I must credit George Orwell, who came up with the slogan “Ignorance is Strength” in his seminal and dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, Orwell was simply summarizing lessons he had witnessed in life. The novel was published in 1949, not too long after the Second World War, and doubtless summarized lessons he learned observing Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin and others. They succeeded by keeping the population as ignorant and gullible as possible and shamelessly appealing to their patriotic reflexes. The result was that you not only can get millions to believe the ridiculous, but you could also whip them into a frenzy that can translate into enormous political power.
In the Second World War, intelligence and morality eventually won over ignorance and obsessive nationalism, but certainly at a tremendous cost in lives and treasure. It was not coincidence that the war was eventually won by the atomic bomb, a horrific weapon whose use was certainly immoral, but whose power at least persuaded the fanatical and hopelessly brainwashed Japanese to surrender in what looked like would be a much longer and bloodier war.
The 2010 election proved again that ignorance is strength. In this election, ignorance plus apathy made a potent concoction for regaining political power. For many, voting took second fiddle to more important things, like avoiding homelessness. Contrary to public myth, the Tea Party did not spring up spontaneously from the grassroots. Rather, its rise was organized and shepherded by well-moneyed Republicans, principally by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. He created an organization called FreedomWorks, which among other things organized protests against the Affordable Care Act at town halls across the country. Few at those town halls were offering insightful solutions on how to address the growing number of uninsured. Rather, the orchestrated message was that the ACA was somehow socialistic and thus evil and unconstitutional. Dick Armey proved to be a smart and prescient man, the result of which can be seen today in the U.S. House of Representatives where Republicans and Tea Partiers now wield power and make sure little governing actually happens.
As we approach the 2012 elections, Republican candidates seem to be busy trying to out crazy each other. With a few exceptions, logic, facts and scientific knowledge simply do not matter. Neither apparently does simple humanity. Possession of any of these makes you unelectable. At an earlier debate, attendees roared in appreciation when candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry expressed pride in the over two hundred executions he approved during his term as governor. At a debate in Tampa this week, attendees (presumably mostly Tea Partiers, as it was sponsored by a Florida tea party) cheered the notion that those who cannot afford health insurance should die. It was a scene out of a Charles Dickens novel. Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate, assured us that this is what freedom really means. Without exception, each candidate has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act. When asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer who should take care of those without health insurance, the conventional wisdom seemed to be to let the churches take care of them.
Now, if you have a logical brain like me you would start crunching some numbers in your head. The last estimate I saw was that each policyholder paid $800 a year to cover uninsured who show up at emergency rooms and hospitals. About 250 million Americans do have health insurance. If just one third of those were policyholders and each paid $800 to cover the uninsured just for emergencies, this would be over $66 billion a year that churches would have to spend just for their emergency care. Those Republicans who take the time to do the math know it’s impossible to expect our houses of worship to cough up that kind of money to address this problem. It really doesn’t matter because you see it’s the principle of the thing. This is a problem so large that only government can address it, but since it would involve redistribution of wealth, it’s somehow socialism, and thus is not allowed. It is better to let fifty million Americans die early and lead miserable lives than to violate a principle. The expression of this principle elicited yells of enthusiastic agreement from Tea Partiers in Tampa this week. And none of the candidates on the stage had the courage of conviction to say this is immoral and unchristian.
Naturally, just to make the whole thing even crazier, these are the same folk that agree that life is sacred and must be protected. Abortion is especially evil, but providing government money to make sure uninsured pregnant women can carry their babies to term is socialism, as is picking up any costs for their children’s health once born. Every unborn child has the right to be born into and lead a life of misery and poverty, starting from the moment of conception. How very Christ-like of them.
In fact, Republicans believe in no government handouts to poor people ever. (Big business subsidies, of course, are exempt.) Rep. Peter King (R-IA) is in a froth about the unemployed. They are on the dole and just being slackers, he asserts, as if they can snap their fingers and find employment somewhere. If you are unemployed, you must be lazy and shiftless. He’s hardly the only Republican to say this aloud, but perhaps is the most vocal. No one, at least no one poor or unincorporated, should get any government assistance ever. They must raise themselves up by their own bootstraps somehow, without a dime of government money, without access to nurturing teachers, nutritious food, affordable housing and a stable family environment. If you try hard enough, and clap enough, Tinkerbell is sure to come to help.
Never mind that their educations were heavily subsidized, unless their parents were wealthy enough to home school them or send them to a private school. Never mind that their relatively wealthy parents lived in high-income neighborhoods with good public schools and kept them clothed and fed. Never mind that their parents gave them access to many of the keys needed for success: like good colleges, tutors, cars, orthodontics, regular checkups and don’t forget those inheritances from Aunt Martha. Those things had nothing to do with their personal success. They just came with the skills reflexively.
The obvious effects of not giving the poor a helping hand are to increase the number of poor and keep them disenfranchised, which in reality is fine with them. The real long term effect is to turn the United States into a second class country, since we reached top tier status by creating and sustaining a middle class at some expense from the wealthy. All the “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps” stuff is bullshit even they don’t believe in. They just want cheap labor and to be in charge, and you can stay in charge if you keep them disenfranchised and poor. And many of them are also sadists. But just in case the poor and compassionate might want to vote for change, make it hard for them to vote.
Republican-dominated states across the country are busy doing just this: making absentee voting harder, toughening voting requirements by requiring government issued photo IDs to vote, and by requiring students to come home to vote. These tactics of course get supplemented with the usual voting day shenanigans: fewer voting booths in poor neighborhoods and robocalls to minority voters with threatening or misleading messages about voting. It doesn’t hurt to have a Republican lawyer on site and some white guys in a police car parked outside the polling place either. Some states are getting exceptionally creative. Pennsylvania Republicans want to have electoral votes allocated by the vote in each congressional district, effectively disenfranchising voters in densely populated areas, like Philadelphia. It’s like another Orwell novel, Animal Farm. Some animals (Republicans) are more equal than others.
Ignorance is strength, providing Republican leaders do not really buy their own bullshit. In their hearts they know they are a minority party and will likely be a larger minority party in the future, since demographics are against them. So keep the bulk of Republicans in a lather about issues that appeal to their basic fears and prejudices. This involves mostly a lot of hot air about abortion, God, guns and NASCAR. Keep their flock prejudiced and it will lead to a better America, well, at least for the well-capitalized Republicans with the money who insist on holding onto the bulk of our wealth. As for everyone else: let ’em eat (someone else’s) cake.