Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Legacy of Proposition 13 (KPBS, 2010)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

One was a typically dorky KPBS documentary called The Legacy of Proposition 13, which had some fascinating videos from back in the 1970’s that showed just how unbroken the appeal of the extreme Right has been from that day to this, including an original TV ad for Proposition 13 arguing that if the measure passed, California legislators would no longer be able to treat themselves, on the taxpayers’ dime, to all-expenses-paid junkets in exotic locales — there was even a flippant tag line over a stock shot of the Eiffel Tower as the narrator said, “But if you think lawmakers deserve to go to Paris, just vote no.” It’s fascinating how the appeals of the hard Right have remained the same from the birth of the modern Right as a response to the New Deal (and to the Soviet Union and the promise of socialism generally) in the 1930’s — all that’s changed, really, is the steadily growing percentage of the American public that buys into their world view that government services are things that benefit others which they’re obliged to pay for.

The show focused on three elderly couples, all of whom bought homes in San Diego County as non-elderly people in the 1970’s; one couple voted for Proposition 13 and still supports it (and for the one rational reason anybody had for doing so: the insanity of California real estate speculation, which had driven the market price of housing in California to the point where people could no longer afford to pay property taxes based on what their houses were “worth” on the market rather than what they themselves had paid for them — Proposition 13 got on the ballot and passed in the first place because a lot of homeowners were having to fork over real taxes based on paper “profits” they hadn’t realized and weren’t going to, and it remained popular because except for two “corrections” — one in the early 1990’s and one that is going on now — California real estate values have continued to skyrocket and therefore working-class and middle-income homeowners still need the protection it provides); one couple (apparently none of these people, at least on this question, voted differently from their spouses) supported it then but oppose it now, and one opposed it then and still does.

The last couple really summed it up when they said that people are divided between “yoyos” and “wits” — “YOYO” standing for “you’re on your own” and “WIT” for “we’re all in this together” — and the triumph of the American Right has been to win a majority of Americans, especially on economic issues, to the “yoyo” side. Certainly virtually all of talk radio is an unabashed celebration of yoyoism; this morning I just heard a scared caller to Mark somebody (a British-accented shill substituting for Rush Limbaugh) try to argue that Germany had a better solution to the problem of financing health care than the U.S. (and interestingly Germany’s health care plan is a network of private, not-for-profit “sickness funds” that insure everybody without regard to employment status, which it’s occurred to me might be a viable alternative in the U.S. to both the current for-profit system and single-payer — which was behind an idea I had during the controversy that perhaps instead of borrowing money for ongoing, massive subsidies to the health insurance industry to expand their coverage, we should be borrowing money for a one-shot buy-out of the entire sector and reorganizing the existing health insurance companies as nonprofits).

Mark Whosits said that the average life expectancy in Germany is 45 (according to the CIA’s Factbook it’s really 76 for men and 82 for women, comparable to the U.S.’s 77 for men and 80 for women; on the Wikipedia site (sourced by the United Nations as well as the CIA, by the way),, Germany is ranked 23rd and the U.S. 38th; interestingly, the U.S. territories of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico both have higher rankings than the U.S. itself!) and that in the U.S. “300 million people choose for themselves what arrangements they are going to make for their health care” — which is, of course, preposterous. Maybe if the government had given everyone a voucher to purchase health insurance (i.e., if the health insurance bill had used the voucher principle the Right wants to apply to education), you could more or less make that statement — but as it is now, some people are provided health care through their employers (which means they’re stuck with whatever plan their employer offers, with no room for input in that decision unless they’re part of the rapidly dwindling percentage of the workforce represented by a union, in which case they have no room for input in whatever health coverage their employer and their union negotiate for on their behalf), a few people (the oldest and the poorest) get single-payer (Medicare and Medicaid, respectively) and a lot of folks are simply rationed out of the system financially — if they’re unemployed, chronically poor but not poor enough for Medicaid, or either work for a small business or own one and can’t afford the rapidly climbing premiums for individual coverage.

What’s most depressing about the current political situation in the U.S. is how powerful the Right-wing myths are (and how many Americans have been brainwashed into believing them by the classic propaganda strategy of repetition) to the point where they are utterly resistant to any fact-based assault: the idea of a society of rugged individualists in which we can all progress as far as our native talents and willingness to work hard and sacrifice can take us has such a vise grip on the American people that they continue to think, act, vote and protest as if that were true — and as if any attempt to use government to provide for the general welfare beyond the basics of national defense and criminal justice were an incursion on it that must be fought tooth and nail — which is the real message behind the rapid meltdown of Obama’s presidency and the possibility of the Republicans retaking Congress this year and the presidency in 2012 on the power of the ideological offensive of the “tea parties.”