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The Masque of the Green Death
June 25, 2003
By Richard Girard

When I was a kid, I used to love the old Universal Studios monster movies. Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy: I loved them in the way only an adolescent nerd could. They represented power without responsibility, which I suspect is a near universal, if subconscious, desire of the adolescent male, who often feels he has no power over anything, including himself.

In the spring of 1971, the local library showed the 1925 version of the Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney Sr. In one of the great performances of his career, Chaney brought Erik the Phantom to life, a deranged murderer who keeps the Paris Opera House terrorized while tutoring the beautiful Christine in the art of the diva. The scene where Christine, played by Mary Philbin, unmasks Erik is still startling, even if you are expecting it. Chaney's ghoulish countenance is representative of what a monster the Phantom is, his features mirroring his mind. Chaney's Erik has no excuses, no redeeming features, save his music. And even the Phantom's talent is not sufficient to pardon his actions.

Recently, we have seen the beginning of another unmasking, every bit as startling and unexpected as Chaney's. This is the unmasking of the conservative political movement in the United States.

The first slip of the mask was the manipulation of intelligence data to justify the war against Iraq. Violating the Commandment against bearing false witness, the White House used the threat of weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to manipulate the world into supporting them in a war against Iraq. Germany, France and Russia, all of whom have a long history of intelligence gathering, opposed it, partly out of self-interest, but partly (I suspect) because they knew it was a lie. Two months after the "battle" ended, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and the two trailers they claim as weapon laboratories cannot possibly be used as such: canvas is not sufficient for protection of volatile chemical and biological agents from the wind and heat of Iraq.

In doing this the Bush Administration squandered the goodwill accrued from September 11th, violated our own laws (including the Constitution), and lied to its bosses, the American people. The Republicans in Congress believed that a lie on a personal matter was sufficient to impeach President Clinton. The Bush Administration has lied on a matter of public policy. Where are the impeachment proceedings now?

Then there is the conservative movement's naked avarice. Forty percent of the $350 billion dollar tax cut will go to the richest one percent of the American people. The poorest thirty-plus percent of taxpayers saw their tax burden remain unchanged. The tax cut effected no single taxpayer making less than $23,000 annually, and then only if you were filing as "head of household." The remaining sixty-nine percent of the American taxpayers will have to split the remaining sixty percent of the tax cut among themselves.

Contrary to the conservative movement's suggestion that the poor pay no taxes, every one of the working poor pay at least seven percent of their total income in payroll taxes, plus at least ten percent of their non-exempt income. Among the poorer Americans who received no tax cut were thousands of young soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen with families. It should be noted that many of these young military families qualify for food stamps. Congress is now scrambling to rectify the slighting of so many families of working poor, before next year's election.

This leads to another example of perfidy by the conservative movement: the reduction of veteran's benefits. At a time when many veterans of the first Gulf War are requiring help because of Gulf War Syndrome, when there are at least 275,000 homeless veterans, and when our veterans of World War II and Korea have reached retirement age, this is more than a tragedy, it is criminal. It is readily apparent from this action alone that many members of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress avoided military service, and have no sympathy for the plight of our citizen soldiers once they have left the military.

The recent tax cuts are also financially irresponsible, leaving a legacy to our children of as much as $44 trillion of debt. The cut is supposed to stimulate the economy, creating 1.4 million new jobs. If it works as the Bush Administration claims, it will only make up for two-thirds of the jobs the last Bush tax cut lost.

There are three proven methods to stimulate an economy. The first of these is to lower interest rates. The Federal Reserve has cut the rates to forty year lows, and still the economy struggles. The second is a tax cut. As I said, the last tax cut cost us two million jobs, and the newest tax cut will create only 1.4 million new jobs in 2004, most of which will be lost by 2007. The third method of helping a stagnant economy are Federal jobs programs. The conservative movement has always opposed these, in spite of these programs many successes, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Hoover Dam and the Interstate Highway system. It would require a tax increase, and with the working and middle class taxed to their limit, the conservative movement would have to raise the taxes of the wealthiest twenty percent of the population, who make up their most important constituency. The conservative movement will do anything, including permit the United States to go bankrupt, to avoid political suicide.

Going back to our metaphorical mask, the conservative press recently pulled aside its portion. Matt Leblanc of The Weekly Standard recently admitted in a web site interview that the reason for the rising popularity of the conservative press is that it "feeds the rage." Leblanc further stated that the conservative press enjoyed the advantage of a double standard, complaining about "lack of objectivity in the liberal press," while being completely subjective in their own stories. David Brock and Michael Lind confirm this statement in their books Blinded by the Right and Up From Conservatism respectively.

The "rage" is most evident among white males, who are angry at their seeming disenfranchisement and loss of economic power. The real cause of their economic problem is the shipping of millions of American industrial jobs overseas, permitting the board of directors of American corporations to give themselves huge bonuses because they have reduced operating costs. On top of this, these corporations and their officers pay a much smaller percentage of their income in taxes compared to fifty years ago. The seeming disenfranchisement of the white male is caused by the enfranchisement of women and minorities, disrupting the superior position that white males have enjoyed in Western society for centuries.

The final part of the conservative movement to have its mask slip is found in its refusal to compromise in their programs, even for the good of the nation. According to Grover Norquist, a leading light of the conservative movement, it is an axiom among conservatives that "bipartisanship is another name for date rape." This is in stark contrast to the Federal government's bipartisan tradition that goes back to George Washington. It is reminiscent of Adolf Hitler's intransigent refusal to be any part of the German government unless he was the Chancellor. Democracy is dependent upon give and take between the political parties: without it, a nation is on the road to totalitarianism.

To what destination are the conservative movement's policies supposed to lead? And why are they letting the mask slip at this time? Are they so confident that they will succeed that they no longer care?

I believe that the conservative movement's purpose is to return the United States to the limited social institutions and programs that existed before the Great Depression. I believe that the conservative movement's purpose is the return of unrestrained capitalism, making the United States Treasury their private cash cow, and completing the destruction of what is left of the nation's social safety net. I agree with Great Britain's Financial Times and Princeton Professor Paul Krugman that this is the only explanation for the recent tax cut, which mortgages our nation so far into the future.

The conservative movement has an unrealistic view of our nation's past, thinking that the 1920's was some sort of Golden Age. They ignore the fact that fifty percent of the population could not make ends meet. They refuse to acknowledge the extreme violence and corruption inherent in the criminal gangs of Prohibition. They want us to forget that one of the primary causes of the Crash of 1929 were shady stock deals similar to those we see with Enron, Worldcom, and the other huge corporations facing indictment. They also want us to forget the power which the Ku Klux Klan had during much of the decade, forcing many otherwise decent men to join just to get a job. Finally, they neglect the abuses and long hours that workers had to endure from their employers at that time.

The mask has slipped, and we have caught a glimpse of the monster behind the innocuous façade. The seeming beauty of less government, lower taxes, and greater personal freedom is all pretense. Like Chaney's Phantom of the Opera's costume ball, they have assumed a mask in polite society to hide their intentions. It is the Masque of the Green Death, covering the face of Greed, its purpose the destruction of the protections and privileges that the poor and middle class have acquired over the last seventy years. The monster must be stopped, for the sake of our children and our country.


Richard Girard can be contacted at freegirard@juno.com

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