John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that modern conservatives were engaged in that hoariest of philosophical exercises -- the search for a moral justification for selfishness. Their apotheosis of unregulated markets and low taxes for the wealthy allows the rich to enrich themselves further while claiming that a rising tide raises all boats. Unfortunately, in our society today not everyone has a yacht, or even a life raft. That truth is inconvenient, so the radical right ignores it.
A caller on a recent National Public Radio talk show questioned how the Republican Party could "lie" so much. Do party leaders in fact "lie"? Perhaps not. They don't have to -- in the strictest sense of the word.
A professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton, Harry G. Frankfurt, recently wrote an entrancing little book called, simply, "On Bull****" (without the asterisks). Its introductory sentence: "One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bull****." Hardly anyone would argue, but few have thought as clearly as he has about the subject. He does so in the abstract. He treats no personalities -- or political parties.
He argues that the liar and the BS-er both represent themselves falsely as telling the truth. The liar, though, must know the truth, and "is responding to truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it." On the other hand, the BS-er "may not deceive us, or even intend to deceive us, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily intend to do is to deceive us about his enterprise . . . the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him."
Simply, a BS-er has so little respect for truth that he doesn't even attempt to find out what it is. His sole interest is in convincing you to do what he wants. Now that sounds to me like the Bush administration.
Bush is pushing the idea (BS alert!) of an "ownership society" to "reform" Social Security. He ignores these facts. By 1998 one percent of our population owned 38 percent of the national wealth. In an era of GOP dominance, 1979-2001, the income of the top 5 percent increased by 81 percent, while that of the bottom 20 percent went up by just 3 percent. Since 2001 Bush's tax policy has worsened that inequality. The Republicans apparently understand "ownership society" to mean one in which the very few own everything.
Bush stands by while his acolytes stir up the radical right with claims (BS alert!) that the Democrats in the Senate are blocking the people's will in holding up Bush's judicial appointees. They never mention that 250 out of Bush's 260 nominations sailed through. Nor is it obvious that his judicial choices represent the "people's will."
Bush and friends call themselves (BS alert!) fiscally responsible, but this is the biggest piece of BS of all. They hide the impact the war and tax cuts for the wealthy have on current budgets and they hide from future budget projections the burdens of Social Security privatization and the end of the estate tax. They are more interested in placating their far-right base than addressing the looming fiscal crisis.
Bush and friends say (BS alert!) they want limited government. But as a direct result of their failure to deal with the truth -- with reality -- we now have a government that is out of control. It seems fixated on interfering in people's personal lives while placing in peril the health of our economy by ignoring the social and economic costs of their initiatives.
Voters, thankfully, are slowly beginning to realize past mistakes. Polls now show that Bush has the least support of any president at this point in a second term. A majority now disagrees with the direction Bush is taking us both domestically and abroad. Perhaps he'll learn that he can BS some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time . . . .
Joyce, a former U.S. Foreign Service deputy chief of mission to Moscow, lives in Palm Coast.
© 2005 News-Journal Corporation