Who Are the ‘Useful Idiots,’ Really?
Today, I’d like to respond to a piece of propaganda of indeterminate origins. It made the rounds on Facebook as recently as three weeks ago, so evidently somebody, somewhere, still feels it’s true enough to disseminate to all of their distant cousins and casual acquaintances.
The thrust of the argument is that the creation of the dreaded “social state” requires the central power structure — that is, the federal government — to leverage the so-called “Useful Idiots.”
Who are these Useful Idiots, asks “David Greer”? That’s simple. They are, according to this mysterious patriot, people who want to create a universal healthcare system, eliminate poverty, bolster the Second Amendment with common-sense gun control laws, and spend more money on education.
Yes; here, as we’ve seen on so many other occasions, is another childish, misguided Conservative “thinker” who equates Charity and Reason with Authoritarianism. Greer slots in nicely with the very American tradition of seeking out conspiracies and invariably choosing to believe in all the wrong ones.
I almost don’t know where to start. A very small portion of Greer’s sanctimonious screed resembles the truth. The rest is a noxious mixture of untruths, staggering ignorance, and rambling paranoia. I am, as always, disgusted and disappointed that anyone would choose to equate public outreach and welfare with “control,” rather than with “charity.” And that’s just for starters.
I will address, in turn, each of the eight so-called “layers of control” necessary for creating a “social state,” according to Greer’s tragic misreading and misrepresentation of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. They are Healthcare, Poverty, Debt, Gun Control, Welfare, Education, Religion, and Class Warfare. Again, you can read Greer’s original column here. Then, come right back and we’ll continue.
Back? Good. Let’s begin.
Healthcare is a right — not a privilege. It is not a luxury purchase to be enjoyed exclusively by the affluent. End of discussion. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes this. Unfortunately, the US is one of the only developed countries in the world that pointedly refused to ratify that particular document. If you’re wondering why that is, research the amount of money being poured into political campaigns by health insurance companies and pharmaceutical multinationals. The United States spends about twice as much per person on healthcare as most other developed countries, yet we receive far worse standards of care. Even our life expectancies are dropping measurably.
Bringing healthcare under the purview of the federal government does not exercise control over the citizens of the United States — it exercises control over the bloated, wasteful, hopelessly corrupt pharmaceutical and insurance companies that have held public health hostage for the last 100 years. Other civilized countries have governments that negotiate for lower prices with drug companies and healthcare providers. The United States does not, and we’re suffering on a massive scale because of it.
If you recognize that rampant poverty is the fastest route to totalitarian control over a country, but still insist on voting for Republicans, you probably have a poor grasp of the word “irony.” It is a fact that the economy has almost always done better under Liberal and Progressive leadership than under Conservative leadership. But even this is beside the point.
The truth is, America’s middle class used to represent a majority in this country, and this is no longer the case. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Understand that this was not always the case. Until the 1970s, everybody’s income grew at roughly the same rate. There was, and always will be, a gap between middle-income folks and the very rich. But the gap now is wider than it’s been since the Great Depression.
When Reagan took office, we started hearing about grotesqueries like “trickle-down” and “supply-side” economics. Under his administration, the ability for one person to employ another was sufficient grounds for sainthood. The economic tenets of “Reaganomics” have held sway for an entire generation, during which time average CEO pay has increased by almost 1,000 percent, while the pay of “average workers” has remained virtually stagnant. It turns out, when you hire a professional actor to be President, he can convince people of just about anything.
Exactly what evidence would you cite in suggesting that trickle-down economics has brought stability and prosperity to this country? By almost any metric, the standard of living in this country is worse now than it was 50 years ago, and is certainly worse than many other industrialized nations. Progressive politics aims to provide the tools people need to lift themselves out of poverty. Conservative politics provides nothing but empty platitudes about the “American Dream” and “rugged self-determination,” and has all the while continued to pull the rug out from under Middle America.
Three: National Debt.
The national debt is understood by leading economists as a hugely important element in global economics. According to Ricardo Caballero of MIT, “the debt of stable, reliable governments provides ‘safe assets’ that help investors manage risks, make transactions easier, and avoid a destructive scramble for cash.” After the housing bubble burst and 2008 brought on the Great Recession, investors ran panicking back to the “safe haven” of United States debt. National debt, as understood by economists, is a stabilizing force.
But never mind all that. The people who scream the loudest about our current President “playing fast and loose” with national debt are ignorant of the fact that FDR, perhaps the greatest President we’ve ever had, brought this country out of the Great Depression by spending on infrastructure, jobs, and welfare programs, and by empowering unions. As a result, the national debt soared by more than 1,000 percent during his tenure, but helped the country land back on its feet. Under Reagan’s leadership, national debt rose by 130 percent. Under President Obama’s leadership, national debt has risen by a comparatively paltry 70 percent. This is all a matter of public record — so do your homework. Our current President is neither a spendthrift nor a tyrant.
The point is this: FDR and Obama both inherited an unprecedented economic disaster from their Conservative predecessors — a situation that you simply don’t recover from without spending some money. It’s basic economics. At no time has a sitting President racked up debt “just because,” or because he was trying to “run the country into the ground.” This is stark raving paranoia of the highest order. No; periods of high debt in this country have almost always occurred in the years following devastating financial hardship.
Four: Gun Control.
I cannot properly express my rage when people equate “regulation” with “prohibition.” At no point in time has a sitting US legislator formally introduced legislation that would confiscate firearms, or institute a buyback program like the one Australia implemented. This is NRA propaganda, pure and simple. And if you don’t understand yet that the NRA is simply the marketing branch of the firearms industry, then you’re not an informed voter by even the loosest definition.
The phrase “common-sense gun control” exists for a reason. The legislation introduced in recent years (all of which has been struck down by Republican leadership singing the same old song about the sacrosanctity of the Second Amendment) are reasonable measures that would help reduce the number of high-powered guns finding their way into unfit hands. That’s all there is to it. Anyone who educates themselves on the content of these proposals will see that this is so.
Finally, if you think you’re going to do battle with (or “defend yourself against”) the awesome might of the United States armed forces with a handgun or a rifle, your delusions of grandeur border on insanity. Try bringing a handgun to a drone fight, and see where it gets you.
Once again, we see here the suggestion that charitable actions undertaken by the federal government are done in the name of “controlling” its constituents. This is lunacy. “Safety net” spending (which excludes healthcare and Social Security) represents only 10 percent of the federal budget. Look it up. Meanwhile, we spend more on our military than the next eight countries combined.
Do you think the ruling class of any given country is more likely to “take control” of its citizens by providing food and economic dignity to the severely impoverished, or by maintaining a military orders of magnitude more powerful than any other nation on earth? Just think about it for half a second.
If you want a good example of what happens when state governments are given control over school curriculums, take a good, long look at Texas, which is doing its damnedest to become the United States equivalent of Saudi Arabia. Texas has repeatedly whitewashed American history texts by downplaying the role slavery had in the Civil War (States’ Rights, y’all!), ignoring the implications of our genocide of Native Americans, eliminating “critical thinking” courses, and staunchly refusing to teach either responsible sex education or the science that drives natural selection.
Meanwhile, the “Common Core” set of standards, enacted at the federal level, and which Republicans have spent the last decade or so lying about and trying to dismantle, was a responsible set of well-rounded standards arrived at with the careful guidance of professional, trained educators from all across the country. Its only real failing was that it allowed states to decide whether or not to adopt it on their own. As you might imagine, Texas and other Red states had their own agenda.
Federal spending on education has remained virtually flat since 1976. It hasn’t even kept pace with inflation. That doesn’t sound particularly like some “grand plan” to control the minds of voters, now, does it?
Neither God, nor Allah, nor Vishnu, nor Cthulhu, nor any other fictional character, has any business playing a role in government or education. End of discussion. No modern religion is compatible in any way with a Reasonable and modern definition of social justice, and a belief in a two-thousand-year-old fictional character cannot replace our commitment to basic decency. What most Christians pointedly refuse to acknowledge is that the hallowed “Separation of Church and State” exists to protect the State from the Church, rather than the other way around.
Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Christians are better equipped to respond to moral dilemmas than unbelievers. In point of fact, the evidence runs in completely the opposite direction. As Sam Harris points out in The End of Faith, the most Conservative states in America enjoy vastly higher rates of murder, robbery, arson, and assorted other crimes when compared with “blue” and “purple” states. This is a matter of public record, and you can easily verify it for yourself.
Humanism says: “We’re all in this together, so let’s come up with rules that work for all of us.” Religion says: “We play by a different set of rules than the rest of you, and you had better start believing as we do.”
Strangely enough, C.S. Lewis, the apparent poster child for Christian Apologetics, had something to say on this topic:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Eight: Class Warfare.
We finally arrive at a kernel of truth. There is a class war going on, but it’s not being perpetuated by the people you think it is. Multinational corporations and billionaires have, over the last generation, exerted an unthinkable amount of control over the Federal government in order to vote themselves gifts from the public treasury. The “redistribution of wealth” worried over by Conservatives has already happened, and continues to happen — the problem is, it’s flowing in precisely the opposite direction as what they claim.
It bears repeating that average CEO pay has exploded by 1,000 percent over the last generation, while average workers have seen their wages remain flat or even decline. Furthermore, the wealthiest Americans and corporations have lobbied hard for decades to have their taxes lowered dramatically. In some cases, corporations pay no taxes at all in a given year. And corporations like Walmart have their criminally low wages subsidized by the federal government in the form of welfare programs.
If you want less “welfare” in this country, then it’s time to hold corporations accountable, rather than vilifying the working poor. Under President Eisenhower, a Republican, the corporate tax rate was around 90%. This encouraged corporations to use their money to expand and innovate (expenses they can write off from their taxable income). The periods of American history where we saw the highest productivity, economic stability, and the most widespread prosperity were those few decades where taxes were high on corporations and the rich and where unions gave working Americans a voice in government.
I’m deeply embarrassed for this “Garret Geer” person. The irony of his writing about “Useful Idiots” is almost staggering, since he functions himself as an unthinking, unfeeling mouthpiece for the political and economic elite. Unfortunately, there’s just enough plausibility tossed into his tirade to make it sound legitimate, which makes him even more dangerous.
He’s looking for a conspiracy, but he bet on the wrong one.
This essay also appeared on Medium.