Thursday, January 25, 2007

Under Seige
The Middle Class At Bay

mountrushmoreI tend to think of myself as fairly liberal, and, when placed against those who still blindly support the President…I suppose I am.

But, when you spend a lot of time exchanging thoughts with the kind of people who bill themselves as radical, progressive, and cutting edge…and find that, in (their) reality, you and your ilk are really just the “republican-lite” …I have to admit…it’s sobering.

So…I’ve found myself musing a lot lately about just what I believe politically; where I’d like to see this country go, and what I’m willing to do to get there.

I think, I hope, that throughout the months leading up to the presidential election in 2008, I will come back to this theme from time to time, and adding to the tapestry.

As a start, I am finally getting a chance to catch up on my reading…just tonight, I sat down and read something from 2003…it’s a piece on Grover Norquist written by then New-Democrat strategist, Ed Kilgore (who’s blog, New Donkey, is listed at right).

I’ve blogged on this subject before, but I’m going to revisit it, because, while it lacks the drama of the war in Iraq, it is one of the issues I believe most likely to change, radically, the way we live in this country…and not for the better.

A few excerpts from Kilgore’s argument follow:

“… the Bush administration has launched pre-emptive attacks on the national treasury designed to leave the U.S. government so deep in debt it poses no threat to the conservative status quo. Its motto is: Stop government before it can help again... (emphasis added) "

"...privately, [this] rationale is often cited by conservatives as the genuine motive for serial tax cuts, regardless of the fiscal and economic condition of the country: Tax cuts are good in themselves because they will ultimately force a shrinkage of government -- without the pain or controversy of identifying specific cuts in popular government programs. Limiting government in the long run, moreover, justifies such immediate negative effects as large budget deficits, burgeoning public debt, higher long-term interest rates, and the inability of government to deal with national challenges…"

"…This rationale -- once referred to as "starving the beast" by Reagan Budget Director David Stockman -- is obviously one that most Republicans are a bit reluctant to articulate, representing as it does a kind of gutless Gingrichism…”

“… Whenever he talks about taxes and government, Norquist sounds little different from the tens of thousands of American libertarians whose intellectual development ended with their first adolescent reading of Atlas Shrugged, and who go through life expressing contempt for the "parasites" who "confiscate" their earnings through taxes. As such, he represents the ultimate Washington role model for countless young libertarian Internet bloggers living with their parents in suburbs all over America"

A certain ingrained distrust of government seems to me to have always defined the American character…and that lack of trust is just as common on the left as it is on the right—libertarians come in all flavors….but at the same time, government can also be the deciding weapon that the oppressed use to challenge the balance of the scales against them.

The Civil Rights struggle is, perhaps, a case in point…although we could also easily point to the labor movement as well. The impetus for change began at the grassroots level, with marches, and sit-ins, protests….but those events, in and of themselves, did not force the change.

Rather, those acts of protest caught the attention of the people at large and helped build the political will to support the federal government in forcing change. It was not, in the end, marchers who integrated schools, but federalized troops.

It is preciously that ultimate power, the use of the government on the side of the angels (to enforce workplace safety, to enforce some measure of racial fairness, and, yes, even to prevent wealth and power from accruing in the hands of the few) these bad men fear.

That is the “beast” they wish to starve. After eight years of the Bush Presidency coupled with a complacent, partisan congress, these libertarians are close to success.

In his response to the 2007 State of the Union Address, Senator Webb said it very well….

When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day…

…In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace.

In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy - that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

Senator Web also said…

Regarding the economic imbalance in our country, I am reminded of the situation President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days of the 20th century. America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.

Roosevelt spoke strongly against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans that they must set themselves "as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other."

I thought Webb’s warning about the middle class was very much to the point, because, in the end, the power of Government (or at least the positive power of American Government in the Twentieth Century) springs from the middle class. If you drown one, you drown the other…and I think, with the exception of Liberty and Freedom itself, the safety of the middle class is probably my driving political imperative.

The job of some citizens is to march, lobby, protest, and shriek for change. The job of others, disposed to a colder moderation, I suppose, is to watch, and to wait, and to work as hard as possible to make sure that the power of the government still exists to be called upon when needed to serve the interests of justice.

For better or worse, I suppose those are the people with whom I must claim political kinship.

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