Neoliberals, Neocons, and Other Useless Labels

November 4, 2014

The Matrix, Path of Neo, November 4, 2014. (

The Matrix, Path of Neo, November 4, 2014. (

I’ve never really had much patience for technical academic jargon, even in my wide-eyed grad school days twenty years ago. And my patience for terms like post-structuralism, post-modern, neo-Marxist and eschatological has grown government-paper-stock-thin as I’ve approached middle-age. Lately, terms like neoliberal and neoconservative have found their way into my sniper sights, especially with the ’14 midterm elections upon us. These terms may have meant something very separate and distinctive fifty or sixty years ago, but they darn sure don’t now. Except, maybe, to academicians and the elite literati, people who somehow believe that these terms are as useful as food, drink and water.

It wasn’t until grad school at the University of Pittsburgh when I became aware of these terms. Back then, I saw neoliberal or neoliberalism in everything I read about race and economic concerns. Whether it was about Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s ridiculous statistical depiction of slavery in Time on the Cross (1974), or Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s work on twentieth-century political shifts in his Cycles of American History (1986), they and the reviewers of their books used the term neoliberal like it was parsley for making pesto.

Neoconservative hasn’t been around as long, a term about a decade younger than it’s post-World War II counterpart. It’s definition has evaded most academicians and the vast majority of lay-folk over the last half-century. Sometimes it’s used interchangeably with conservative or politically conservative, sometimes it’s used in the same sentence as right-wing or the religious right or evangelicals.

Asteroid Eros, a near-Earth object, or NEO, June 16, 2014. ( In public domain.

Asteroid Eros, a near-Earth object, or NEO, June 16, 2014. ( In public domain.

Though it’s definition is elusive, it’s history isn’t. Barry Goldwater’s gigantic loss to President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the ’64 Presidential Election led to a host of disaffected Democrats, old-money Republicans and other political misfits getting together and hatching a plan to dismantle the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition. They took advantage of the racism and roiling, boiling resentment of Southern Democrats — Dixiecrats, really — toward their party, the federal government and its growing support for Blacks and civil rights. They also took advantage of wealthy Republicans and the ages-old cry of corporations desperate for lower taxes and ever-higher profit margins. All of this came together in Richard Nixon’s ’68 presidential campaign with the Southern Strategy, turning Southern voters from Democrat to Republican. Not to mention with LBJ and Vietnam, the so-called Silent Majority, and their resentment toward rebellious, privileged college students and protestors.

We know it all worked, because fifty years later, to talk of the South as a Democratic bloc today is almost as ludicrous as it was to talk about the South as being ripe for a Republican takeover in ’64. Beyond that, though, with the inclusion of evangelical Christians and other religious and social conservatives came the inclusion of traditional conservatism, neoconservatism, and neoliberalism in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and in the US’ cultural mainstream by the late-1980s.

By then, these terms neoliberal and neoconservative had lost their original meaning, if they were really that different in meaning to begin with. The Republicans had married the terms and allowed the coupling to have kids and then grandkids with names like smaller governmentderegulationlower taxes for the wealthy (so-called “job creators”) and for corporationsprison-industrial complexending abortion, welfare reformeducation reform, and voter disenfranchisement. This combination of war hawks, an unfettered version of free-market capitalism, with low government regulation and taxes on the rich and corporation, combined with high government regulation of nonconformist activities and peoples (people of color, LGBT marriage rights, women’s reproductive rights, everyone who isn’t Christian or Christian-sounding)? I don’t understand why we don’t call it what it really is.

Quote from Henry A. Wallace, Vice-President of the nited States, 1944. (

Quote from Henry A. Wallace, Vice-President of the United States, 1944. (

Ladies and gentlemen and transgender, what we have in the US today — and have had in increasing measure for more than four decades — is a mild form of fascism, plain and simple. Yes, you can still vote, but the process is rigged from start to finish by greed and corruption and legal barriers to benefit the rich, the greedy and the corrupt. Yes, we have representation, through gerrymandered districts and hundreds of candidates with lined pockets running unopposed. Yes, we still have a Congress, a group who has done nothing to support ordinary Americans without also benefiting the top 1% in more than thirty years. A group who, in recent years, has done next to nothing at all other than raise more money to run for reelection in the past four years. As for the presidency, despite Congress’ control of the purse strings, every president since FDR’s third term has found a way to increase their political power, even as their influence on the legislative branch has decreased.

With all this, I have no use for the terms neoliberal and neoconservative. Not when all roads have led us to oligarchy, plutocracy and fascism.

I’m Not Happy Feet (or Ted Williams)

February 21, 2011

Happy Feet Big Dancing Scene Screen Shot, February 19, 2011. Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws, as screen shot is of low quality and illustrates the subject of this post.

Happy Feet Big Dancing Scene Screen Shot, February 19, 2011. Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws, as screen shot is of low quality and illustrates the subject of this blog post.

Remember that homeless Black guy who kicked off our new year a few weeks ago through the power of YouTube and some folks who recorded him and his golden voice on their smartphone? Yeah, how could any of you forget, really? Ted Williams had a whirlwind ten days, as thirteen million people watched the YouTube recording, companies and individuals offered him jobs and money, his family came back into his life. And then, of course, Williams became violent, relapsed into drug use, and is in the midst of rehab — again.

But it all started with his YouTube performance for the good folks of voyeur America. The whole incident made me cringe from start to finish. It also made me think about something that has always bothered me about race in America. Why? Especially since the video surfaced a man who’d been on a downward spiral for three decades? Because it seems that in order for a Black person to be taken seriously in this society, we have to perform like trained seals in order to get the attention we need and deserve.

Ted Williams, Columbus, OH, January 3, 2011. AP. Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of low resolution and use as subject in blog post.

This isn’t about some metaphorical relationship between excellence and success, or displaying intellect at school and in the world of work. No, this is actually about giving a performance, acting, or as the older folks would say, shuckin’ an’ jivin’, or hustlin’, to grab the attention of mostly Whites in high places. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it also is mostly not good. For it also seems that many of us must experience hardship, prison, drug addiction, abuse and homelessness in order to get attention in the first place.

That’s why it pisses me off when hearing about journalists shadowing the homeless in order to learn about life on the streets. Or when writers sit down with a homeless man or woman to learn about their ironic life story. It also bothers me when I see lists of the “50 Most Successful X” and the “100 Most Innovative Y,” knowing before I read one word that the only Blacks who made these lists were entertainers (I include professional athletes in this category, by the way). It’s disheartening to know that, for all of my writing ability and intellect, the only way I’ll likely be as successful as I hope to be will be by delivering a performance that allows Americans — mostly White — to be voyeurs of my life beyond my words and deep thoughts.

It all came together for me in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode  (Season 2, Episode 4) “The Swamp,” where Prince Zuko and his uncle Iroh sit at the side of the road in an Earth Kingdom town begging for change. One man forces the once proud general to dance for a gold coin — “Nothing like a fat man dancing for his dinner,” the man says. It speaks to shameful classism — or, at the very least, a sense of class and race entitlement — that we in this country engage in every day.

So, here are a few more thoughts. I look at Ted Williams, The Soloist with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx, even the Pixar/Disney movie Happy Feet (2006) — which me and my wife made the mistake of taking our son Noah to see (he didn’t like the movie, by the way) — and see lots of shuffling across a floor for the attention of Whites (and some people of color) in high places. Do two million penguins really need to tap dance ala Savion Glover in order to get attention from White scientists trying to save life on this planet from our global warming ways? No, but Blacks have had to literally tap dance for food and spare change in the exact same way.

I felt this way in grad school and at various times throughout my career. That I needed to sing, dance and do flips and cartwheels to make myself stand out for my middling White professors and supervisors. It would explain why some of them would ignore my grades, papers and awards to ask me if I could palm or dunk a basketball — out of the blue! Or why a muckity-muck at the Academy for Educational Development would walk by my office, notice the PhD on my name plate, and say, “Wow! You have a doctorate! I thought you only played softball!” I said, “Yeah, that’s why I’ve been working here for three years, just so I can play on the organization’s softball team.”

We ignore those suffering the most, whether because of race or class or gender or a combination of the three (or more) until they do something that impresses us. That’s when they deserve a chance, at least from the perspective of those laughing at them. And that’s shameful, demeaning, and yes, racist and elitist in a very specific way.


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