During the Republican primaries Newt Gingrich tried to distance himself from the deeply unpopular “Ryan budget” that would voucherize Medicare and shred the social safety net by labeling it “right-wing social engineering.” Truer words have never left the former Speaker’s lips. Yet despite President Obama’s re-election and the victory of a half dozen progressive Democrats in the U.S. Senate the march toward the kind of “right-wing social engineering” Gingrich disowned continues unabated. President Obama and the Democrats’ willingness to accept cuts to Social Security in the form of the gimmicky “chained CPI” right after an election where no candidate for federal office campaigned on it shows that the Right’s long-term project of undoing the New Deal marches on despite the electorate’s wishes.
Following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, people were revolted by the calls from a parade of right-wing social engineers calling for arming kindergarten teachers to mitigate the epidemic of wanton gun violence in this country. Those ideas, like Paul Ryan’s budget, represent right-wing social engineering at its worst.
For decades the Beltway yacking class has been calling for “entitlement reform,” which really means cutting Social Security and Medicare. Now we hear calls for a “chained” CPI instead of reducing benefits. These are rhetorical euphemisms that our “leaders” have devised to fool and befuddle us. Given the economic uncertainty we’ve faced over the past ten years few people want to follow the Republicans’ path forward, which is increasingly modeled on Ayn Rand’s dystopian “vision.” And nobody (outside the Beltway at least) wants to see a “grand bargain” struck where millions of seniors are impoverished. The Bowles-Simpson Commission, commonly known as the “cat food commission,” recommends stripping “entitlements” while lowering tax rates for corporations and the wealthy. This kind of social engineering is as lethal as anything Paul Ryan dreamed up. The “bipartisan” sheen of the cat food commission glows bright in Washington because Obama, even after winning an election where he made every kind of economic populist argument imaginable, can impress the Pete Petersons of this world by sticking it to the weaker elements of American society. That’s what passes as “bipartisanship” these days.
The Senate filibuster rules will likely stand as they did before the election guaranteeing that the gridlock and Republican obstructionism will continue. Obama’s negotiating style apparently has not changed from what it was during his first term when he negotiated with himself and gave away key Democratic achievements even before the Republicans offered anything of their own. He has already changed the tax rate increase for people earning over $250,000 (a “firm” position he campaigned on) to people earning over $400,000, and agreed in principle to the “chained” CPI rip off of Social Security. Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit and the big lie that it does is a Beltway canard that Obama, ever wishing to appear “moderate,” has embraced.
Examples of right-wing social engineering abound in our wider political discourse. Imposing new restrictions on contraceptives and constructing new legal barriers to abortion rights, such as “personhood” amendments and trans-vaginal ultrasounds to humiliate women, are forms of right-wing social engineering; so are abstinence only sex education and prayer in schools. Gay bashing and attempts at stripping rights away from LGBT people and “therapy” to turn them “straight” are forms of right-wing social engineering. Ridiculing the concept of labor unions and imposing new “right-to-work (for less)” laws, as we saw in Michigan, have led to a lowering of living standards and hurt the middle class while strengthening the power of corporations; these too are the Right’s social engineering.
In recent years we’ve heard right-wing social engineers call for guns in churches, schools, bars, college campuses, even in football stadiums.
The Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling, which threw open our politics to unlimited and anonymous cash is right-wing social engineering that further debased the integrity of our elections. Coddling the “job creators” and the rich for the past 30 years and “trickle down” economics are right-wing social engineering, which adhere to the bizarre belief that by making the rich even richer despite our current Gilded Age levels of wealth and income inequality it somehow benefits our society. Pushing for “Intelligent Design” to be taught in public schools, along with privatizing and imposing a business model on education is right-wing social engineering aimed at indoctrinating the next generation. The failed “War on Drugs” was a social engineering project that locked up hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders, stuffed the nation’s prisons, and strained state budgets. Shoddy and inadequate 401(k)s and personal health or retirement accounts instead of a single-payer health insurance system and Social Security also fall into this category. The for-profit prisons and privatizing student loans are right-wing social experiments. Capital punishment and “three strike” sentencing laws came to us via a right-wing social fantasy. Other examples include the “voluntary compliance” with environmental and financial regulations, to let polluting corporations and criminal banks (like HSBC) off the hook.
But the Right’s premises are wrong about why the federal government rose up in first place: To deal with the “externalities” and societal damage caused by the normal functioning of private enterprise with all its attendant injustices and social costs. Right-wing social engineering is Randian in theory, Hobbesian in practice.
Most of this toxic stuff has been rammed through as public policy based on lies, hype, and Orwellian wordsmithing because the data doesn’t back it up.
There exists no sociological analysis that tells us a for-profit health care system is better or more “efficient” than the far less costly single-payer model. There’s no data that proves guns make us “safer”; no statistics that show that capital punishment deters crime; no evidence that “democracy” can be imposed abroad from the point of a bayonet. There are no facts and figures that indicate that abstinence only sex education reduces teen pregnancy. We have no “proof” that showering tax breaks and subsidies on giant corporations and the wealthiest Americans leads to a shared prosperity, (but there’s plenty of reliable evidence to the contrary).
In 2012, Republicans and Democrats alike ran on protecting Social Security benefits for seniors, and the dominant theme of many of the attack ads favoring GOP candidates accused their opponents of wanting to cut Medicare. President Obama stated repeatedly that Social Security should be “off the table” in any budget negotiations. But here we are, not even out of the lame duck congressional session, and the wellbeing of millions of American seniors and disabled people is being played as just another “bargaining chip” in Washington’s perennial game of brinkmanship. A “chained” consumer price index (CPI) for Social Security is just another Orwellian trick to reduce benefits going to people who worked their entire lives paying into the system and live on an average of about $12,000 a year.
Right-wing social engineering has nothing to do with the federal budget deficit and everything to do with furthering the Right’s agenda in America, brought to us by people who have always viewed Social Security as creeping Soviet Socialism. Gutting the program, they’ve long believed, will force people to conform to more “family” and “church” centered charities. Just like providing school teachers with guns to defend their children against maniacs with bigger and more powerful guns, this kind of social engineering, where the NRA, Ayn Rand, and the Assembly O’ God impose their will on us, has only dragged down our society, impoverished millions of people, and hastened the decline of once-prosperous middle class nation.