The Affordable Care Act, Cultural Hegemony, and the Moral Imperative
|July 2, 2012||Posted by Josh Boldt under Activism, Politics, Work|
Why would anyone who isn’t rich fight the Affordable Care Act?
The other day on NPR, a man was being interviewed about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He started off by describing the social welfare programs from which he was receiving aid, one of which was Medicaid. He admitted his dependence on these programs to supplement his income and to care for his family. But in the very next breath, he denounced “liberals” based on “moral grounds.” As a Christian, he couldn’t vote Democrat because Democrats don’t uphold his moral standards. The guy honestly sounded like a fairly-educated person who knew what he was talking about. And that’s why I don’t get the glaring irony of his political ideology. How can someone who is not wealthy possibly think that the party of the rich has his best interests in mind? Especially considering he is living off of the very social programs his party would love to eliminate.
Well, here’s the catch. Rather than focusing on facts, people like this man often make political decisions based on “morality,” which is a highly subjective and manipulable concept. Morality of course usually means supporting the causes of mainstream Christianity. Anti-abortion, anti-single sex marriage, pro-death penalty, and don’t forget pro-guns. Somehow, these are the big four that get folded into conservative rhetoric and blended with Christian morality. Not for everyone, of course, but very often these are the talking points that surface right before someone either shuts down or flies off the handle. The Big Four.
But are these really the main concerns of the Republican Party? Sure, it seems that way from all we hear in the media, but are they really? Or is it possible that these highly-polarizing talking points are a way of clouding the real conservative agenda and, maybe more importantly, cultivating a huge following of voters who are hemmed in by their own religious values, thereby making it morally impossible to deviate from the party, which becomes especially poignant regarding legislation like the Affordable Care Act. In other words, voting Democrat is un-Christian. If I wanted to make sure someone stuck with me no matter what, I would fold my political agenda into their religious beliefs. Then, I would essentially hold an ideological monopoly on their political perspective. I could get away with just about anything as long as I continue to manipulate the morality angle. As long as I advertise my party as the “moral party,” I would control these hot button issues and I could convince voters to stick with me no matter what else I happen to be doing. Kind of like a sleight-of-hand magic trick. As long as you’re watching my left hand, you won’t notice what I’m doing with my right. Manipulating the big four is a sleight-of-hand trick that causes the moral voters to accept the dominant ideology of the GOP, despite the fact that many of these same voters are repressed and exploited by that very ideology.
Cultural Hegemony and Socially-Constructed Societal Norms
Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci recognized this ability of the ruling class to dominate society by constructing and controlling social norms. He argued that we should become aware of the differences between economic and social classes, and then consciously evaluate the relevance of those differences in our own lives in order to avoid what he labeled cultural hegemony. Following is a great definition of this concept that is surprisingly relevant to the contemporary debate surrounding the ACA.
Cutural Hegemony is the process by which “a culturally diverse society can be dominated by one social class, whose dominance is achieved by manipulating the societal culture (beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, mores) so that its ruling-class worldview is imposed as the societal norm, which every social class then perceives as a universally valid ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo — as natural, inevitable, and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.”
Let’s break that down a little. In order for cultural hegemony to exist, the working class must accept the values of the ruling class as its own, regardless of whether these values actually benefit the masses. This enables the power holders to maintain ideological and intellectual dominance over the masses. Because the working class1 has accepted the idea that they share the goals of the dominant class (via the moral/religious affiliation), they will unconditionally support the agenda of that class. And, that is how we get people like the man on NPR who will vote against his own best interests based on a perceived affiliation with the moral values of the class that exploits him. Because of this “moral imperative,” the working class2 votes against itself and against the Affordable Care Act, in the process supporting a political structure that would never return the favor.
1Not the entire working class of course, but many of its members.
2I obviously realize this doesn’t apply to everyone. I happen to be a member of the working class who doesn’t think this way. This is just my explanation for the large cross-section of the class that seems to argue against itself.