such analogies are directed against their political opponents.
The answer was simple: In America it is socially acceptable for minority groups to use racially derogatory terms when referring to a person of their own race or ethnicity. But it is socially unacceptable for people of different races to use such terms. Thus, while it is socially frowned upon for “non-Nazis” to use the term “Nazi,” it is acceptable for those who endorse or sympathize with Nazi tactics or beliefs.
So I guess this means that the Republican and conservative condemnation of my Bush vs. Hitler article was really a backhanded compliment, while Limbaugh’s diatribe was just an example of the proverbial “pot calling the kettle black.”
Not surprisingly, many of the Republican politicians and Bourbons opposed to health care reform are the very ones responsible for the health care crisis in the first place. They are the ones who so willingly take campaign contributions and advertising dollars from fast food restaurants and “junk food” manufacturers, whose products contribute to America’s obesity problem. They are the ones who give tax breaks and advertising space to corporations whose products—video games and consoles, DVD players, computers, and High Definition Televisions—seduce Americans into an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. And the financial kickbacks these politicians and Bourbons receive from lobbyists for the medical and insurance industries have created a nation where millions of Americans lack health insurance, and thus often ignore the symptoms of a serious illness until the illness is so advanced that only expensive treatments can combat it.
The late folk singer Phil Ochs, in his song There But for Fortune, explained that oftentimes the only things that separate the affluent and secure from the impoverished and homeless are happenstances of fate one cannot control. In America the flux of one’s health can quickly move a person from abundance to bankruptcy, and even those who are insured often find their coverage is subject to the whims of their employers or providers.
America is one of the few industrialized nations without universal health care for its people. Yet it’s disturbing to see how easily the demagogy and deceptiveness of the Bourbons have transformed this reality into a badge of honor, instead of a mark of shame.
The passage of time has shown that the Bourbons were rarely on the right side of history. They are not on the right side of history today. But history has also shown that they can do an immense amount of damage, to people and nations, in their lust to thwart progress and positive social change.
Of course the Bourbons could care less about how history remembers them. Their only interest is in opportunistically exploiting the moment, and anything and everything they can gain from it for their own profit and selfish ambitions. Joseph McCarthy exploited the fear of communism. George Wallace exploited racism. Now the Limbaughs, the Hannitys, the Becks, and others of their ilk are creating and exploiting fears about health care reform for the sake of ratings and profit.
And if they win, one American reality will remain unaltered: The health care and health insurance industries will certainly not be in business for your health.
David R. Hoffman