The best aren’t necessarily found at the top of the heap – and vice versa.
On George W. Bush’s first day on the job, thousands of folks protested his arguably illegitimate inauguration, and the presidential limo was egged en route to the White House. Last December, as his presidency was coming to a close, an Iraqi reporter named Muntathar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at Bush and yelled, “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!”
The most powerful moron in the modern world had come full circle, and we got to watch the entire spectacle from the disenfranchised peanut gallery known as the middle class. The country is polarized, demoralized, embarrassed, and bitter, but Bush still has the gall to laud his own hatchet job. “I have a great sense of accomplishment,” he said. “I am going home with my head held high.”
It makes you wonder what exactly it would take to make him bow his head in shame.
Would he have had to sit by while a major American city was destroyed by a hurricane and then bungle the recovery efforts? What about deceiving millions of American families into sending their loved ones on fools’ errands for Big Oil and Bush’s cronies in the military-industrial complex? Would he have bowed his head if hundreds of American servicemen and women had been encouraged to torture unarmed prisoners? Would bringing this nation to the brink of financial disaster have been enough?
In my opinion, Bush’s greatest accomplishment was an unintended one. He single-handedly demolished all the arguments in favor of the socio-economic theory beloved by conservatives: social Darwinism.
For decades, Republicans and conservatives – even though many of them hypocritically reject Darwin’s evolutionary theories of human origins – have championed the idea that “survival of the fittest” should be the only rule in the struggle for a decent life. They proclaim that government should not meddle with that human competition by regulating the economy or addressing social problems, and they justify the imbalances and inequality thus created by suggesting that some folks are just better fit to survive and/or excel than others – and everyone else will just have to settle for whatever they get.
When Katrina demolished New Orleans, many conservatives said it was full of lazy welfare cases anyway, and they were just looking for another handout to rebuild government-subsidized housing.
When less financially secure young men and women, who joined the military in part to get help with college, were forced to go and fight our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and had their tours extended or multiplied or were stop-lossed or denied post-traumatic stress discharges, many conservatives simply shrugged their shoulders and said “Tough luck. Nobody made them sign up.”
And when the middle and lower classes began to founder on the rocks of unemployment, meager pay, and the credit crunch, conservatives suggested that it’s no accident that these folks occupy the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. As conservative talk-radio host Bill Cunningham specifically phrased it, “people are poor in America … not because they lack money; they’re poor because they lack values, morals, and ethics.”
The problem with these rationales and, in fact, most justifications of social Darwinism is that they recklessly presuppose that this system actually results in quality rising to the top (and inferior folks, by correlation, sinking to the bottom). The strongest evidence that this is not true is … that’s right, George W. Bush.
The Bush administration was a model of kakistocracy or government by the least fit. He didn’t ascend to the highest office in the nation by being smarter, wiser, or even more adept at leading people. After coasting along via all the breaks and benefits of nepotistic wealth and political clout, he simply had the right name, the right good ol’ boy demeanor, and a little help from a severely compromised electoral system. Instead of natural selection, we got an imbecilic insurrection. Instead of survival of the fittest, we got the rape and pillaging of America for the benefit of those who condoned torture, thievery, ruinous financial policies, and unnecessary war.
Obviously, the dirty little secret behind this pseudo-meritocracy is that the rich and powerful have no intention of maintaining a level playing field. They put their children in the best private schools, get them wartime military deferments, place them in the top sororities and fraternities, provide them with the best contacts and networking opportunities, and give them a succession of get-out-of-jail-free passes and no-bid contracts.
As the Obama administration attempts to extricate us from the current economic minefield, I hope his staff realizes that our problems aren’t just a matter of regulation. We also need to make sure the conservative sham of social Darwinism goes the way of the dodo.
E.R. Bills is a local freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications.