If Tea Party candidates are elected and slash government, it’s we the American people who will bleed. Especially in tough times — amidst an economic crisis caused by unchecked big business — we need government to get us on our feet and get the economy moving again.
Pro-Government = Pro-America
Don’t believe the anti-government hype.
I have a new post up on the Fox News opinion page about the small but significant overlapping reform agenda between Progressives and the Tea Party. Here’s an excerpt:
“These three actions would dramatically curtail the corrupting influence of special interests in government and society and return power to the people. Then we can return to our respective ideological corners to fight over tax cuts versus public infrastructure or the future of gays and guns — but at least we’d be fighting fair, with the outcomes truly determined by public will as opposed to which side’s outsized corporate influence throws its weight behind which argument.”
Read the entire piece here.
This morning, I saw an unusual sight in my fairly well off neighborhood: a homeless man sleeping on the steps of a local church. Last night, the temperature dropped to 48 degrees. But if Republicans gain control of Congress, it’s going to get much, much colder.
After all, here we are in the midst of the worse economic recession since the Great Depression, with recent crises of unemployment and foreclosure piling on top of long-term crisis-level underemployment and financial instability that has plagued families and communities from Brooklyn to Boise. Minimizing the role of government and letting the private sector do whatever it wants created these crises — from “free trade” policies that shipped manufacturing jobs oversees to the greedy recklessness of the financial sector. You don’t have to be an economist to know that if the private sector wrecked our economy, the private sector alone can’t fix it. And you don’t have to be a socialist to know government has a role to play in putting us all on the path to prosperity.
But, apparently, you do have to have a heart. When you see a homeless person or someone on food stamps or a family getting Medicaid, you have to have the heart to know that they didn’t fall on hard times because of some fault or failing of their own. Hard times have fallen on them.
We understood this during the Great Depression. The New Deal didn’t kick poor people squarely in the rear and tell struggling workers to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The Depression ended because of collective and compassionate public policy — like the Fair Labor Standards Act that established the minimum wage, the Federal Housing Authority that ensured affordable homes and, of course, the creation of Social Security. The antidote to the coldly brutal and unequal era of the Robber Barons was government not only with a helping hand but a heart.
At least George W. Bush feigned compassion. Today’s GOP boasts of its plans to slash government spending and bleed social programs to their core. This tough talk resonates with the surging anti-government sentiments, but can decent Americans of any political stripe really stomach the harsh reality if that rhetoric put into practice?
The United States currently has $13.7 trillion in debt. Modest cuts to the federal budget will not address the deficit spending concerns of conservatives. Addressing the deficit means significantly cutting Social Security, Medicare and/or defense spending and/or raising taxes. That’s it. Those are the only options. And since Republicans congenitally refuse to increase taxes (especially not on the super-rich, even if NOT raising taxes means adding $700 billion more to the deficit), GOP candidates stump on cutting spending.
We all know they ain’t cutting defense, especially since that’s how Republicans created the deficit in the first place.
“… federal budget statistics show that Republican policies over the last decade, and the cost of the two wars, added far more to the deficit than initiatives approved by the Democratic Congress since 2006 … (from the NY Times)”
Republicans can only fulfill their campaign promises by drastically cutting Social Security and/or Medicare.
Cutting Social Security means more families already struggling to make ends meet in the late stages of life will have to work even longer into old age or struggle even more with even less in monthly benefits. Cutting Medicare means significantly restricting the health care options available to vulnerable Americans. Ironically after opposing the health care reform bill that would cut insurance profits and make care more affordable for everyone, it’s Republicans who are inching toward “death panels” to cut Medicare for the elderly.
Add to this all the other programs — food stamps, public infrastructure jobs, subsidized housing vouchers — that Republicans will kill first to put off more politically perilous cuts and we will have a very bleak winter indeed. We have deep structural problems in our economy — problems that are beyond the ability of any one worker or any one company to fix. Are Republicans delusional enough to think that, if they cut taxes for super-rich CEOs and decimate social programs, the guy sleeping on the church steps will finally get fed up with freezing every night and go get a job as an accountant?
I don’t actually think Republicans are that stupid. I do, however, think they’re that heartless. I don’t think they care about those Americans our economy has long left behind, those who no matter how strong our economy is tend to remain unemployed and struggling. That’s been clear for a long time, since Reagan started slashing social programs in the 1980s. The more recent development is that Republicans seem to care less and less for the middle class, too. To today’s Republicans, the economy is thriving if big business is thriving. Working families are not a part of their equation. Thus more and more families are hanging by a thread and relying on food stamps and unemployment and other programs Republicans want to cut to put the economy even more under the control of the big businesses that ruined it.
If Americans don’t stop believing the Republican hype about deficits and the need to cut spending, pretty soon we’ll all be left out in the cold.
The One Nation Working Together march did not draw as many people to the Washington Mall as Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally a few weeks prior. And that is a good thing.
Glenn Beck and the Tea Party represent a very vocal minority, so worked up about the direction of our nation that they’ll pour into Washington by the hundreds of thousands to worship at the feet of a religious revivalism rooted in nostalgia for a white-washed version of America that never was. We already know, from poll after poll, that the Tea Party are whiter, wealthier and more male than the average American. And, despite all of their populist blustering, the Tea Party agenda is merely new clothes for the old wolf agenda of the pro-big business, elitist Right. The Tea Party is motivated to be hyper-vocal and hyper-visible precisely because they represent such an an incredibly small and fringe set of interests and ideas in our nation, with a very small following.
The hundreds of national and grassroots organizations behind the One Nation march represent the vast majority of Americans — literally, through their millions and millions of members, but also spiritually, morally. Organizations like the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, Green for All, the Sierra Club, the Children’s Defense Fund and SEIU stand for the core, shared values of our nation — that we once forged and now continue to forge a union knowing that each of our prosperity is dependent on the common good.
There are hundreds of millions of Americans frustrated that while Wall Street strong-armed big bank bailouts as profits and CEO salaries continue to rise, foreclosures are increasing, job opportunities are stalling and real wages for most of us continue to decline. There are hundreds of millions of Americans who understand that the way our economy works isn’t working for white people in Ohio, black folks in South Carolina or undocumented immigrants in Arizona. There are hundreds of millions of Americans who don’t care about the deficit remotely as much as they care about creating new jobs, reinvesting in our schools and our environmental future and redistributing real opportunity to all who work for it.
Unfortunately, these hundreds of millions of Americans are also incredibly disappointed. These are the Americans who believed in the hope and promise of Obama the Candidate and feel let down by Obama the President, in part because of an ossified political system in which the status quo is deeply entrenched on both sides of the aisle, but in part because Obama failed to chip away at or at least vigorously rail against that ossification (until fairly recently). These hundreds of millions of Americans want change. Their anger is not at the boldness of Obama’s agenda. Their anger is that more of it has not been achieved and, given the political system, seems increasingly and sadly unachievable.
These are the hundreds of millions of Americans the One Nation coalition represents. And unfortunately, these are the very people who are sitting at home popping Prozac rather than taking to the streets in protest. They were visible and vocal in 2008. Been there, done that, and look where it got us. Yes, we have historic and critical health care reform, the stimulus investment that staunched the bleeding recession, financial reform that will put Wall Street in check and more. But we still have jaw-dropping financial control of Washington by corporate interests. We still have the filibuster. And, despite every sign that it has failed us wildly, we still have the persistent dominance of Regan-era pro-corporate, trickle-down, neo-liberal economic ideology.
The Tea Party activists are disproportionately vocal and visible in comparison to their actual percentage of the population in part because they believe victory is within their grasp. The fact that, titular Democratic power of the moment notwithstanding, Right wing economic and social ideology continues to undergird much of the political establishment and discourse, is, for them, encouraging. It’s ironic when the Tea Party talks of “reclaiming America” since, ideologically, they very much already control the norm — from anti-government skepticism to deficit hawkishness, from a constant state of anti-terrorism warfare to widespread hatred of new immigrants. Meanwhile, the millions of Americans who want change, who see a positive role for government in creating an economy and a nation that truly works for all of us — they took a chance against the status quo and, despite all inclinations toward cynicism, believed in 2008 that change is possible. Two years and not enough change later, they’re feeling disheartened.
The real issue with the One Nation march on Washington this past Saturday versus the Glenn Beck rally or any other Tea Party gathering isn’t literally how many people show up but how many millions and millions of other people they actually represent. The good news is the One Nation organizations and their values and vision for our country represent far more Americans than the extremist, elitist Tea Party. The bad news is that, as the mid-term elections near, that Tea Party fringe is way more fired up and active.
In an election year marked by voters’ unprecedented distaste for incumbents, it is still remarkably difficult to be a challenger. Consider Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter’s race to unseat New York State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada.
Espada has been charged in several incidents of corruption throughout his time in office. Though he claims a residence in his Bronx, NY, district, it is widely known that Espada’s primary residence is a $700,000 Westchester home far away from the poor and working class folks he supposedly represents. In 2009, Espada gained attention by switching to the Republican party in order to give Republicans control of the Senate. He eventually switched back, re-gaining control for the Democrats but only after extorting the position of Majority Leader. Oh, and then in April 2010, Espada was indicted for stealing $14 million from a non-profit health clinic he founded.
Still, in a sign that the party machine, though squeaky, continues to roll, Pedro Espada is running for re-election.
Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter is running to replace him. Pilgrim-Hunter has lived — and still lives — in the Bronx for more than two decades. She’s a highly respected community leader, a leader with the Northwest Bronx and Clergy Coalition — one of the area’s most respected community groups — and board president of the Fordham Hill Cooperative, the largest housing complex in her district. As a community leader, she has delivered concrete victories for the district. Notably, Pilgrim-Hunter led the campaign to stop New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg from converting a neighborhood armory into a shopping center and instead push for community development uses of the community space. Not only is Desiree is exactly the kind of authentic community representative we would hope to see in elected office, but a potential bright spot of the generally reactionary, anti-incumbent energy this year is that people like Pilgrim-Hunter — from the community, not the party establishment — might actually win.
But party politics continue to stand in Pilgrim-Hunter’s way.
Jose Gustavo Rivera, a life-long Democratic party operative who was most recently Director of Outreach to New York’s other recent party-installed politician, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, was put forward by the Democratic political machine establishment as their alternative to Espada. After all, even if there’s a change of faces in the state capitol, party insiders and benefactors can’t stomach a change of loyalties. They want their own man in office. They don’t really care who as long as he’s theirs.
Rivera is a smart guy and no doubt his heart is in the right place. But his candidacy reveals everything that is wrong with politics today. Rivera has never been involved in his local community. Not once. In fact, Pilgrim-Hunter organized hundreds of community meetings blocks away from Rivera’s home over the last several years. Rivera never came once. But Rivera knows the right people in the Democratic Party and in Albany. All too often, the best financed candidate wins and the best financed candidates are either self-funded millionaires or the candidates picked by and blessed by the party establishment (either Democrat or Republican) and thus significant choices have already been made for them. Even in the case of contested primaries, unfortunately there’s rarely a contest — the deck is stacked toward the status quo insiders.
Pilgrim-Hunter is doing what community leaders do best — bucking the conventional wisdom to upend the status quo. Without Pilgrim-Hunter and other leaders with the same spirit to triumph in the face of adversity, the Bronx and District 33 would have been left for dead decades ago, written off by a city that generally cared more about Manhattan, and more about Wall Street in specific. But just like the residents of the Bronx bravely persevere through recessions and crime and neglect from the city and state, Pilgrim-Hunter is bravely persevering to run against Espada and against the insider party machinery.
Pilgrim-Hunter’s candidacy is a glimmer of hope for the Bronx, New York. But the challenges she faces are a glaring warning sign for the state of our democracy nationwide.
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