Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist who appears to at least partially apprehend reality, but seems to see it through a fog of dogma. Attempting to account for the present economic crisis, he writes in his newest column, "Part of this is our problem. We have believed the marketers who have convinced us that more is better and still more buys happiness." I'm not sure if he appreciates the implications of what he writes, since consumerism is the fuel of the capitalism he still seems to love. But I'm also not sure if he knows what capitalism is. He defines it this week as a "system that exalts the individual." There's probably some truth in that, since exalting individualism empowers more people to buy things for themselves. But I don't like the implication that any "system" that deviates from capitalism to the same extent fails to "exalt the individual."
Come to think of it, I'm not sure how Thomas defines the "individual." He seems to see citizenship, for instance, as at odds with individualism. He grumbles that the Obama administration has failed to say "anything about the power of people to overcome the recession and restore the economy to health." You'll be excused for thinking that Cal hasn't been paying attention. But I think he has -- only he doesn't understand it the same way we might. He doesn't see "people" in government programs, or in government, period. Democratic government, in the partisan sense of the phrase, seems to him to be "hurtling toward a collectivism in which individuality will be subsumed to the will of the state." The proposed stimulus "will add to the growing number of people dependent on government and, thus politicians." And there you have it. A genuine democrat might presume that dependence on government only means mutual dependence, which might be a proper state of affairs in a democracy. But to conservatives like Thomas, government is populated exclusively by alien beings called "politicians," parasites who come from who knows where and seek to make ordinary folk "dependent" on them. Politicians "will never show them the way out of poverty," he warns, "but give them only enough money to sustain themselves in poverty and then tell them if they don't vote for Democrats, those nasty Republicans will take their checks away."
Thomas laments that Democrats offer "no call for us to help ourselves first [as opposed to whom?],with the aid of family and neighbors, and to employ vision, persistence and risk in climbing out of the recessionary hole." This is further proof of his tone-deafness, because we have been called to help ourselves -- employing the conveniently available tool of a democratically elected government. But people working together democratically is tantamount to socialism, which for Thomas means "the end of prosperity [but hasn't it already ended?], individual initiative [why?], personal dreams [huh?] and a complete transformation of America as we have known it." The last bit probably comes the closest to being true, but if the other bits are only figments of a hysterical imagination, it might not be as bad as he fears. That's Thomas's problem: he still governs himself according to an irrational fear of "government" that threatens his psyche with a loss of not only freedom, but even personal identity. He's of an age that makes it likely that he saw too much anti-"totalitarian" propaganda as a youth, with scarring consequences. He seems to retain a small core of common sense; there's nothing wrong, after all, with people living within their means. But unless he can face the current situation without succumbing to reflexive fear of his fellow citizens, he really has no business commenting on politics today.