SETTING THE BASELINE

Posted in Rants on October 29th, 2012 by Ed

This is the latest cover from the Canadian news magazine Maclean's. Unfortunately the story itself is behind a paywall, but the headline and artwork don't exactly leave much to the imagination:

Maclean's is not exactly a rag for right-wing hysterics. It is a mainstream publication with an approximate American equivalent being US News and World Report. It leans right to the extent that much of its target audience is the banking / finance / Wall Street crowd, but this isn't the John Birch Society newsletter. Yet as cultural conservatism takes a stronger hold on right political movements in the U.S., and to a lesser extent Canada, this sort of Limbaugh-Beck-Agnew-Coughlin Culture Wars conspiracy-mongering has become mainstream.

What bothers me about this is not the accusation. In fact, let us assume it is true for the sake of this argument; Canada's teachers (and we may safely assume their union is held responsible as well) are "using the classroom to push their political agenda." It is implied, as it is always implied, that leftist analysis is a loaded, political agenda – "brainwashing" – whereas rightist/free market worship analysis is simply the truth. A left perspective is the challenger or the usurper, something being fed to children to displace the Truth in their minds. That inerrant Truth, of course, is the Chamber of Commerce / Tea Party version of history, economics, politics, and society. Feeding them cherry-picked Adam Smith fragments, supply side economic hogwash, and Reagan Consensus government-is-the-problem boilerplate is never described as brainwashing or an agenda. That's just good learnin' right there.

Yes, it certainly would be extreme if, as the cover art that we may assume is hyperbolic suggests, grade school children were being given lessons on abolishing capitalism. It would not, however, be any more or less a political agenda or nefarious brainwashing scheme than teaching the opposite – that capitalism and liberal democracy is the End of History, government has been proven a failure at solving collective action problems, and that our nation rests on the idea of freedom (from paying taxes and to bear arms; freedom in the Due Process sense yields immediately to the need for security in the face of threats real or perceived).

We know how political the educational system is in the U.S. We have school boards that are taken over by the foot soldiers of FreedomWorks, the Kochs, and the other money-behind-the-power groups that create Astroturfed "movements" like the Tea Party with no intention other than demanding that textbooks are re-written to reflect their beliefs. We also have religious fundamentalists getting involved in local politics so that our children may be told that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that men rode dinosaurs, and other things believed solely by window-licking morons. Yet never is this presented as a political agenda, characterized as brainwashing, or spoken of in ominous tones suggesting that They are taking over. If anything, it is defended as an appropriate response to the alleged stranglehold that (hardcore Communist) academia has on the agenda-setting functions in our society.

That left analysis, from the softest New Democrat form of liberalism to true Marxist or socialist critiques, is universally depicted as the pretender to the throne tells us all we need to know about where the ideological baseline is set in our society. Many liberals in the U.S. flipped out when Beltway media moderation fetishists described America as a "center-right nation" after the thorough drubbing the GOP received in 2008. They were correct – not in that conservatives will win every election, but inasmuch as they don't have to. Having asserted complete control over the political agenda in the last three decades, and with their dogged efforts to re-write history to the satisfaction of Joe McCarthy and Saint Ronnie, they can hold their ground simply by redefining their ideology as the New Normal and characterizing anything from the left of Joe Lieberman as a rogue wave of Communist indoctrination.

This is why they don't fret about losing battles; they've already won the war.