Basic Human Rights — Are They Sustainable?
The powers that be, masters of high finance and the politicians beholden to them, have had no effective response to the devastating economic crisis. But they do have an ideological response, in fact an all-around offensive using the very crisis they created to promote hostility to any idea of social responsibility for the general welfare. They reject established government programs to meet human needs as "unsustainable".
This is the "Shock Doctrine" at work, the phenomenon described in Naomi Klein's so-named book, where the turmoil of natural or human-made catastrophes is exploited as an opportunity to advance the interests of a selfish elite.
There is a glossary of terms that go with the ideology of "unsustainability". “Entitlement”, given a derogatory connotation, is the label pinned on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Universal health care is “socialism”, the hallmark of a “welfare state”. These are times that require “austerity”; we have to “live within our means”. Nothing is exempt from the chopping block — not education, not public assistance to the disabled, aged, jobless or homeless. We simply can’t afford it. It’s unsustainable.
This ideology moves beyond Wall Street and the GOP, swallowed in part by advocates of the elusive “rational center”. “Centrist” pundits bemoan the lack of political courage to achieve a “bipartisan grand bargain” and “structural reform” that would drastically curb “entitlements”.
The question society cannot evade is: what is sustainable and what is not? The champions of austerity obviously find grotesque income inequality sustainable; so, too, record corporate profits in the midst of economic crisis; also, enormous military expenditures and human sacrifice in war.
What they deem unsustainable are basic human rights, defined most clearly in FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights” address at the end of World War II. These rights, only partially implemented through persistent struggle, include: the right of every person to a decent livelihood, health care, and education, as well as “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment” (FDR).
There is no justification for the USA, the wealthiest country in the world, to lag behind in access to health care, to fall precipitously in educational opportunity, to accept governmental paralysis in the face of devastating unemployment, homelessness and poverty. No justification — but there is a fundamental explanation. As the Occupy movement has forced to public attention, most of the country’s wealth is sucked up at the very top, at the disposal of financial and corporate oligarchies whose nature is to strive for profits and power regardless of the public interest and the country’s welfare. That wealth buys lobbyists and super-pacs; it dominates and corrupts the political process.
While super wealth rests a heavy hand on both major parties, the GOP has finally become exactly what the most reactionary multi-billionaires like the Koch brothers have ordered and paid for. Having bank-rolled the Tea Party uprising, they now have a party completely beholden to Wall Street, the National Rifle Association, the war hawks and all the social bigots united in uncontrollable racist hatred for Barak Obama — no room anymore for Dick Lugar or Olympia Snowe; no room for compromise in Congress or the Supreme Court. To win the election, they will present Mitt Romney as a traditional conservative like George H. W. Bush, and hope that people will forget the tragi-comic primary debates. But Romney as president would be as “independent” of the Koch brothers and their GOP as Boehner is of the T Party’s bloc in the House.
Whatever the difficulties now or to come, austerity for the many and obscene wealth for the few is the road to hell. FDR could have been imagining today when he said in his “Bill of Rights” speech: “Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the socalled 'normalcy' of the 1920's—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.”
Preserving hard-won commitments to basic economic human rights depends on whether millions of Americans fight through the thickest of ideological-propaganda fogs. Human rights, civil and economic, are sustainable if, as a society, we get our priorities right.