I'm not going to lie to you. I've said bad things about the tea party. Lots of bad things. I've been snide. I've been demeaning. It's hard not to be when the term "tea party" has most often been associated with the radical fringe of the Republican Party, with folks who seem more interested in attacking science than fixing the economy, with those who seem to believe that their taxes have been raised (they haven't) that there are thousands of new regulations burdening businesses (there aren't) and that President Obama is in some kind of anti-American radical (he's not) who wrecked the economy (check your calendar).
But several people have told me that those people, the ones sponsoring the rigidly ideological debates, the ones that cheered for a congressman shouting "you lie!" during the State of the Union address, the ones with the signs where Obama is dressed up like a witchdoctor or smeared with Joker paint... that those people aren't the real tea party. Not the real, grassroots local folks who came out to protest what they saw as a failing government. Not the people who, like the folks at Occupy Wall Street, came out to raise their voices about injustice and unequal treatment.
So, okay. I'll to buy that. I'm willing to believe that the guys with the buses and the TV shows don't represent you. I believe you're still frustrated. I believe you're still searching. I believe you're feeling lost and neglected.
You know who wants to see the American government more beholding to ordinary folks? Progressives. Who wants to see American kids reaching their potential? Progressives. Who wants to cut back on waste, eliminate fraud, and make government as efficient as possible? Dare I say "ditto?"
I know there are folks who've been telling you that we're the enemy. That we want to take your stuff, control your lives, limit your rights. Those people, the ones who are saying these things? Sorry that there's not a nicer way to put it, but they are lying to you.
Stop me if I'm wrong, but I think you want to see your kids going to good schools, you want them to have the chance at good jobs, you want to see them go as high as their ability and their effort can drive them. You want to be able to go where you please, worship as you please, make your own choices about your own life without the government stepping in. Guess what? We're right there with you. Buddy, we want those things, as well.
So please take your rifles and turn them around. You're pointing at the people who are trying to help you. By the way, when it comes to those rifles? We don't want them. Heck, I've got several of my own. I don't want to give them up and I don't need yours. The people who've been getting you agitated about evil liberals coming to snatch every gun in America just want to sell you ammo at jacked up prices, but buy all you want. No one is going to stop you. Just know that they're laughing every time they convince you to buy another box "before Obama takes them away."
Some of those same folks trying to scare you also want you to think that progressives don't think America is a special place. They're lying about that too. We also believe in American exceptionalism. We believe that the founding principles of America—equality, democracy, opportunity—are unique and wonderful; that the establishment of this nation lifted the whole world.
However, we also believe that America cannot rest on its laurels. Democracy and human rights? Still as great as ever, but it's been decades, even centuries, since the US could stake any kind of unique claim to those ideals. It's been a long time since most of the things that make people say "only in America" could really only happen in America. We helped give those ideas to the world, but we don't always do the best job of living up to them. We need to do better. The best way we can spread democracy and human rights is just the way our founding fathers wanted—by making sure we protect the best example of those principles right here at home. That's all progressives want.
Since we're talking about the founders, let's talk about what the founders wanted out of their government. They wanted protection, sure. They wanted the ability to defend themselves from enemies without and enemies within. They wanted to guard their rights.
They also wanted to regulate business.
Listen, I know that's enough to make some people choke, but that's what this country is about. Hey, it's what just about every country is about. What good would a government be if it didn't protect you from fraud and deception? Do you really want to face off one on one with billion dollar international companies? Our founders didn't want that. They went out of their way to empower the government to keep business in check. They didn't do it to be cruel. They didn't do it because they wanted to stop people from becoming wealthy. They did it because they understood all too well what an unregulated market looks like.
There's nothing un-American about a well regulated market. Nothing wrong with the government investing in infrastructure, with the government championing industries or taking over banks—just ask George Washington. Letting the market control the government instead of the other way around, that's un-American. Worse, it's just plain stupid.
Over the last thirty years we've run a kind of long experiment. We've cut back and cut back on the regulation of the markets. And we've dropped the tax rates lower, and lower, and lower. We called it "supply side economics."
Thirty years ago, the average CEO made 40 times as much as the average worker. That means those CEOs were taking home $400,000 for every $10,000 their workers made. That seems like a lot, doesn't it?
Today, the average CEO makes 200 times what his workers are making. He takes home $2 million for every $10,000 that a worker makes. Does that mean CEOs have gotten 5 times better while workers stayed the same? Hardly. The failure rate of companies is no better than it's ever been. In fact, it's worse, so CEOs are not making golden decisions. On the other hand, worker productivity is way, way up in America. Workers are actually working harder, working longer, and contributing a lot more value to their companies than they did 30 years ago. They're just not getting a share in the profits. The guys at the top are taking it all. CEOs didn't get better. They just learned that they could buy enough political cover to take all the cash. That way, it didn't matter if they did a good job.
Conservative economics just doesn't work. We've tried it for thirty years now. Tax rates are down by 60% on the people at the top. Their salaries are way up. They are sitting on record piles of cash. So are the corporations they control. For everyone else, things have gotten worse. And the only answer they have is "give us more." Take the last crumb—the 2% of the wealth that's controlled by 50% of the people—take that crumb and give it to the guys on top. That's what they're telling you now.
It hasn't worked here, or elsewhere, anywhere, any when, ever. It won't work. It doesn't work. It can't work.
You know what really scares those guys? They're afraid you'll remember. They're afraid you'll remember that the nation isn't supposed to belong to them. They're afraid you'll realize that they are not the job creators. You are. It's the average folks, the 99%, who create demand. Demand creates jobs. As long as all the money sits stagnant at the top, there will be no demand.
You want to stand against the forces that are distorting our government, the forces that are making it harder for average people to get by, the forces that are threatening the future for you, your kids, and your grandkids? We're there. Right there with you. It doesn't take a blackboard and a lot of weird theories about ultra-secret conspiracies to understand what's going wrong. The guys who are pocketing the bucks aren't making a secret of it.
Just this past week, the GDP of the nation actually passed where it had been before the crash. It hit record values. Did you notice? Probably not, because the GDP helps measure the wealth of the nation, but not the health of the nation. All that wealth is in very few hands.
So, tea party, you can let those folks get you to keep holding the door for them while they walk off with the last crumbs, or you can join us in trying to put things right.
You remember how they want you to believe we want to take your stuff and control your lives? The people who are telling you that, are the ones who are already doing it. They're taking your wealth, taking your legacy, robbing your children of a good eduction, stealing from you the retirement you've earned. When are you going to say enough?
Let me finish up with a little Lincoln...
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.You want to really take this country back for the common person? You may not have noticed, but we've been shouting the same thing. So help us. Work with us. Let's stop fighting for the amusement of the people robbing us, and figure out how to bar the door.