Dr. Blumenfeld warns us in his article (below) about a new thinking infecting our country called “neoliberalism” that has crept in to ruin us and has even influenced the likes of Mitt Romney. Blumenfeld describes neoliberalism as,
“… a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatization of governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.”
What Dr. Blumenfeld is warning us against is not some novel philosophy that we should avoid, but a description of the United States from its meager beginnings until it became a world power at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, those on the political left have worked to centralize the government’s power in the name of the oppressed and “equality” e.g. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Johnson’s Great Society, and Obama’s health care plan. Those on the right have worked to centralize the government’s power through war and national domination, e.g. Truman’s Korea and atomic bomb, Johnson’s Vietnam, and Bush and Obama’s expansion of war in the Middle East.
Dr. Blumenfeld is correct when he contrasts freedom with centralized government control, but his surprising conclusion is that instead of distaste for the oppression of highly centralized governments around the world that we have observed in the last century, he advocates for even more centralization! It is as if Dr. Blumenfeld is unaware of government’s consistently poor record in solving nearly any social or economic problem. He is basically reading right out of Marx’s playbook as he advocates for a “collective and cooperative” society and at the conclusion of his article he uses a form of Marx’s slogan, ”from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.
The doublespeak that is relevant here is not Romney’s use of “freedom”, but Blumenfeld’s use of “morality”. In the middle of his long grocery list of his values for government policies seems to be shocked that there are some people out there who might even “push legislation based on their notions of ‘morality’.”! What is his whole article doing if not pushing for legislation based on his notions of morality? Blumenfeld’s foundation for morality proves faulty because in this one article he manages to advocate for racial discrimination when it comes to affirmative action, but not for racial profiling to prevent crime; when he advocates for the rights of women to control their own bodies, but ignores the rights of women who are not yet born; when he decries “one-size-fits-all” government education policies while advocating for complete government monopoly over education in the USA; and finally when he is concerned about the constitutional conformity of the actions of police while ignoring it by advocating for unconstitutional federal government expansion. Where do his standards for morality come from?
Blumenfeld misses the solution that a lack of care for one another in a community has been caused, in part by the very collectivism that he advocates. When “Central” derives its legitimacy from its claim that it is society’s problem solver, even savior, and uses that claim to justify massive taxes to be distributed back to the poor here in “Agricultural District 11,” by paid government employees why should I feel any more responsibility for the needy in my community?
Dr. Blumenfeld gave an illustration where he was recently extremely encouraged because he saw local people voluntarily meeting local needs because the incident indicated a unity in our country to meet one another’s needs directly. However, instead of concluding that the best way to meet local needs is through the volunteer contributions of neighbors, churches, and local organizations, Dr. Blumenfeld advocates for a country where communities are expected to rely on Central’s politically motivated, costly, and impersonal programs. These are too often administered by bureaucrats as the solution to any local needs and then paid for by politically motivated wealth distribution schemes.
Dr. Blumenfeld, are you really concerned that the “business-as-usual” establishment Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, is a threat to our society because he uses the word “freedom” several times in a speech? Wow! I think that you are missing it when you oppose freedom and responsibility in exchange for more government and control. History and common sense show that your solution leads to community destruction and division not the united community that you say you value.
The Doublespeak of “Freedom”
By Warren J. Blumenfeld
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
From “Me and Bobby McGee” by Kris Kristofferson
Mitt Romney, in his address on “Freedom” to the National Rifle Association on Friday, April 13, 2012 used the term “Freedom” a total of 30 times and “Free” another four times, all in the span of his few minutes behind the podium. His major thesis throughout his speech was, declared Romeny, the Obama “administration’s assault on our freedoms – our economic freedom, our religious freedom, and our personal freedom.”
Throughout the nominating process, Romney and other Republican candidates have advocated for the political philosophy that has come to be known as “neoliberalism,” which centers on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatization of governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.
These precepts taken together, claim those who favor neoliberalist ideals, will ensure the individual’s autonomy, liberty, and, or course, freedom. “The American economy,” asserted Romney to the NRA, “is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality.”
I am, quite frankly, very concerned by Romney and other advocates of neoliberalist principles since they are based on individualistic, self-centered “freedoms,” while opposing general responsibility for others and for a collective cooperative society.
So, I would ask, under this version of “freedom,” how “free” are we really as individuals and as a collective nation when the upper ten percent of our population controls approximately 80-90 percent of the accumulated wealth and 85 percent of the stocks and bonds, and the political Right’s agenda will only increase this enormous imbalance?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when many corporate executives currently pay lower tax rates than their secretaries as the political Right fights to maintain these advantages for the super rich?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when 50 million people in our country go uninsured and their only form of health care is the hospital emergency room that the remainder of the population must pay for because our government will not provide a single-payer health care system, but instead, we all must accept the exorbitant profit-motive insurance premium rates of private health care insurers?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation as college and university tuition increases and governmental student assistance programs dry up, pushing out deserving students from middle and working class backgrounds?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when governmental entitlement programs are cut or privatized, thereby eliminating the safety net support systems from our elders, our young people, people with disabilities, people who have suffered hard times, and others struggling to provide life’s basics?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the political Right passes legislation restricting immigration and social and educational services to young people?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the rights of women to control their bodies are under attack, and when doctors and others are intimidated, and even shot and killed at family planning clinics?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are denied their basic human and civil rights accorded to heterosexual people on a daily basis, and when they are vilified and scapegoated?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when affirmative action programs to improve the chances of People of Color and women are branded as nothing more than “reverse discrimination,” and steps are taken to abolish these strategies without replacing them with acceptable alternatives?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the U.S. Congress threatens to privatize our national parks, and loosens environmental and consumer protections of all kinds, and when mining, petroleum, natural gas, and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land, and when they are granted enormous tax breaks and subsidies.
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when residents of the U.S., who represent approximately 5 percent of the world’s population, consume 40 percent of the world’s resources, contribute 40 percent of worldwide pollution, and in spite of this, some on the political Right are calling for deregulation of environmental standards and termination of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Protection Agency?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation really when the political and theocratic Right push for school vouchers to funnel money into their parochial institutions at the expense of public education, when forces are gathering to reintroduce prayer into the public schools, and when the lines between religion and government are increasingly blurred?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the political and theocratic Right tear down the wall separating religion from entering into the affairs of government and push legislation based on their notions of “morality”?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the political Right abolishes multicultural education, and specifically, successful and productive Latina/o Studies programs in the state of Arizona, a program that increased graduation rates of students from less than 50 percent to 92 percent before politicians axed them.
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the so-called “No Child Left Behind” act and other educational “reform” proposals are designed and operated with its “one-size-fits-all” standards in such a way as to actually leave more students and schools behind?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when states like Iowa pass laws declaring English as the “official” language, thereby threatening bilingual education and stigmatizing non-English language speakers?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when politicians and business owners attempt to co-opt and decertify labor unions and eliminate collective bargaining?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when organizations and committees set the standards for acceptable art and literature and attempt to censor and ban all else?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when we deny the youth of our nation their basic civil rights to make many of their own decisions in the guise of “protecting them”?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when we follow a former president into an unjustified and illegal war into Iraq, thereby resulting in the massive and horrific loss of life and the draining of the U.S. treasury?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the so-called “Patriot Act” profiles individuals on their appearance, and when people are detained and their constitutional rights are denied?
How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when people can own and use assault rifles, and carry concealed guns into bars, political rallies, and college and university campuses, and how “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation as the National Rifle Association claims in its literature that “GUNS SAVE LIVES,” as it fights to dismantle governmental regulations on gun ownership and use?
How “free” are we really as individuals and as a collective nation in an unrestricted “free” market system that increases the size of depth of mega global corporations that gobble up small and emerging entrepreneurs?
And I could go on in this way virtually forever.
The neoliberal battle cry of “liberty” and “freedom” through “personal responsibility” sounds wonderful on the surface, but we have to ask ourselves as individuals and as a collective nation, what are the costs of this alleged “liberty” and “freedom”?
Do we as individuals and as a nation have any responsibility and obligation to protect and to support people from falling off the ledge of circumstance to their harm or death because they simply cannot “pull themselves up by their boot straps.” Have you actually ever tried to pull yourself up by your boot straps? If you have, you will know that by doing this, you literally fall on your face!
Can we begin, for example, to view health care not as a privilege for those who can afford it, but rather, see it as a human right? Can we begin to perceive the actual crack in this beautiful notion but unmet reality of meritocracy, and respond in common purpose and sense of community to help lift those who are in need of support?
I was extremely encouraged a few months back as I witnessed news reports of a horrendous traffic accident between an automobile driver and a motor cyclist, which resulted in the cyclist being thrust under the burning car. A group of stunned bystanders immediately and without hesitation turned into courageous upstanders by joining in unison, with flames raging around them, to turn the car on its end ensuring that others could pull the young cyclist to safety, thereby saving his life.
I hope that as residents of our country we will use this incident as an analogy to come together in unity to work as hard as we can to pull our country and its people to safety according to their needs and abilities.
I argue that government has a vital place in this.
Warren J. Blumenfeld is associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. He is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).
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Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011