I suppose that most every presidential campaign has an element of political panic in it, the kind that convinces us that this isn’t just ANY election, but one crucial to the future. In 2008, the Dems were desperate to wrestle control away from the neocons, and although I suppose they’d deny it, the Pubs were seemingly ambivalent about turning it over (after all, they DID choose an absurd ticket — an ill-favored John McPoopy-Pants and his gal-pal from Wasilla — to go up against uber-popular Hillary Clinton and that young upstart from Chicago).
If we step back a bit, we can acknowledge that to be the pattern for Pubs. After all, who would want to clean up the mess of a nation in financial free fall, even if they themselves made it?
Who would gladly inherit two hot wars, an expensive and top-heavy security machine and a panicked working class gutted by downsizing and outsourcing? Traditionally, it’s the Democrats’ job, anyhow, to put their own agenda aside to slow the fallout and remedy the radicalism of prior “conservative” administrations, has been since the 1930s. Still, this year there’s weight behind the notion of national importance in our political choices. This ISN’T just any election, and there are some important questions to ask ourselves as we proceed into the next few weeks.
This year we’ve finally peeled enough of the layers away to expose the core issue of our nation’s challenge in this new century. It took long enough! My frustrations with this process are legion. The constant repetition of themes, the hunt and peck to restate the problem, the dots dropped by media and politicos that should have been connected but weren’t. And let’s not forget the Dug the Dog “squirrel” issues that turn the nation’s head away from what’s important with a resounding snap, leaving newscasts to loop in salacious details while stories important to our future skid by unnoticed. How many times do we have to hear the basic message, how many ways does it have to slap us around before we “get it?”
This year — wits about us or not — we will decide what kind of government we will have going forward into the 21st century. In so doing, we will also decide the subtext: what kind of people shall we be?
In 2008, candidate Obama was making his way down a line of admirers, glad-handing, when he came to an unemployed gent named Samuel Wurzelbacher who asked him about tax breaks for small business. Obama’s response — that he wanted to “spread the wealth” — became a lightning rod for ambitious Veep-candidate Sarah Palin, recognizing one of her own in Joe the Plumber and eager to exploit the moment as an example of Democrat socialism. Seems to me that Sarah is single-handedly responsible for resurrecting a number of old Republican bugaboos, socialism among them.
Exceptionalism is another. In the early portion of the century, the Pubs had tightened their grip across the world in an active War on Terror, satisfied that they had proven American power for the foreseeable future, thus allowing the meme about American exceptionalism to largely fade away. With Republicans (then, not now) favored on security issues, it was assumed that the U.S. was well positioned to handle foreign interests, meaning that continual public persuasion of U.S. superiority didn’t need reinforcement. With the advent of Obama’s softer, gentler foreign stance, however, the whole notion of Dems “apologizing” to other countries became one of Sarah’s unvetted talking points, McCain looking on with a kind of hesitant, thick-tongued mix of loathing and fascination. In essence, while seeing Russia from her kitchen window, Sarah resurrected an entire Cold War approach to 21st century politics. (I don’t want to leave this topic without a nod to her creation of “lamestream” in conjunction with “liberal media,” as well. Thank you, Sarah — you did so much with so little!)
Always a useful tool when facing down a Democrat, we’re hearing about exceptionalism yet again, with Romney’s people attacking the administration for “allowing” the Libyan murders: always too soft on Muslims, Obama was not diligent against the dangers of radical Islam. This is “Obama’s 9/11” propaganda, the right-wing attempt to make the charge stick and get a little red-state patriotism whomped up, heavily dosed with American exceptionalism and xenophobic paranoia. Frankly, I doubt that foreign affairs will turn many votes in that demographic these next few weeks, but it raises some questions.
Evidently, if we are not the leading superpower of the planet, we are a failure on all levels, unable to hold up our head among nations. The question we need to ask ourselves now is, how valid is that notion? Do we need another “American century” under our belts, leading on every level? If the answer is yes, then what are we willing to sacrifice to achieve that? Is our ability to prosper nationally dependent upon our ability to wield superior power in nations other than our own? As a world leader (some say bully) then, what price must we continue to pay? What percentage of our interest — and treasure — are we willing to devote to conquest and militarism in the coming years? And all of this, of course, within the framework of a nation and world wobbling on global meltdown and system failure.
We’re all aware of Romney’s leaked moment of lucidity — yes, his real thoughts on liberalism — branding some 48% of us as irresponsible “victims” leeching off the government tit, people Mitt doesn’t need to deal with since we are not open to corporate party conversion. Obama had a similar leak in 2008, more sympathetic but as polarizing, when he mentioned the largely white, male and Southern demographic that “clings to guns and religion” in times of despair, also a candid picture of what he believes. If we were to try to define what the two parties have become at this point in history, those two comments would give us a picture, albeit skewed, of our bottom line: those who see government as a tool to lift them up versus those who believe government is an impediment that drags them down.
Finally resonating to Obama’s revealing Joe the Plumber comment, the nation is now looking at the concept of redistribution: in other words, government. That was a red flag thrown up in 2008, not yet well enough defined to capture our interest. Putting aside the emotional dross of decades of political persuasion about “the welfare state” and “bad government,” the clear fact is that redistribution of funds IS government: how we provide for the common good, build the infrastructure, invest in research and development that allows for expansion, stimulate the economy and stabilize the inequities of a democracy.
There is an inescapable element of socialism — what the Randians fancy as “the victimization of collectivism” — in any government, since it must concern itself with the totality of those governed. Ron Paul’s vision of a razor-thin government is popular in spirit but not in fact, and Mitt’s campaign has lost traction since the moment he crowned the Austerity Kid to be his second in command. With more than half the nation struggling, and at least half looking to government for solutions to financial dilemmas, it’s a hard sell to insist that government is here to hurt and hinder, not help; yet, thanks to generations of Reaganesque homilies devoted to the ineptitude and inability of government to do diddly, we’re stuck with an institutionalized distrust of all that makes the nation run.
A gaffe is not a gaffe if it tells the truth, even if best not spoken too loudly. Yet even after stumbling over the genuine facts of the matter, giving us a clear glimpse at what a Romney/Ryan future holds, Mitt has backed up in the last few days to insist he’s vying to be president of us ALL, a bit too late. Me, I suppose that in Mitt’s world he practices some form of compassion, but I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it. Paul Ryan can’t remedy the callousness with which the Pubs look out on their fellows, either. He has said, for instance, that, “Social Security right now is a collectivist system, it’s a welfare transfer system.” Whatever individual funding each of us has paid into the system is not nearly enough, it seems, to turn us into proud, non-dependent, free-thinking individualists worthy of Ayn Rand’s approval.
So what IS Mitt’s plan to deal with financial hardships? He has said that not only will he create 12 million new jobs during his first term but everything will get better financially the moment he’s elected, simply because it WILL. Makes me wonder how so many, schooled for decades not to trust government, can trust Mitt Romney to do something no one else has been able to do. Perhaps it WILL get better for the moneyed class with whom Mitt can be his authentic self. Those who make money with money, those who earn with investment, would do well with Romney, I have no doubt. And what of the rest? What of the working class? If they are to be worthy of Mitt’s assist, they must rise above the level of the self-victimizing collective. Here’s what Paul Ryan said of them in 2005, and no doubt still thinks today:
“If every worker in this country becomes an owner of real wealth, of seeing the fruits of their labor come and materialize for their benefit,” Ryan said, “then that’s that many more people in America who are not going to listen to the likes of [former Rep.] Dick Gephardt and [Rep.] Nancy Pelosi, [former Sen.] Ted Kennedy, the collectivist, class warfare-breathing demagogues.”
This is the Republican stand, across the board. As loudly as they scream about Dems trying to perpetuate a class war, the right’s class dynamics are as thinly sliced and palatable as a plate of cold cuts at a business luncheon. On Labor Day, a holiday celebrating the working person and the contentious history of earned working rights, House Leader Eric Cantor tweeted this: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” That’s it, Eric — let’s give the boss a hand!
Evidently, there is no room in the Republican party for the working person, no space in the right-wing heart for those who “take” from the system, even so little as a tax break — which must, then, include all those seniors out there sucking off the Social Security system and refusing to die quickly under the ministrations of Medicare (which is THE most cost-effective medical system in this nation, I might add, speaking to things government can do right). And what, then, of corporate welfare? We spend $59 billion on social welfare programs, but more than $92 billion on corporate subsidies. That’s not even the whole of it, considering the tax breaks and loopholes offered to the corporate class. Mitt’s newly released tax information tells us he paid some 14 percent, and you’ve just got to wonder about the foreign accounts, don’t you? That’s some American dream Mitt’s going going for him, where the elite meet.
That IS the question that must define the American experience so long as money is inappropriately allocated in this century: the inability of the working class to engage in a level playing field with the upper class, and a growing inability to survive in an economy gone rogue. Add the concerns that wealth is now able to buy democracy, to influence rule of law, and to control the public good. It’s no longer possible to ignore what economist Paul Krugman calls Republican “disdain for workers.” It’s no longer reasonable to support the attacks against unions and collective bargaining when the wealthy are skimming huge profits off the top while decimating the middle class.
And last, not least, what about the poor? Those “takers” the Pubs have a grudge against? A recent study shows that there is more income inequality now than there was in 1774, even factoring in slavery. Think of that! Even among those we consider Democratic obstructionists — white working class males — 70% believe the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, 62% approve a tax raise on millionaires ,and 53 percent believe one of the largest challenges we face is an unequal playing field. Meanwhile, Obama takes a hit from the right wing because food stamp use is up by 12 million applicants, as if he created hunger all by himself, while in a pricey suburb in Dallas, George W. ponders his golf game and dog-walking schedule, no longer concerned about the “takers.” He’s left that to a cold-eyed party of plutocrats to tend to.
The core issue — what will the United States government become — will be decided in this election by which candidate the public trusts with its future. Considering the clusterfuck Mr. Romney’s campaign has become, it’s improbable to project him a winner in November, but cogs in the Pub political machine still turn so nothing is pre-ordained. What we believe government to be is at the core of what happens next, and some of the more pithy questions of constitutionality and justice that we want to bring to the table will have to wait until we know who will take control in November.
Meanwhile, we will decide if money is better invested in each other and equal opportunity for all, or in stocks and derivatives, more ka-ching for the one percent. We will decide if education is a worthwhile investment, if our legacy to our kids and grandkids is about a green future or a corporate one, if we’re our brother’s keeper. It seems to me that no less than decency is at stake, the real spiritual principles of this nation.
Personally, it’s difficult for altruistic little me to believe this struggle all boils down to money, and I can’t help but wonder — if we’re not working for the public good, instead working for our own, making ourselves safer by digging moats all around the castle and plugging all the holes in the security fence with thick wads of cash — just how long do we think we can keep the hungry, angry alligators out? The ultimate wisdom of connectedness, of dreams shared and extended, must be renewed in our ongoing struggle to keep the republic. I have faith that most of us have a sense of what’s right and wrong with the world, what’s right and wrong for our neighborhoods, our nation. We need to keep the faith about who we intend to become in this coming era. The choice is ours and it’s all happening now.