The door is being slammed on the American dream and the politicians, including the president and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, seem not just helpless to deal with the crisis, but completely out of touch with the hardships that have fallen on so many.
So writes Bob Herbert in the 2nd graf his column, THey Still Don't Get it. It is a powerful and blunt piece of writing. You should read it. I will explore it, offering some thoughts of my own, but I am not going to cover every point Herbert makes. For me the column is a starting point, an occasion to share some additional thoughts of his own.
So read the Herbert. Then if you want, join me below the fold.
The American Dream. That our kids will have better lives than we did. That we will be able to own our homes free of the fear of foreclosure, will have secure jobs, will be able to dream still further of other things.
52.9% of those who voted in 2008, a record 69,456,897 people, voted for a message of hope. Dreams are built on hope. Now they worry that there is no hope, that their dreams are not being addressed.
Herbert describes the Democrats in the Senate as "unruly toddlers" who produced their "monstrously ugly plan" through
shady alliances, disgraceful back-room deals, outlandish payoffs and abject capitulation to the insurance companies and giant pharmaceutical outfits.
and then offers this one-liner: The public interest? Forget about it.
He quotes from a Brookings Study which notes the increase in poverty began well before the crisis of 2007, with a 15.4% (5.2 million) in poor people during the time 2000-2008, poverty growing twice as fast as the population. But that study does not include the devastation of last year.
I know - without the too-small stimulus package, it could have been far worse. But I see everyday among my students and their families the impact of the financial crisis, the increase of economic pressure. I have gifted students only applying to state schools because of costs, others applying to schools that might offer them a full ride because they and parents worry about stability of family income over the ensuing years. Even state colleges and universities are cutting staff because of the loss of funding from legislatures, and in some cases that staff includes the parents of my students, who no longer feel secure in their jobs.
A pox on both your houses - that is an increasing political attitude. They may not expect much from Republicans, but they are bitterly disappointed in what they have received from having the three political legs of the government in the hands of Democrats this past year.
Most of my families qualify as as suburban and middle class. The Brookings study notes that almost half of the increase in poverty took place in the suburbs - not surprising considering the increasing percentage of our population that lives in suburbs, but perhaps alarming considering that this is supposed to be the hometurf of our upper middle class and those who are upwardly mobile.
Herbert thinks the Democrats are blowing it. He asks
whether there is anything that will wake them up to their obligation to extend a powerful hand to ordinary Americans and help them take the government, including the Supreme Court, back from the big banks, the giant corporations and the myriad other predatory interests that put the value of a dollar high above the value of human beings.
predatory interests ... what an appropriate phrase. The government already was increasingly in such hands, even before the decision Thursday which will tilt the political playing field even further in their direction.
When bankruptcy was "reformed" it tilted the process in favor of the lenders.
When Glass-Steagal was erased, so were financial protections for the people, and for the nation.
When the government refused to regulate the derivatives market, it legalized gambling without accountability, only the stakes were the homes and savings of millions of Americans, and of others around the world.
When public facilities, including public schools, are increasingly privatized, the public benefit gets short shrift as compared to the profit motivations of the corporate masters and the "investor class."
When companies that are losing billions are still offering golden parachutes and giving obscene bonuses to executives and "star" performers, even being a small cog in the "investor class" does not protect one from the ravages of our economy.
We hear attacks on meaningful health care reform described as socialism. Folks, wake up. We already have socialism for the rich and the corporations with their government bailouts, the protections for credit card companies who cut limits and jack up interest rates, and so much more. What capitalism is left is only for the less well off, the ordinary people, the suckers and jerks who actually thought the government they were electing would help them through these difficult times. They are left at the mercy of market forces, only the market is not free - it is rigged on behalf of the wealthy and the corporate class, who do not pay their fair share in taxes and instead shift the burdens to the rest of us and our progeny.
Think about it. Socialism for the rich and the worst aspects of capitalism for the rest of it. There may be real audacity there, but there is little hope.
Herbert notes increasing mentions of deficit reduction in Washington, and the consequence
that new large-scale investments in infrastructure and other measures to ease the employment crisis and jump-start the most promising industries of the 21st century are highly unlikely.
He does not say what I will. We have a serious need of deficit reduction, but it is not of the government's financial balance sheet. Instead we should be reducing the deficit of morality, compassion, and concern for ordinary folks.
Even with Thursday's decision, corporations do not yet officially vote, although they may through their spending tilt the system so much more that the votes of the rest of us will become totally irrelevant.
Totally irrelevant - we are not there yet. In 2004 we moved in the direction of a Democratic Congress. We achieved that in 2006, but were still stymied by a Republican administration. We changed that in 2008, and increased the Democratic majorities in both chambers. And then what?
I am not saying the past year achieved nothing. We at least for now avoided a total economic collapse, here at home and around the world. We bought some time, which has since then been being frittered away by people who apparently do not understand how perilous things remain, that the tired rhetoric and failed policies and practices that got us into this mess were going to be insufficient to address the crises - plural - before us.
That rhetoric and those policies and practices not only failed economically for most of us, they fail the Democrats politically, and yet some still don't get it, because they continue to operate as if nothing has changed.
Herbert bluntly writes
What we’ll get instead is rhetoric. It’s cheap, so we can expect a lot of it.
He notes that those towards the bottom "seem all but doomed in this environment." There is our deficit of morality and compassion - we are no longer including them in the social contract, we are denying them - and their children - access to the American dream.
Why focus on the failures of the Democrats? Herbert's final paragraph frames it clearly:
The Republican Party has abandoned any serious approach to the nation’s biggest problems, economic or otherwise. It may be resurgent, but it’s not a serious party. That leaves only the Democrats, a party that once championed working people and the poor, but has long since lost its way.
once championed working people and the poor, but has long since lost its way
If a party fails to meet the needs of those upon whose votes it depends for its electoral success, it will find decreasing electoral success. Not because people believe that Republicans will give them anything better - they won't. But because when their needs are not met, and their voices are not included in the discussions shaping policy, they have no choice but to do something that may even seem contrary to their better interests by rejecting the Democrats and allowing the Republicans back in power. It may be active - such as Obama voters voting for Scott Brown. It may be passive, such as young people staying home in droves.
Of course the pundit class is by and large as dense on this as are most of the Washington officials. They are too removed from the lives of ordinary people, in part because of all the time they spend among the rich and already powerful, even if those officials are Democrats. Chuck Schumer looks out for Wall Street, Chris Dodd looks out for banks and insurance companies most of the time, Carl Levin advocates for the auto industry, Bob Byrd for coal, Mary Landrieu for petroleum. . . some of these are not bad people, and some even occasionally think of the ordinary people, as Levin does for the auto workers and Bob Byrd in his reverence of the Constitution and the Senate as an institution.
But it is not enough.
William Greider once used as a title "Who Will Tell The People?" We don't need to be told, because we know. We are not listened to, our needs are not being addressed, politicians seem unwilling to risk their political careers. So to get their attention people seem willing to put those careers at unexpected risks. That is part of what happened in Massachusetts on Tuesday.
And yet, They Still Don't Get It.
We voted for a different kind of politics. We have not gotten it.
We voted for hope. It seems to be disappearing.
We voted for transparency in the making of policy, especially on health care. We got the Senate Finance Committee gang of 6 that destroyed most hope for meaningful reform.
And now? Some will no longer vote. Others will not give from their decreasing financial resources. Still more will not make the phone calls, knock on the doors, write the letters and emails to friends and strangers alike.
"the dream will never die" - so said Teddy, but his dream is dying before our eyes, as health care reform is being strangled in its crib as we watch, and for all our protests our voices are still not heard. Even the vast majority of Obama voters who voted for Brown who want a public option are not being heard. If that message cannot get through, what can I wonder?
They Still Don't Get It. And if they don't, what hope do the rest of us have?
I have not yet abandoned hope, because then I would not still be writing, still be teaching. I use what ever powers of communication I may have to try to make a difference - in my classroom, in my communications on line and in person to policy makers.
I am tired. I am almost 64, do not have children of my own as part of my part of the American dream. That I may not be able to afford to retire is of my own doing, and I do not blame that on the politicians.
Teaching depends upon hope, upon dreams. It is the dreams and hopes of the future generation. And if they see the dreams of parents and other adults being shattered, why should they commit to an effort that depends upon hope and dreams?
And if our young people begin to abandon their hopes and dreams, will this country survive for another generation?
How can anyone not get it? I do not understand. I write these words in frustration as well as anger.
I am a Democrat. I will not cast a protest vote. But if I begin to believe that my vote will not really matter, why should I vote, or give money, or offer advocacy?
If hope is disappearing, why should I continue to teach, at less pay and and for more hours than other kinds of employment?
If I am at the point of losing hope, how can I serve as an instrument of hope to others? How can I encourage students to have what I no longer do, hopes and dreams for a better future?
So why don't they get it? Why can Herbert write of the Democrats, and so many of us agree, They Still Don't Get It???
Will they "get it" before it is too late, for them, for us, for this nation?
I wonder, and cannot answer that question, which means I cannot say I am at peace.