So, in yesterday’s post on USDA school lunch guidelines, I got into a bit of a debate with commenter reflectionephemeral who counters my argument about making reasonable accommodation to anti-Washington sentiment. He writes:
You think that this kind of thing is reasonably perceived as overreach, so why not knock it off and maybe diminish the vague, inchoate sense that “the government is too big”. I’m of the view that as long as there’s a GOP & a right-wing paramedia that feels the need to foment suspicion and hatred of America whenever they’re out of power, it doesn’t much matter what happens around the edges. In a world where Bob Dole & Jesse Helms’ health insurance reform plan can suddenly be decried by everyone in the GOP as unconstitutional fascist tyranny– thereby driving down the plan’s support in public opinion polls– there’s no sense trying to meet in the middle. The point, for Republicans, is the tantrum itself, not the ostensible policy reason for it. And they are great at getting their message out. So now we have greater public concern over the deficit than we did when the Republican Party was busy creating the deficit.
When NPR fired that guy because James O’Keefe released a clip of him saying something that made it sound like he was being mean to the Tea Party, it didn’t result in the right ceasing its highly effective PR campaign against the “liberal media”. They’re gonna keep on saying it no matter what the media does, because it works for them, and it seeps into the public consciousness.
I think this confuses the issue a bit. I fully agree that no amount of accommodation is going to result in reasonable behavior from right-wing ideologues. There is, in the United States, a core of, for lack of a better phrase, “neo-Confederates” committed to nothing short of dismantling the federal government as we know it. This neo-Confederate core is somewhat diverse. Some are effectively white supremacists. Others are just greedy f__ks, looking to do whatever it takes to reduce their tax burden to something approaching zero. And yes, as a practical matter, this neo-Confederate core currently runs the Republican party. But, but, but. Just as there are indeed many “accidental guerillas” in places like Afghanistan, there are also “accidental wingnuts” in the United States.
Look, most people do not pay much attention to politics. Even people with extreme views are often (usually) woefully ill-informed. Most people are heavily influenced by anecdotes, by idiosyncratic experiences. These people are the tacit supporters of right-wing fanaticism. The don’t vote Republican because they consciously want to overturn the civil rights movement. They are just people who are concerned about “reverse racism” because their cousin’s friend’s uncle missed out on a job at the DMV because of a quota. Or something. They don’t know the guy. Don’t know the details. It is just something they heard.
They are the sorts of people who become receptive to anti-DC sentiment when their plumber tells them he can only install a low-flow toilet, that, you know, always clogs. The sort of people who get annoyed when their kids come home from school and announces that the school won’t serve chocolate milk in the cafeteria because of some new government rule. And so on.
I am not saying we can do anything about the radical neo-Confederate core. All we can do with them is fight them tooth and nail. Defeat them in elections. Shame them through exposure. Boycott their businesses. And so on.
But we can do things to reduce their appeal, their surface plausibility. We can isolate them from their tacit supporters, the accidental Confederates, by pushing for a more judicious use of federal power, particularly in cases where the rewards are, at best, small.
An example is school lunches. RE concludes his comments by writing:
As to “who cares”, this admittedly too-high-sounding number from last year is part of why I’m a little less receptive to this particular local-rights argument than I might be:
In a startling new study from Share Our Strength, a national non-profit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in American, 86% of teachers say that many of their kids are coming to school hungry and 65% say that most kids rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.
But, you see, the USDA guideline are designed to REDUCE caloric intake, not increase it. One of the guideline is about sodium intake, which doesn’t even do much about the “plague” of childhood obesity, which, btw, has little to do with school lunches anyway. We’re not talking about setting a minimum standard to alleviate hunger. We’re talking about a silly, one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating for children. It is unnecessary as a matter of substance, and it is terrible as a matter of politics.