I HEARD A WOMAN TODAY ON CNN, a refugee from New Orleans now living on a cot in the Houston Astrodome. It was a short bit of tape, aired in the context of a report on the difficulty people are having finding loved ones. The tape was played quickly as the broadcast went to commercial. The woman wasn't named in any on screen text and if she was named by the anchor I didn't hear it.
I did however hear the woman, biting back tears, say this: "If I'm missing, there's no one to say that I'm missing." She was talking about trying to find her family, and wondering if her family was trying to find her only to be told that she is missing. But her comment was profound, perhaps more profound than she knew.
"There's no one to say that I'm missing."
Even as she spoke on national TV, this woman was voiceless, nameless, disenfranchised, with no representative looking out for her. I don't know the woman's economic condition. I do know she was African-American and living in on a cot in a baseball stadium because she seemed to have no other place to go. She was exactly the type of person that the conservative movement has been leaving behind since the ascent of Ronald Reagan.
Contemporary conservatism has never advanced solutions for the social problems that result from class inequality. Sure, there are a lot of rhetorical policy smoke screens thrown around (trickle down economics, empowering faith based organizations, private school vouchers) but it is remains a consistent characteristic of Neo-con administrations: regulatory and tax changes benefit the wealthy only and the quality of life divide between rich and poor widens. It happened in the 1980s and it's happening now.
At the root of this conservatism is a tacit, and sometimes not so tacit, social Darwinism. "If you can't get a job and pull yourself up out of poverty then it's your own damn fault," seems to be the underlying logic. Never mind that the public schools in all but the wealthiest communities are inadequate--and on the average they get worse as you get lower down the economic ladder. Never mind that there is a seeming permanent class of long term unemployed, or that wage growth is a flat line, or that job creation is a zero-sum game. The problem is never with the policy, the problem is always the fault of the people who the ideology isn't interested in caring for--the poor, racial minorities, immigrants, and the working class. If conservatism is going to be the road to a shiny utopia, these people must become invisible because the challenge of their very existence undermines the notion that a rising conservative tide lifts all the boats.
Maintaining the illusion that conservatism works is a magic act that requires the disappearance of a great many things--the costs of tax cuts are hidden behind a binge of borrowing; the costs of war are hidden behind a craven order to ban images of the returning dead; and most of all conservatism must hide all the people for whom conservatism DOESN'T work.
That's why this past week conservatives have had such a hard time responding to the Katrina emergency response tragedy. When that water rose in the lower 9th ward it carried to the surface all the dregs of a society that conservatives want off the federal books, hidden behind State-based unfunded social welfare programs and faith-based charities the way Enron hid bad assets and worse liabilities behind off-balance-sheet, special purpose entities.
The problem is that these people are American's too. Equally as entitled to the blessings of liberty, and the largess of the federal goverment, as Haliburton.