On October 31, 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech at New York's Madison Square Garden. The general election was less than a week away. Roosevelt was wrapping up his re-election campaign at the end of his first term, a term in which he had enraged certain moneyed interests - enraged them to the point that they actually plotted a coup against him.
But Roosevelt knew that the people of the United States were behind him. And the speech he gave that night in New York reflected his certainty:
We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.
For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away . . . Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent . . .
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.
Reading through the entirety of Roosevelt's speech, the parallels with today's situation are striking. The speech could, almost literally, have been made yesterday:
Those who used to have [access to the White House] are not happy. Some of them are desperate. Only desperate men with their backs to the wall would descend so far below the level of decent citizenship as to foster the current . . . campaign against America's working people.
Here is an amazing paradox! The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce [votes] . . . It is the [modern] version of the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.
All of the same big-moneyed interests that had wanted Roosevelt overthrown early in his first term were still arrayed against him during the 1936 campaign, but Roosevelt realized something very fundamental about the American political process, something that is true to this day, regardless of how much money pollutes that political process: corporations don't vote.
Three days after making his Madison Square Garden speech in which he excoriated big corporate interests, Roosevelt won the most lopsided presidential election victory in American history.
Tomorrow, President Obama will address a joint session of Congress. His speech will come after months of a huge Republican celebration the likes of which have not been seen for at least 50 years: the Celebration of Ignorance.
Ever since the president's election, rightwingers have been desperate to have us believe that America has become what they want to call a "post-racial society" - in other words, a society where, by definition, their oozing racism cannot possibly exist. They seek to perform the same feat of semantic legerdemain with "racism" that the BushCheney legal brain trust attempted with "torture"; i.e., to magically define it out of existence. Alas, as events over the past 12 months have amply demonstrated to the rest of America and the world, these Racism Deniers have merely confirmed their own membership in a tiny, inbred, post-rational society, a society composed largely - and amazingly! - of racists. (UPDATE: Saxby Chambliss, anyone?)
The people who have been peddling this particular brand of ignorance have somehow convinced themselves - no, no: they desperately need to believe - that the vast majority of the American electorate is stupid enough to buy their racist, fearful, selfish bullshit. As it has turned out, a sufficient number of scared, ill-informed people - abetted by corporate media which short-sightedly believe their own interests will be served by such abetting - have taken the bait to earn their slot every night on the local news, right after the car chase on the Ronald Reagan Freeway and just before Octomom.
The healthcare debate is about empathy and compassion and promoting the general welfare. People who are fearful and selfish don't want other people to receive health care - especially if they look different. They are afraid of losing what they have - "KEEP THE GOVERNMENT OUT OF MY MEDICARE!!" - and they especially don't want to lose it to brown-skinned illegal socialist fascist Moozlums.
Individual liberty was enshrined in the Constitution in reaction to man's then-nearly unbroken string of thousands of years of autocratic rule. But compassion was and is at the heart of this country's founding principles. In the preamble to the Constitution, it is no accident that the duty to "promote the general welfare" comes before "the blessings of liberty" - but you will never - NEVER - hear anyone on the Beck-shit crazy (h/t fromdabak) rightwing mention that. Roosevelt did, though:
Here and now I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless—that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief—to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be cared for when, as, and if some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.
You and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.
Empathy. Glenn Beck would've had a field day.
Note to certain members of Congress:
"Health insurance" is not "health care."
See, everyone needs health care - and no one needs for-profit health insurance. Health insurance companies are not in business to insure that people get health care. They are in business to ensure that their shareholders get profits. They have to - that's the law.
there are a lot more voters than there are corporations. Insurance companies don't vote.
If you honestly think American voters - your constituents - are so stupid that you can buy their votes with the money insurance companies give you, you're wrong. Your constituents don't care how much money you've got – money doesn’t buy votes (except for yours) and when, during the next primary campaign, your constituents are reminded day after day about how you voted to deny them real health insurance, when they're reminded about how much better your health insurance - health insurance that they paid for with their hard-earned tax dollars - is than theirs, when they're reminded how much money you took from the health-insurance industry and the lobbyist who wrote the bill you voted for - they are going to be pissed.
And they vote.
And that's how you will find out that they're pissed: You won't find out when they come to a town hall and scream at you, or when they call the president a Nazi socialist witch doctor, or when they pull their kids out of school for the day, or when Orly Taitz produces another Kenyan birth certificate. You'll find out when they vote your gutless, selfish, slimy, corporate-bootlicking ass out of office.
Put another way:
Any constituency that can fit into a private room at the Palm is not a constituency that can get you re-elected.
Benjamin Franklin doesn't have a vote. And come election day, there will be a lot of People Who Aren't Benjamin Franklin looking to send you a message about the way you decided to treat them when it came to something that matters very much to them, the people they love, and their financial well-being.
Come next year’s election, you’ll have to decide which you would prefer: being invited back into office, or being invited back to a private room at the Palm
A favorite trope of Democratic capitulators since taking over Congress in 2006 has been, "Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good." These concern trolls have spouted the same nonsense in the debate over real health care reform.
Neoliberal, please. As if a strong public option were "perfect" and the status quo were "good."
Maybe we should remember to not let greed be the enemy of the good. Or to let fear be the enemy of the good. Or, god help us, not to let the insanely stupid be the enemy of the good.
But, getting down to congressional brass tacks, what our senators and representatives really need to remember is this:
Don't let "bipartisanship" be the enemy of the good.
Bipartisanship in the defense of corporate interests is no virtue.
(And, BTW, any Democrat who makes noises about "bipartisanship" in the healthcare debate who yet somehow managed vote for Sonia Sotomayor needs to be roundly ridiculed. Few decisions during a senator's career will have longer-lasting import than the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. Those who did not see the need for "bipartisanship" during the Sotomayor confirmation process but somehow find it absolutely essential during the discussion of health insurance are liars, idiots or hypocrites - or all three.)
"Bipartisanship" – what a pathetic joke when it comes to healthcare insurance reform. Unless the more than 70% of Americans who favor a robust public option are all Democrats, then a robust public option is not a partisan issue.
We know where the Republicans (and certain Democrats) in Congress stand: they stand firmly opposed to any sort of health care reform whatsoever, except that which would further enrich their corporate masters. Knowing that, we can proceed forward secure in that knowledge. Knowing that they are adamantly opposed to promoting the general welfare of the people of the United States if it might in any way jeopardize their lunch in a private room at the Palm - knowing that they hate that idea, we can welcome their hatred. Their hatred can serve as a reliable beacon to help us navigate through this process. Their hatred is a remarkably accurate sign that we are doing something right, something in the spirit of the founders of this nation.
As someone mentioned a while back, you don't bring "Kumbaya" to a gunfight. And corporate America has made its position clear.
And on the eve of his speech to Congress, if I had the opportunity, I would say this to the president about the majority of those who oppose his policies:
These people hate you, Mr. President, and they always will, no matter what you say or do. But earning their hate - as President Roosevelt did before you - is truly a badge of honor.
They hate you anyway, Mr. President. You might as well go ahead and do the right thing. If you do, you will earn the eternal thanks of a grateful nation.