As George Bush begins his second term as president today, one of the lingering questions for Oklahoma progressives is this: How much will his second-term presidency help push Oklahoma politicians to adopt even more radical, right-wing positions in terms of economic and cultural issues?
Another question is this: What will it take to convince a majority of Oklahoma voters to discard the irrationality of American nationalism and religious fundamentalism and vote for their own financial interests and personal freedoms and liberties?
I will give my answers later in this post, but, first, I want to talk about Thomas Frank again.
In previous posts, I have discussed Frank’s book What’s The Matter With Kansas?. Frank tries to figure out why a majority of people in the so-called heartland have dismissed their leftist pasts and joined forces with the recent conservative juggernaut. He points out how a majority of Kansans, like Oklahomans, vote to ensure their rural towns will not survive, their small schools will close, and their children will have bleak futures.
Frank believes the takeover of mainstream media by the conservatives has much to do with this, and I agree with him on this issue. Oklahoma progressives are especially sensitive to this issue. The Daily Oklahoman, once labeled the country’s worst newspaper, has for years distorted the news and given only one-sided, conservative views about the state’s politics. The newspaper, without any sense of justice, openly and consistently supports Oklahoma’s wealthiest citizens over the middle-class and impoverished.
Yet I would argue other issues are in play here in Oklahoma. For example, college educational levels in Oklahoma remain low, so one might surmise that many voters are easily manipulated by simple appeals to emotion. Also, those fundamentalist religious ideas first politically sanctioned by former President Ronald Reagan have spread here in Oklahoma as much as they have in the Middle East. And George Bush now validates all extreme religious views throughout the world one way or another, either by celebrating fundamentalist Christianity in Oklahoma and elsewhere or by describing as a “crusade” his intention to do away with Muslim religious fanatics. In the long run, what is the difference?
(It’s important to note that Bush’s personal views can hardly be described as extreme. He merely politicizes extreme religious ideas to manipulate voters and ensure power remains vested in the Republican Party.)
We have seen Bush’s direct and indirect influence, I believe, in helping the Republicans take over the Oklahoma House of Representatives for the first time in 80 years. There are now no brakes on the conservative onslaught in this state. Already, the state Republicans, emboldened by their victories and the president’s re-election, are plotting how to redistribute tax income to the state’s most wealthiest residents (i.e., the Gaylord family, oil company executives, etc.) under Orwellian named programs such as The Oklahoma Prosperity Project or the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
And so my answers to my initial questions are not positive for Oklahoma progressives. Yes, the state can become even more radically conservative in the coming years as the Republicans take the country, incrementally, into the abyss, gutting Social Security, redistributing income to the country’s wealthiest, and blurring distinctions between church and state.
What could change this, of course, is a huge, national financial disaster, which might serve as a wake-up call, but I suspect the country voters can limp along with mediocre but not catastrophic job and income growth as long as the right can manipulate people with fear and lies and appeals to nationalism and religion. Look how national economic policies forced our state schools into major cutbacks a couple of years ago with little or no protest from the media or the voters. The Oklahoma City Public School District still has not recovered from that disaster. The district is now short 200 teachers because many teachers undoubtedly have gone on to other states who pay them better and treat them better.
And what will it take to convince Oklahoma voters their financial interests and personal freedoms are not represented by the radical right?
This is a more difficult question. I do think many libertarian-like Republicans are secretly and sometimes openly afraid of the influence of religious fundamentalism in our state politics, and so it remains our mission to bring this issue to the forefront whenever we can. This one issue can siphon enough votes away from conservatives on a national level to swing the balance of power in Washington.
But how do we approach the rest of those Oklahoma voters who hate themselves and their children so much they vote to ensure they have low wages, fewer job opportunities, inadequate health care insurance coverage, all in the name of fundamentalist religion and fervent nationalism?
My belief is progressives need to stay consistent with logic and rationality and hope for the best, but we will not accomplish much, frankly, if national progressives continue to write off red states, such as Oklahoma. Many have done so since the election, judging by articles published on sites such as Common Dreams, and this is not good news.
Much has been made in the press recently about George Bush’s “accountability” moment. Bush, in an interview with a reporter for The Washington Post, said his policies have been vindicated because voters re-elected him and thus he does not have to be held accountable to any criticism of his administration. The major problem with this thinking is that many people never received a balanced assessment of the impact his policies—whether the Iraqi war debacle or tax cuts for the most wealthy-- have had on the country and on the world because of biased media coverage.
We have to try to provide that balance even knowing that doing so in Oklahoma, with its immoral, unbalanced mainstream media, is probably a losing cause right now.
Yes, we are marginalized here, at this particular moment in history, but I believe progressive voices will prevail again in the state as they did once before in the early 1900s.
The Republican Party’s continuing attack on Oklahoma farmers and the state’s rural communities are reflected in President George Bush’s proposed budget that would severely cut farm subsidies.
The cuts will hasten the slow death or steady decline many state’s rural communities now face because farm income will be lost and thus related jobs will be lost. More Oklahoma family farms are sure to go out of business. Local businesses in farm communities will close. The infrastructure of many small, state towns will continue to erode.
(Meanwhile, our country’s food supply will be endangered, but I will address that later.)
It is no coincidence that just as President Bush announces warfare against rural America the Oklahoma House Republicans have revived their intention to close schools in rural sections of the state, though one state legislative proposal—sponsored by the GOP—to do so has apparently been withdrawn for the moment. It is sure to come back without media scrutiny. (In other words, The Daily Oklahoman or The Tulsa World will not report it until after the fact.)
What has happened here is that Oklahoma rural voters have been duped once again by the Republicans. The GOP ideology is to redistribute wealth to the richest people in our culture. The conservatives could care less if a family farmer in Hydro or Elk City or Idabel goes out of business; in fact, attacking family farms has been an insidious part of the GOP agenda since the early 1900s.
Under Bush’s plan, all farm payments will be cut by five percent. In addition, payment ceilings will drop from $360,000 to $250,000. Other “loopholes” (that’s GOP language) will be closed that cut even more from Oklahoma farmers.
The president of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association, Jeff Krehbiel, has come out against the cuts (The Daily Oklahoman, February 11, 2005), and surely other state farm organizations will follow.
The problem here is that Oklahoma voters and many other red-state voters supposedly handed George Bush and his party a mandate. You would think the president would reward his so-called “base”of voters, but Bush’s only real base is made up of rich elites with ties to huge multi-national corporations, not hard-working family farmers in Oklahoma or Kansas or Nebraska or Missouri.
Rich Oklahoma City oil executives, for example, are getting richer by the day. Look at the profit margins for oil companies under the Bush administration.
I have been arguing for years that Oklahoma voters now vote against their own basic interests. The farm subsidy cuts and the school consolidation issue—both GOP-inspired—prove my point once again. Oklahoma voters need to cut through the Republicans’ nationalistic propaganda and fear campaigns and start paying attention to the current assault on our state.
We are all better off in this state when we have strong, rural towns and thriving, profitable farms.
But there is even a larger issue here with the farm subsidies, and that is the overall protection and quality of our country’s food supply. It is crucial we ensure we have enough food to feed everyone in this country. It is paramount we ensure our food is safe to eat. Food is also a security issue. Without an abundance of quality food, this country is weaker, not stronger. This is not hyperbole. This is not political. This is just plain commonsense.
Free, global markets are important, true, but making sure we always have enough food in this country to feed our children is even more important. The tension between these two arguments—open world markets and “food insurance” for America—can be adjusted and mediated. But we should never adopt the GOP idea that farm subsidies should be eliminated or cut drastically like the current Bush proposal. That would be a national disaster.