To many Americans, who remember her mostly for her Cold War rhetoric, Margaret Thatcher remains something of a hero. In Britain, however, her legacy is rather different. As Prime Minister, Thatcher pioneered the application of ruthless ideology to national politics, and prided herself on running a party of right-wing clones who walked and voted in lock-step to annihilate collective bargaining rights and deliberately devastate the economies of whole regions of the United Kingdom. To achieve this political uniformity, she went on a search and destroy mission in the Conservative Party to purge it of those members who were not, as she memorably put it, “One of Us”.
State Senator Doug LaMalfa, from California Senate District 4 in Northern California, has been using the “One of Us” phrase on his campaign posters for years. How much it has been responsible for his political ascendancy it is difficult to say, but LaMalfa, who started as an Assemblyman, is now a State Senator, and is running to be elected to Congress to fill the District 1 seat which will be left vacant by out-going Congressman Wally Herger. He stands a fair chance of winning, too, having been anointed by Herger in a nauseatingly insulting display of the entitlement which characterises the approach of the Republican Party to what it seems to regard as its personal fiefdom in the north.
Northern Californian politics (it might come as news to many in other parts of the state that there are people living north of Sacramento, but yes, it is true) have been long dominated by the Republican Party. We have precious little to show for it, having remained an economic and social backwater, plagued by high unemployment and a lack of investment, but we continue to re-elect the right-wing blowhards bred by the Republican Party in this part of the state. LaMalfa is the latest such buffoonish, Stetson-wearing culture warrior to pop up and mercenarily trade on a sense of frustration while in actuality entrenching the region’s marginality.
From the horse’s mouth: “The First district is vast and unique. I consider it the real California. A place where family values, hard work and individual responsibility are still the norm. These are not the values of Washington, D.C., but they should be”. Any time someone says the “real California” or the “real America”, and starts pretending that only a small subset of the community treasures real values, you know they haven’t a philosophical leg to stand on. LaMalfa and the other economic Ayatollah running for Herger’s seat, Sam Aanestad, are embracing the same argument about exceptionalism that their party has used to damage the country so badly at the national level.
What is the implication of LaMalfa’s deliberately divisive language combined with his embrace of the Republican Party’s lunatic fundamentalism? That North State residents have somehow different needs to people living in the rest of the state. Now it’s true that demographically and culturally the North State is different from other parts of California (in the sense that most parts of the state differ in some respect from one another). But the fact remains that we all have the same basic needs. So LaMalfa’s attempt to carve out some bizarrely exclusive cultural and political niche for his ambitions actually has the effect of negating what we have in common with other Californians. In the North State, he tells us, we don’t need universal access to healthcare like people in the rest of the state. In the North State, we can do education on the cheap, and we won’t mind when our children suffer the consequences. In the North State, we don’t mind eating unsafe food, drinking contaminated water, and breathing polluted air. In the North State, one of the most beautiful regions in California, we don’t need accessible, affordable public recreational areas. In the North State, we don’t need collective bargaining rights.
LaMalfa, one of whose biggest claims to fame is his authorship of a bill to protect people’s guns in the event of a national disaster (an odd priority given that he shows no such solicitousness of people’s welfare in the midst of our man-made economic disaster) is a member of an openly corrupt political party which is in total thrall to corporate interests. People here in Zambia complain about the ubiquity of petty corruption which operates illicitly from dark corners, but in the U.S, corruption on a massive scale has been legalised and is out in the open. LaMalfa and his party willingly take payments from the oil industry, the financial sector, large real estate interests, weapons manufacturers, big agriculture, drug companies, professional polluters, and the spectacularly wealthy. And then they turn around and write legislation that exempts these interests from the rules and responsibilities that bind the rest of us. They vote against legislation which would ask these interests to take into account the health, welfare, and economic fortunes of the rest of us in their corporate behaviour. They give their full-throated endorsement to an agenda which deliberately advances economic inequality within our state and our country. Coincidence? Seems unlikely.
LaMalfa (with Aanestad and Co) foams at the mouth about Big Bad Government, and then takes massive subsidies for his rice farms. Like most of the windbags in his party, he misses the point about government: it’s not how big it is, but rather what it does and for whom it does things. ‘Government’, under the Republican Party, is as big as it gets, and is working day and night for the advancement of a vast corporate welfare system. LaMalfa, as Assemblyman and Senator, has done his best to shoot down any public investment which would benefit his constituents in terms of education, healthcare, and energy and environmental regulation, but is assiduous in backing his party in its unconscionable working of all the accessible levers of power for the advancement of corporate interests.
I’m not saying that Democrats don’t also take the money of interest groups. But the Republicans are in a league of their own, in that they serve as the flunkeys for more exclusive and wealthier interests, the welfare of which groups tends to be antithetical to the common good. And because they can be so comprehensively bought, they become utterly impervious to changing economic or social circumstances, immune to the use of reason, and inflexible in their willingness to ruin their constituents.
To demonstrate their fealty to the likes of Enron, Blackwater, the Koch Brothers, et al, they take pledges and swear oaths which pit them—from day one in office—diametrically against the economic interests of the majority of their constituents. They foreswear the use of reason, the application of logic, and the willingness to react to changing circumstances to placate right-wing demagogues. As a recent letter in the Record Searchlight noted, they’re really pledging their allegiance to Grover Norquist and his ilk.
The Searchlight recently wrote about the good that a University of California campus in Redding would do the North State, rightly noting that this kind of public investment would be a boon to the region which could totally transform its prospects. But this is the kind of investment that LaMalfa would philosophically oppose given the necessity of publicly funding such an initiative.
Like too many in his party, LaMalfa remains convinced that his brain resides in his alimentary canal, and thinks accordingly, with predictable results. He fancies himself a cowboy, but like virtually every other member of his party, he is really more of a gangster. He and his colleagues have been using California’s antediluvian supermajority rules to force a regime of brutal cuts on the state in spite of their minority status, and he would be in similar company in Congress, where from January 2009 his party deliberately set out to use the Byzantine Senate rules to scupper the advancement of any progressive agenda, not allowing the stinging rebukes dealt them by voters in 2006 and 2008 to stand in their way.
The aura of entitlement which has characterised his run for Congress (to say nothing of its nastiness), his anti-public record in the Assembly and Senate, his clownish and destructive populism, his opposition to collective investment in the common good, and his anti-tax zealotry make LaMalfa totally unfit to represent northern California in Congress. He and his party have embraced the doctrine of “power without responsibility” altogether too fulsomely for their own good, and their scorched-earth agenda borders on the nihilistic. He represents an agenda that should be firmly rejected for the good of our state’s future.