Masque of the Green Death
By Richard Girard
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org