Beware of the privateers

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I remember back in the 1950s when we thought of the John Birch Society as a
crazy, extremist organization that sought to do away with everything
"public" because such things were "socialistic" and socialism was
essentially the same as communism. They were said to have accused President
Eisenhower of being a communist dupe and they were rabidly against the
United Nations.

In essence, the Birchers sought to do away with public schools, public
electrical utilities and any other programs of government that served
ordinary people. They did not, however, seek the demise of government
support for the rich.

During the 1950s, right-wingers also sought to terminate our reservations
and open up the tribal land base to "privatization." What followed was an
era in which many tribes, especially in California, lost large quantities
of land to non-Indians. Others lost timber and other resources. But, of
course, the "privatization" of tribal lands had been a major theme of U.S.
policy from the days of George Washington.

Today the Birchers and their fellow travelers on the extreme right have
largely triumphed, taking control of the Republican Party with Ronald
Reagan's victory in 1980 and gaining a lot of influence even in the
Democratic Party.

By means of the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing organizations,
well-funded by extreme rightist corporations and billionaires, the
Birchers' philosophy of doing away with government enterprises and programs
that benefit ordinary people has taken control of the dialogue of politics
and economics. The result is that a revolution is being carried out - a
revolution which is rapidly rolling us back into the age of the robber
barons, the harsh industrial and anti-Native climate of the late 19th
century.

American Indians are also familiar with the idea of "privatization" because
it was applied by the U.S. government to tribes in the 19th century through
the Dawes Allotment Act and subsequent legislation. That "privatization" of
Native land cost Indian people over 50 million acres and economic
independence.

The privateers (people and corporations who seek to privatize all
institutions except those which subsidize and protect the rich and
powerful) are winning because they have much of the mainstream media and
huge sources of funding, and they have captured many intellectuals who are
willing to sell their message in exchange for lucrative funding,
fellowships in right-wing think tanks, and support for their articles and
books.

The wealthy classes generally controlled the politics of the United States
during the 1920s, using the Republican Party as their primary vehicle. The
Great Depression changed all of that, and with the 1932 elections, the
people finally had representation in Washington. The result was reforms
that improved conditions for working people, and which created Social
Security and an entire range of new programs (such as those which spread
electricity across the Plains) and the "Indian New Deal."

The wealthy class, as a whole, hated the reforms of the '30s and as soon as
possible after World War II put together strategies to try to undermine the
New Deal Democrats: including the McCarthyite campaign to intimidate
"lefties" and liberals. At the same time, wealthy interests were changing
the political ball-game's rules by taking greater control of the old media
(newspapers, radio, etc.) and the new media (television). To a large extent
the rabid right came to be indistinguishable from the wealthy right, as
they came together in efforts to gradually erode the gains of the '30s.

The assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy gave the GOP the chance to
come back to power under Nixon and then Ford (1968 - '76). Movement to the
right occurred during their administrations and, to some degree, under
Jimmy Carter's. The inflationary spiral, created by unwise spending on the
Vietnam War, played into right-wing hands and contributed to the Reagan
victory. The Reagan administration, followed by George H.W. Bush (1981 -
'92), saw many Nixon veterans joined by new hard-right ideologues who
helped move the nation's politics in the privateers' direction.

Nixon, by ignoring African-Americans and by cultivating "hard-hat" white
workers and white Southerners, made it possible for many white people of
the South to switch to the Republicans. Reagan's election saw the
Republicans emerge as the "white man's party" which meant that the GOP was
effectively the party of rich people placed into office by people who were
not rich but who, for emotional as well as ideological reasons, decided to
support a rich white man's party.

Privateers, at one time, were men who took to the sea in ships in order to
steal other people's property. Nowadays, privateers are people who use the
law, secrecy and corporate wrongdoing to steal other people's property,
often by taking over and exploiting privatized public agencies. One of the
tools they use to eliminate public projects is the strategy of "defunding
the public sector." This can be accomplished by massive tax cuts for the
wealthy (with a small handout to the middle-classes), a plan used by both
Reagan and George W. Bush. Another tool is to create massive debt at both
state and federal levels, then call for a corresponding reduction in public
spending. Again, this has been used by Reagan and Bush, with huge debts as
we are all aware.

Defunding the public sector is a clever strategy that helps to privatize
education and health services and starves all public programs except, of
course, the huge subsidies for corporations and industrial agribusinesses
which, in turn, are financing Bush II, the Republican Party, and GOP
politicians and lobbyists.

We need to be aware of radical right-wing strategies and do what we can to
protect and restore the gains made after 1932.

Jack Forbes is professor emeritus of Native American Studies at the
University of California, Davis. He has over 500 published works, including
"Red Blood," "Native Americans of California and Nevada" and "What Is
Time?"