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The GOP Has Become the Party of Moral Depravity

The conservative movement made hay for 40 years claiming that liberals were "morally depraved." Let's look at the record.
 
 
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Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a groundbreaking paper back in the 1960s about the alleged weaknesses of often female-headed African-American families. He described a culture of loose morals and indulgent self-destructive behavior which the right successfully demagogued into a decades long, thinly veiled racist attack on government welfare programs. The common wisdom was that welfare institutionalized and rewarded failure leading to an immoral social order. Throughout the period there were sustained conservative attacks on those who defended such programs and participated in the vast cultural transformation of the era, characterizing these behaviors as "moral depravity."

As recently as the early '90s, Moynihan himself was busily coining snappy slogans to illustrate liberalism's essential immorality, the most memorable being "defining deviancy down":

It appears to me that this is in fact what we in the United States have been doing of late. I proffer the thesis that, over the past generation, since the time Erikson wrote, the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can "afford to recognize" and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the "normal" level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard. This redefining has evoked fierce resistance from defenders of "old" standards, and accounts for much of the present "cultural war" such as proclaimed by many at the 1992 Republican National Convention.

Let me, then, offer three categories of redefinition in these the altruistic, the opportunistic, and the normalizing.

The first category, the altruistic, may be illustrated by the deinstitutionalization movement within the mental health profession that appeared in the 1950s. The second category, the opportunistic, is seen in the interest group rewards derived from the acceptance of "alternative" family structures. The third category, the normalizing, is to be observed in the growing acceptance of unprecedented levels of violent crime.

Moynihan and others had been convinced that the biggest problems in American society stemmed from destructive behaviors among common folk. He, and many of those culture warriors he describes so benignly, were particularly concerned with the personal and sexual habits of the underclass, believing that America had normalized certain "animalistic" behaviors which led inevitably to poverty and social unrest.

Moynihan wrote that paper on the heels of the L.A. riots, and being considered something of an expert in race relations because of his earlier work on urban problems (and that famous paper) people listened avidly. But it was also on the heels of the greatest taxpayer bailout of private business in history -- the savings and loan crisis. Somehow that didn't factor into the descriptions of a decline of morality or the redefining of deviant behavior in American society.

So, while marriage and kids are still popular enough that the allegedly decadent gay community clamors for the right to have a normal bourgeois family (and ironically are being fought every step of the way by those who claim to be concerned about family's demise!), we hear nothing from the culture warriors about this particular kind of moral depravity:

One of the state's largest health insurers set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policyholders were dropped and how much money was saved.

Woodland Hills-based Health Net Inc. avoided paying $35.5 million in medical expenses by rescinding about 1,600 policies between 2000 and 2006. During that period, it paid its senior analyst in charge of cancellations more than $20,000 in bonuses based in part on her meeting or exceeding annual targets for revoking policies, documents disclosed Thursday showed ...

The bonuses were disclosed at an arbitration hearing in a lawsuit brought by Patsy Bates, a Gardena hairdresser whose coverage was rescinded by Health Net in the middle of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.

Every day in the news we have horror stories about average Americans who happen to get sick and are forced to deal with a byzantine health care system designed to prevent them, if at all possible, from getting the care they need, while conservative presidential candidates declare:

"I don't like mandating health care. I don't like it because it erodes what makes health care work in this country -- the free market, the profit motive. A mandate takes choice away from people. We've got to let people make choices. We've got to let them take the risk-do they want to be covered? Do they want health insurance? Because ultimately, if they don't, well, then, they may not be taken care of."

Unsurprisingly, we also have the decadent business elite, awash in cash and privilege during this second gilded age, being lavishly rewarded time after time for risky behavior. People like Merril Lynch's Stanley O'Neill who, after being fired for overseeing the loss of 8 billion dollars the company invested in sub-prime loans, was forced to settle for a mere 160 million dollar golden parachute -- on top of his 48 million dollar salary.

And let's not forget the decadent elites in Washington, who having passed punitive bankruptcy reform that makes it extremely difficult for people to even get a clean slate when things don't turn out well for them financially being asked to bear the burden for Stanley O'Neill's risky ventures. They are now expected to tepidly try to pass some mitigating legislation which the Bush administration will likely veto.

Meanwhile, you have the e. coli conservatives making huge profits selling lead toys to your kids (when they're not accidentally dosing them with date rape drugs), enabling mine-owners to take shortcuts that end up killing their workers, and simply pretending that threats such a global warming don't exist. The stories of war profiteering in Iraq are so appalling and grotesque that it's almost impossible to absorb. And then, of course, there's is torture.

So, here we find ourselves more than 40 years after the conservatives began decrying the moral depravity of the left and 15 years after Patrick Moynihan told us that our liberal culture was defining deviancy down and we find that they were right all along. They just got one little detail wrong. It wasn't the liberal left who were morally depraved. It was them.

While the culture at large was adjusting to the idea that families don't all look the same and that private sexual morality was not the business of the state, the decadent economic elite and right wing ideologues had systematically defined deviancy down to the point where Moynihan's deviant "altruism" can be illustrated as giving bonuses to workers who denied cancer patients their medicine; his deviant "opportunism" is seen as giving hundreds of millions of dollars to failed business leaders who lost their companies billions; and his deviant "normalizing" can be observed as society tossing aside its taboo against government-sanctioned torture.

If those are the "old" standards the culture warriors of the right have been trying to defend, they're killing us. Literally.

Check out Digby's blog, Hullabaloo.

 
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