by David Glenn Cox
Personal responsibility is favorite rallying cry among the right wing reactionaries. It is a euphemism to justify their own wealth and to disavow the suffering of millions of others. It is not unlike Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” only it is steeped in the plantation owner’s nascent paternalism. It is the serpent which loves wealth climbing and circling the staff which hates our common humanity.
It is a corollary to the commandment of Jesus Christ who said, love one another. Theirs is the dashboard plastic Jesus preaching the gospel of profit and the mantra of personal responsibility or to love only those who are worthy of it from a genuine celluloid lighted base.
When the poor are sentenced to prison a lack of personal responsibility is to blame. When radio talk show hosts are arrested for drug possession is personal responsibility at issue? When millions of Americans lose their homes it is their lack of personal responsibility which is to blame. When school teachers are laid off from their jobs it is personal responsibility which is to blame. Those college educated teachers made poor career choices just as wounded veterans knew the possibilities when they signed up. Likewise our glorious war dead which the right wing reactionaries love to revere but will not allow their own children to participate in.
Their personal responsibility dictates these children get good grades in their private schools and universities. Military service is the poor mans burden, a penalty to be paid for their parent’s lack of personal responsibility. The reactionaries honor their service, of course, in much the same way Massa admired the slave’s ability to pick cotton in the hot sun from the shade of his veranda.
This is all your fault they maintain, you purchased too much house while your job was outsourced. America isn’t a cow with three hundred million teats Alan Simpson proclaims forgetting that we own this cow and are feeding our own cow. Simpson is Dick Cheney’s Wyoming buddy who is also Barack Obama’s Washington buddy and Simpson is only saying what the rest of the reactionaries are thinking. How much more can they take from you and how much of it can they keep for themselves? Under the doctrine of personal responsibility you deserve whatever you get. “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”
You are held in the same contempt which led Henry Ford to pronounce from his machine gun ensconced mansion “American workers won’t do a good days work if they can get out of it.” The paranoid Ford bugged the restrooms of his factories and employed a private police force because the epithet of personal responsibility is a shield to hide behind and not a badge of honor. It is shouted through the nervous chattering teeth of bank failures and bailout plans.
Emergency plans to avoid economic catastrophe as they offer, but now is not the time to point fingers or to play the blame game. If this wasn’t all planned in advance then why the Patriot act’s focus on domestic terrorism? Just as A. comes before B. bankruptcy reform comes before housing collapse. Financial reform makes headlines for its phony consumer protection agency while the withdrawal of public support for the mortgage market leaves the same bankers in full control. Pit vipers with carrot and sledgehammer, unjust, un-American and unrepentant.
$7.5 billion in research and development grants for corporate America, discounted giveaways on oil leases. One billion dollars for Ford Motor Company to build a more energy efficient factory, $12 billion in loan guarantee for nuclear power plants but personal responsibility only applies to you. FAA air traffic controllers falling asleep in their chairs and airline pilots not getting enough sleep or working for starvation wages.
The mantra of personal responsibility is a regressive call for social Darwinism a way of saying “because I’m better than you, that’s why.” A cheap fix all, Katrina? It was all their own fault for not leaving, outsourcing? They should have made better career choices. Under funded schools? It must be the teachers fault or maybe the parent’s fault. It’s the union’s fault or the PTA’s fault. It goes on and on personal responsibility is a one size fits all excuse to cover their tracks of blood and slime. It is Herbert Hoover claiming that no one was starving in America.
Peculiar isn’t it? That we as a people should suddenly become so personally irresponsible. I started off well enough, delivering newspapers at age eleven before school in Chicago winters. I’ve poured concrete and worked in roofing as well as worked for the railroad and yet I’ve seen little of this lack of personal responsibility in my life.
I have seen people hammered by medical bills issued from marble covered hallways and offices of leather furniture. I’ve seen people working hard for companies that couldn’t wait to get rid of them. I’ve seen people cheated in Real Estate swindles, when I lived in Alabama, a Real Estate developer came into possession of a parcel of land and began to build a new subdivision. There was a problem; the land was on the edge of a flood plain which made it impossible for the homes to be financed with a traditional mortgages.
The developer offered what was called “Bond for Title” basically you make a down payment and make payments each month until the price of the house was reached. Because it was basically renting the developer would “sell” these homes to anyone with a job. The developer had no personal responsibility to the community he was just trying to get his money out of a land deal gone bad.
The developer was signing contracts with people who were obviously unable to keep up the payments. Vacancies and defaults rose and the empty homes began to be vandalized. The crime and vandals prompted calls for increased police patrols and within just a few years the neighborhood was in full decline. The majority of the people who were making their payments and trying to live quietly were left used and abused; One by one the good people took their loss and abandoned the neighborhood.
This developer’s personal responsibility meant a lack of collective responsibility. His interest was only in getting his money back and not in improving or building his community. This same developer had built a subdivision of middle class homes. After ten years he sought and received from a midnight city council meeting approval to build a low income apartment complex at the back of this settled residential neighborhood.
Only coincidently was this developer opening a new development of middle class homes across town. A systematic destruction of an established neighborhood to goose the sales of the new development. Personal responsibility? Why should people leave a nice neighborhood unless they were given a shove? Government of the wink and handshake of the midnight decision which aided the few at the detriment of the many.
A government of slow strangulation, a government that feigns incompetence as a slight of hand trick. The midnight budget resolution planned a month before, the parading of Ryan’s draconian budget cuts versus Obama’s draconian budget cuts both of which cut the corporate and personal tax rates for the wealthy. Or yesterday’s Standard and Poor’s warning on America’s debt level. These are the same people who had said that Bear Sterns and AIG were healthy just weeks before their collapse and the same rating agency which had rated Goldman Sachs junk bonds as triple A and now we should listen to them?
A corporate media that creates fabricated heroes and then knocks down the real heroes for the express purpose of destroying all hope. A tightly controlled media circus where all is controlled or ignored. Learn the secrets of millionaires, “World’s Richest Man has lived in the same house for twenty years! Wow! The Gulf of Mexico is doing so much better? When will these wars end? Why do both political parties favor cutting taxes for the rich and cutting social programs for the poor and elderly?
Where is the personal responsibility for those who brought us here? Where is the personal responsibility for the administration which lied us into war? Where is their personal responsibility for the death and misery that they have caused? Where are the jail cells for these liars and killers and Supreme Court tax cheats? How do these Bible toting thumb suckers reconcile their cries for personal responsibility when their alleged messiah advised them to give all of their money to the poor?
They can’t and won’t because they read the word but live the lie of everyman for themselves. Civilization is a voluntary organization and none can be forced to join. Theirs is a perpetual ignorance that hides from the light and whose shadows make their own salvation impossible. They sow the seeds of their own destruction with the doctrine of personal responsibility. The false ideology of the golden calf soon to be overthrown by the multitudes of collective will. The world turns slowly but from the darkness comes new light.