The most recent Presidential election is evidence of a serious confrontation between the two great ideologies of America, capitalism and, for lack of a more politically acceptable term, socialism. Make no mistake, if the purpose of government is to acknowledge and nurture a society in which “all men are created equal,” and where “equal opportunity” is a birthright, the political ideology best suited to achieve those ends is not capitalism. The tension between the American impulse for rewarding individual enterprise and the desire to insure social justice is as old as the Republic, and it’s a tension that largely informs the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Capitalism is not immoral; it’s amoral. It proceeds from an implicit assumption that individual success is more important than community success, and it ignores the social consequences of its belief. Capitalism enjoys two major supporting constituencies in American, Republicans and major corporations. Merriam Webster’s definition of a corporation includes the following: “…a body formed and authorized by law to act as a single person although constituted by one or more persons and legally endowed with various rights and duties …” In law, a corporation is in many respects just another individual; in reality these corporate citizens, exercising phenomenal wealth and power, are very unlike the rest of us. We are expected to behave legally as a minimum condition of social acceptance. But we are also expected to behave morally, ethically, and, as Americans, patriotically. No such expectations apply to the corporate citizen, who, literally lacking any social conscience, concentrates “his” efforts on the achievement of profit for the faceless stockholders and management of the corporation. And when ideological Republicans are augmented by their traditional allies, these wealthy and powerful corporate citizens, the negative impact on social justice is far reaching and devastating. We have arrived at a moment in American history when, fortunately, the tension between capitalism and social justice can no longer be ignored. The Bush administration may well be seen as historically significant for its role in demonstrating the inadequacy of unfettered capitalism as a controlling ideology for American politics. This ideology, clearly a hallmark of the Bush administration, has left the nation in shambles. International leadership, human rights, distribution of wealth, health insurance, and social security (the larger “social security” of a citizenry that has some confidence that if you play by the rules you’ll be all right) are but a few examples of the massive social dislocations wrought by adherence to an ideology that is indifferent to social justice.
Most congressional Republicans, representing a declining constituency of ideologues who are almost certainly on the wrong side of history, are frustrated by the reality they find themselves in. They can’t argue from experience as they stand in the rubble of their political success as the party in power for most of the last decade, and they can’t argue from ideology to a country that has noticed in profoundly personal ways the inadequacy of that perspective. And they are opposed by a new President and administration which has made the politically astute, and probably wise, determination that the antidote to the hollow rhetoric of ideological belief is the pragmatic determination that Americans who are in trouble because some of their core beliefs in equality and humanity have been abused should be helped.
I am a retired boatbuilder with a fascination for political thought. Most of my life I cheerfully described myself as an "eastern establishment, knee jerk, liberal Democrat."