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sábado, diciembre 11, 2010

Which Side Are You On?

I've been accused of specializing in oversimplification. And of ranting. So be it. This is probably a prime example of those twin failings.

Yesterday, Bernie Sanders spoke in the Senate for 8 1/2 hours to remind us that while millions of people in the United States are suffering, others are doing quite well, thank you. Those doing spectacularly well represent 1 or 2 per cent of the population. The rest of us, well, we're not doing so great. Those who are doing so well, of course, don't need the government's assistance, but they've bought and sold this government, so it's only natural that their investment in politicians should be rewarded in the current tax deal even if there is no rational reason for doing so. These people have power and money and they get what they want, even if they don't need it; everyone else, not so much.

This is the class war in 2010. Not much has changed since Eugene V. Debs, a century ago, talked about it. Debs had two things to say that are especially worth remembering now:

While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.


It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.

Put another way, Debs understood and identified with workers, the oppressed, the downtrodden, union members, political prisoners, criminals, the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged, poor people. He didn't pretend to provide hope and change for these people and then side with industrialists and capitalists and exploiters, all the while making believe he was helping those who needed it as much as he possibly could. No. And Debs understood that in a two party system compromise and negotiation and settling and holding your nose, in sum all of electoral politics, wouldn't advance the cause of justice and advancement for the poor and the dispossessed and the hungry and the homeless. How could he think otherwise? He was for the union, and those who were opposed to it brought private police and goons and scabs and injunctions. And they did so openly. It was obvious a century ago what the two sides were.

Maybe in the past century people have forgotten that, that essentially there are still two sides in America. The 2% with the wealth and power, and the 98% who have varying degrees of powerlessness. The powerlessness ranges from the most dreadful extremes of homelessness, hunger, untreated disease, unemployment and child mortality to less obvious, less urgent forms of powerlessness, even powerlessness with some creature comforts. When there are creature comforts, getting by, even getting by paycheck to paycheck there is still the massive delusion of representation of ordinary people in the legislature and Congress, the illusion that the many small donations to politicians make progressive voices audible, that there are in fact Senators and Congresspersons who will fight for what's right, for progressive causes and peace. And on and on. There is the illusion that those of us on the Left have a voice that is heard, and that our hard work on getting people elected is rewarded in legislation.

But that, my friends, is most often, and with very, very few exceptions just the illusion. Yesterday, you heard Bernie Sanders talk for 8 1/2 hours about an America supposedly hidden from the legislature and congress. The people in Vermont, among other places, who make $10/hour, and have to scrimp on heating their homes, driving their cars, treating their illnesses, feeding their children. He was really talking about millions, yes, that's right, millions of people. The millions of people for whom the present economic circumstance is a palpable disaster and has cost them their jobs, their homes, whatever remaining comfort they may have had, treatment for their diseases, care for the parents, an adequate diet, and a whole litany of other misfortunes too long even to excerpt here.

Do the Senators and Congresspersons understand this suffering and the number of people affected and the enormity of the problem and the overwhelming despair and fear the economy has brought in the past three years? Evidently not. Evidently there are enough Senators and Congresspersons who have been lobbied and paid and promised things and want to be persistently reelected that they have gone blind and deaf and are unable now to comprehend that there is an ocean of suffering in the United States that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. And these same elected representatives think that Ground Zero volunteers shouldn't be cared for, and universal health care is unthinkable, and unemployment shouldn't be extended unless, unless the richest people are given enormous tax breaks they don't need or deserve. And if these people aren't given these tax breaks, if they aren't helped to push the nation into even greater debt and despair, if they aren't helped to plunder what's left of the national treasury, well then the people who are suffering the very most will just have to get over it. These legislators are unable to hear their cries or see their tears. Let them eat caviar.

Put another way, the income and wealth disparity in this country, which has grown far worse over the past decade, shows the success of the 1% or 2% at the top in appropriating the income and redistributing the assets of everyone else. It shows that they have a safety net because they are too big to fail. But everyone else is on a high wire without any net at all.

I want to complain bitterly about this state of affairs. Senator Sanders didn't complain. He just explained the situation in a fashion far more patient and far clearer and more sensible than I would, and he made it plain that tax breaks for the top 1% was a deal that no rational person could support.

That is just a beginning. It is a reminder that while Americans are suffering, we need to be strongly on the side of those who are suffering. We don't need to be helping the plutocrats get richer. Can we try to remember that?

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Blogger david seth michaels said...

This piece made it to the recommended list at dailyKos. I am happy that it is receiving so much attention. I'd like to think that might lead, gradually, to making things better for those in urgent straits.

9:58 a.m.  

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