The Price of Right

By David Swanson

I just read an interesting new book by Alicia Morgan called “The Price of Right: How the Conservative Agenda Has Failed America (and Always Will)” — a timely message right now, but let’s hope it does not remain so always.

If you read a lot of progressive political books, this one may seem a bit repetitive. Chapter One retells a Thom Hartmann theory about liberals as hunters and conservatives as farmers. Chapter Two is the early development of advertising techniques. Chapter Three is George Lakoff, Chapter Four Frank Luntz, Chapter Five the Christian Right, Chapter Six the neocons, Chapter Seven authoritarians, Chapter Eight voodoo economics and the bankruptcy bill, Chapter Nine single-payer health coverage, Chapter Ten corporate trade, and Chapter Eleven corporate media. Chapter Twelve is a very timely essay on corporate bailouts and John McCain, and Chapter 13 a pep talk in support of doing something about the whole rotten stinking mess we’re in.

Chapter One was the only topic I hadn’t already read several times, so it sucked me in. I imagine most readers will find some other chapters new and some old. But the list of topics doesn’t tell the whole story. Morgan does a terrific job of fitting the pieces together and painting a picture that has the potential to reach a lot of people. The early chapters are the most welcoming to readers of any political perspective. This is a book that might open some eyes. I recommend reading it and then giving it to a Republican.

The benefit of reading Chapter One and then surveying all the topics in the remaining chapters is the perspective provided of viewing our political divide in the United States as one between people highly susceptible to fear, and people who are able to set their fears aside.

“As liberals,” Morgan writes, “we should be aware that the ability to push aside fear when necessary is one of our strengths. We should utilize this strength more than we do.”

This means that while the minority fearful farmer types may admire the Democrats in Congress for funding wars they claim to oppose, trashing the Fourth Amendment they claim to uphold, permitting torture they claim to condemn, and stealing a trillion dollars from our grandchildren to help out some billionaire bankers in their hour of need, there is actually a majority of non-fearful hunter types who are disgusted by such cowardice and complicity in imbecilic fear-mongering. (See Chapter Eleven for why Congress Members refuse to believe this is true.)

I think there is a major weakness in Morgan’s book, however, in that she does not attempt solutions for the problems she surveys. Had she done so, she might have been compelled to face more seriously the question of how much of the authoritarian personality she describes is the creation of our culture rather than genes. Clearly authoritarianism rises and retreats. And it rises together with religion.

“Now there’s nothing wrong with people of faith. I am a liberal Christian myself,” writes Morgan after documenting major — if not catastrophic — problems with “faith” and offering no explanation whatsoever of how there is “nothing wrong” with it. Where do people learn authoritarianism if not in the house of their “Lord”?

“To criticize our government is not to hate America,” Morgan writes, denouncing such claims by those on the right. Yet, two sentences later, she is accusing her own political opponents of being “un-American” and “un-Christian.”

Several chapters after her anti-war chapter, Morgan declares John McCain “an American hero, one who bravely refused to be released from a Vietnam prison camp,” never mentioning that he was only there because he had been bombing civilians during a war of aggression, that he simply wasn’t a very skilled pilot, and that he now supports the torture of other human beings despite having been through it himself.

These reversals by Morgan suggest to me that we cannot read (and write) the lessons of progressive thinkers enough. These lessons are not chanted repeatedly on the television news the way the myths they oppose are. Consequently, they have not yet really sunk in.