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Sunday, July 31, 2011

How did it come to this? A Rant.
Posted by Jill | 12:36 PM
Despite what the generations that follow the post-World War II baby boom think, most boomers in my circle have always had the fatalistic notion that Social Security would not be there for us. I've posted before about a Tom Toles cartoon from the 1980's called "The Reading of the Will" which is rife with boomer resentment at our parents' generation because of their defined benefit pensions and guaranteed Social Security payments and leisurely retirements. Somehow we always knew. Even when, in the 1980's, what is now called the "Social Security Trust Fund" was set up specifically for the purpose of beefing up the system for baby boomer retirement, we knew. We knew that whatever stores were built up were replaced with IOUs that we knew the government had no intention of paying.

Those of us who did not want children and have been lucky enough to have not been completely jettisoned from the job market are better off than many. We've been taking advantage of 401(k) match and putting away as much as we can afford. Whether we'll be OK remains to be seen, once Medicare is gutted (and it WILL happen, whether Barack Obama is re-elected next year or not, since he's shown himself to be at best a rubber stamp for Republican policies. But friends of mine who are trying to put kids through college and seeing them into adulthood are scared to death -- not just of their own futures, because who can put away money for retirement when a low-end college is $25,000 a year, but of that of their children, many of whom are unable to get a toehold in the job market. What good does it to do graduate with a degree in marketing when the only job you're going to be able to get is to be re-hired as a cart boy at the Stop & Shop?

Work longer, they tell us. People are healthier longer, so it doesn't make sense to retire at 65 the way it once did. That's all well and good, but is it healthy for a society that is hemorrhaging jobs for older people to clog up the workforce? And there's no sign that the job market is ever going to get any better. Anything done on a PC can be done more cheaply overseas. Anything requiring special skills can be done by hiring immigrants on work visas. I have a friend who's a production editor at a publishing company. She's fifty, she has two kids to put through college and who's going to be the one to tell her that her job may very well not even exist in five years?

I've spent all of my adult years in the Age of Corporatism. I graduated high school into the first Arab oil embargo and graduated college with a degree in sociology into the second one. I started out in a retail management training program that was the catch-all for liberal arts majors at the time. But at least I was graduating into a society that hadn't yet been completely taken over by greed. That happened later, after Ronald Reagan took office, and while I myself have done well, our society hasn't. Oh sure, we have gewgaws and toys and electronics and two flat-screen TVs and 200 channels of nothing you'd want to watch on TV. People have pulled their kids out of school for Caribbean vacations paid for on home equity loans and people in Section 8 housing have smart phones. All of this is cited as examples by Republicans of how well off we are. But are we? And what about tomorrow?

I work in an industry that is rapidly consolidating, with tens of thousands having been laid off in just the last two years. The web development I used to do is dead too, replaced by templates and do-it-yourselfers. When I was in high school and college there was always a "hot industry" that was hiring. If engineers weren't in demand, then marketers were. If there was a glut of marketers, the accounting field was begging for people. Now there is no "hot industry". There is no path to upward mobility for the poor, there is no path towards staying in the middle class for those who were born into it. Only those with inherited money are able to prosper.

Social Security was implemented in the depths of the Depression, and Republicans have been trying to get rid of it ever since. Whatever faults the Democrats may have had, what with Ted Kennedy's scandals and Tip O'Neil's tippling and Hubert Humphrey's often preposterous optimism, they could always be relied on to be the protectors of the middle class and the poor. Whether it was Social Security, Medicare, Pell grants, nutrition programs, or education, the Democrats were the party of the little guy.

Something happened along the way. I suppose you could say it started with Jimmy Carter, who was the first conservative Democrat to hold the White House. Carter, a Southern Baptist, paved the way for the relentless Christianism that has pervaded our political discourse in the years since then. Ronald Reagan started his presidency by busting the air traffic controllers' union and accelerated the path towards elimination of the middle class. Reagan recognized the religious fervor in the southern states and the midwest, and he recognized the residual racism in the south, and used it to pit the middle class against the poor while screwing over both. The patrician George H.W. Bush similar knew nothing about the struggles of middle class people as he marveled over a supermarket scanner. Bill Clinton used his charm to win over crowds of middle class and minority voters while implementing NAFTA and eliminating Glass-Steagall and insisting that he was one of them. The advent of the internet led to $100,000 programming jobs and new media and lots of opportunities for the middle class to start to afford the trappings of the wealthy, and Americans embraced them. They leased BMWs for the kind of payments you used to have to buy a Chevrolet. They took adjustable-rate mortgages that allowed them to make lower payments on bigger houses. They bought houses for 3% down. They took equity loans for akylit soaring-ceilinged great rooms and dream kitchens and summer-long cruises with their kids.

Then George W. Bush came along, and the first thing he did was look at the surplus that Bill Clinton and the internet boom had left him and said, "Let's cut taxes." But to paraphrase the man himself, the have-mores were his base, so they got most of the spoils. Then he ignored a Presidential Daily Briefing on August 6, 2001, and a month later almost 3000 people died in a terrorist attack that should have been thwarted had he been doing his job. And what did he tell people? Go shopping. He put us into two wars, one of them completely unnecessary, kept the tax cuts in place, and anyone who dared question him was called un-American and traitorous. A right-wing echo chamber that had been developed during the Clinton years to obsess over his sex life was now firmly in place, and Judith Miller canoodled with Scooter Libby, and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq became conventional wisdom, and if you questioned it, you could very well find your house firebombed by an increasingly frightened and angry population.

Fear was a potent weapon during the Bush years, with color-coded terror warnings and a convenient tape by Osama Bin Laden issued every time Bush's approval ratings dropped. People in flyover states sat up nights worrying about Scary Swarthy Men doing things to the local Wal-Mart, and all the while, while Bush's Washington was warning of terrorist plots and Americans were hiding under the bed clutching a roll of plastic sheeting in one hand and one of duct tape in the other, the guys at the top were rifling through the dresser drawers where Americans kept their spending cash and filled their pockets, then crept off and joined the Be Afraid Chorus.

This is really the point at which the Democratic Party became completely undone. Faced with a McCarthyite White House, and saddled with the baggage of Vietnam amti-war protests, Democrats fell silent as they gave George W. Bush blank check after blank check after blank check to cut taxes for his friends and to feed more and more American kids into a Middle East meatgrinder. This is where it became obvious that this was a party completely unable to frame an argument. A half-million ordinary citizens marched in New York City in early 2003 because we knew that the Iraq claims were bullshit, but the Democratic Party could not even be bothered to study the readily-available evidence out there. It was easier to just listen to the Washington pundits and go along.

Then in mid-2002, a virtually unknown governor from Vermont appeared on Meet the Press and miracle of miracles, was showing that he HAD read the evidence, and he KNEW what was going on. Here was a guy I could vote for.

Howard Dean became so much of a threat to the Washington narrative that not only did Democratic presidential rivals pool resources to tag-team him in Iowa, where it was starting to look like he just might be able to take his campaign of truth to the nomination, but the media got in on the pile-on, deliberately turning down the crowd noise at a rally for campaign workers following his defeat in Iowa so that his exhortations to the disappointed crowd sounded like the ravings of a madman. Later on, after Howard Dean was safely out of the way, ABC, the network that perpetrated this journalistic crime, admitted that they had turned down the crowd noise. Horse, barn door, etc.

So John Kerry, the party's anointed one, the guy who couldn't possibly be attacked because he was a war hero, became the nominee....and was promptly attacked as a war traitor. John Kerry made two fatal mistakes. The first was believing that the American people are too smart to believe demonstrable untruths, and the second was believing that he was working with good-faith operators. Yet despite the willingness of the public to believe the claims of the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (a group financed by a Bush and Tom DeLay campaign contributor), Kerry still came within Ohio's electoral votes of defeating George W. Bush in 2004. Kerry, displaying now-typical Democratic gutlessness, didn't even wait till all the Ohio votes were counted before taking his $14 million in campaign cash and going home, but it has since been well-demonstrated that Republican-initiated electronic voting shenanigans really DID tilt the scales for Bush.

So fast-forward to 2008. George W. Bush is acknowledged by all but about 20% of the population to be the miserable failure that those of us with gray matter in our crania knew all along. The financial crisis of 2008 has, depending on what you believe, put us within a hair's breadth of global economic collapse. The Democrats' presumed front-runner, Hillary Clinton, who in a room full of netroots activists at Yearly Kos 2007 said that "Lobbyists are Americans too", lost the nomination in the face of the charisma of Barack Obama, his transformative potential, and a desperate hunger in the population for someone as different from George W. Bush as possible.

I had supported John Edwards in the primaries. Of course we had no idea then what was going on in his private life, and we knew that people in his home state regarded him as somewhat of a phony, but at least he was SAYING the right things about how Americans were already suffering in a diminishing job market and a contracting economy. Edwards turned out to be as bad a messenger for "The Two Americas" as Ralph Nader is for "There Is No Difference", but at least on the stump he was the only guy paying any mind to what was happening. I took no end of shit from Obama supporters in those early days of the 2008 Democratic nominating process because I did not believe that he was the progressive dreamboat they did. I remember paraphrasing Walter Mondale's 1984 convention speech to a gay friend who was offended by John Edwards' "struggle" with accepting gay marriage. "You make John Edwards feel icky and you make Barack Obama feel icky. Obama won't tell you. Edwards just did."

And I was right.

But still -- what was an American in search of a president with a brain in his head, vote for a once-proud American Senator whose stock had fallen so far that he had to choose a bubble-headed beauty queen for his running mate, or a guy who could string together coherent sentences and show that he recognized we live in a complex world? McCain was so inept on the campaign trail that Obama hardly had to break a sweat. McCain seemed old, out-of-touch, and cantankerous. And even the priapic sexual fantasies of the pundit corps at the mere mention of Sarah Palin didn't change the fact that this dimwitted, theorcratic End Of Days-er was potentially one cancer survivor away from the nuclear football.

Even if you didn't support Obama all that much, there was a palpable aura of change in the air on January 20, 2009. It was an aura that diminshed quickly, as Obama filled his Cabinet with hacks, Clinton retreads, and corporatists. And now, thirty years after the I Got Mine And Fuck You doctrine took over the Republican Party, and one summer after the shrill ravings of barely 19% of the American people were treated as a massive new movement, here we are, with a Democratic Party capitulating to a gutting of the American social contract, and not even a request to ask billionaires to throw even one more nickel...one penny...into the pot.

I ask you: Who do these people, these Democrats represent? It isn't these people:

Debt Solutions

So who is it? And just whom do they think is going to keep them in office? Obama's political people think that "They Have No Place Else To Go" will keep the Democratic base in the fold. They think they're appealing to "a wide swath of voters":
Mr. Obama, seeking to appeal to the broad swath of independent voters, has adopted the Republicans’ language and in some cases their policies, while signaling a willingness to break with liberals on some issues.

That has some progressive members of Congress and liberal groups arguing that by not fighting for more stimulus spending, Mr. Obama could be left with an economy still producing so few jobs by Election Day that his re-election could be threatened. Besides turning off independents, Mr. Obama risks alienating Democratic voters already disappointed by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his failure to close the Guantánamo Bay prison, end the Bush-era tax cuts and enact a government-run health insurance system.

“The activist liberal base will support Obama because they’re terrified of the right wing,” said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future.

But he said, “I believe that the voting base of the Democratic Party — young people, single women, African-Americans, Latinos — are going to be so discouraged by this economy and so dismayed unless the president starts to champion a jobs program and take on the Republican Congress that the ability of labor to turn out its vote, the ability of activists to mobilize that vote, is going to be dramatically reduced.”

Borosage is dead wrong. Maybe the dead-enders at Daily Kos, and the commenter here who insists that if you don't cheerlead for Obama it means you really want Mitt Romney to be president, will show up no matter what. But this particular voter is being tired of being told by a bunch of at best inept, lazy, spineless Democrats that no matter how many times they capitulate to the most insane Republicans we've ever seen, we have to vote for them because we have no place else to go. This particular voter is tired of being shown pictures of Michele Bachmann and being told, "ooh, SCARY!"

I am 56 years old. I can't say I want to be subject to torture because I'm not a Christian. I can't say I want to see a hastening of global thermonuclear war because some lunatic that a bunch of inbred ignorant hicks decided was a good person thinks it's his or her calling by God to accelerate the End of Days. I can't say I want a world in which my friends' kids are pushed down into poverty because the oligarchs find any semblance of the middle class frightening. I'd like to believe that I have 20 or 30 or, given the longevity of my family, even more good years ahead of me. I'd like to believe that I'll have time to do something other than just work, eat, and sleep before I die. But I'll tell you this much: If the rest of the middle class in country doesn't care that its government -- both parties -- hates them and is out to eliminate them at the beck and call of their oligarchic masters, then what the hell is the point? Let Michele Bachmann become president. Let's have a Supreme Court that always sides with corporations. Let's have creationism be taught in every school in the country. Let's head down this road towards a new dark ages. If Americans don't care enough to do something to stop this relentless decline into ignorance and hate and fear and loathing, why the hell should I, with my best years already behind me, bust my ass?

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Blogger Spud said...
And the truth shall set us free...


More like the sheep shall lead us over the cliff.

Anonymous the wifely person said...
You get the government you elect and it looks like a lotta people who elected this government didn't know what they were voting for.

Is that possible because they went to schools where nothing was ever taught about civic responsiblity and national history? I guess they haven't figured out yet that they're not going to have Social Security or Medicare, either. Bummer.

I'm 59. My parents are alive and well at 90. I am not looking forward to longevity in this society. Besides, due to the economy, I am going to be one of those old ladies clogging up the systems by continuing to work until they find me dead at my desk. Sure, I'd like to retire, but that just isn't going to happen.

Sorry kids.

Blogger Pangolin said...
You keep quoting facts as if they matter to the American people. They don't.

Not yet anyway.

By and large we're still more concerned about American Idol than Peak Oil and Global Warming. This will cost us dearly. Things like Social Security and Medicare will be side issues when we realize that we are going to be living in a hostile biosphere.