Gonna come a time when we all gonna hafta ante up. Ante up and kick in like men. LIKE MEN! — John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) in the movie Glory.
It may not matter that the polls are against Paul Ryan in his attempt to replace Medicare with meager vouchers. He and the Republicans in Congress are setting the terms of the debate: Roll back the Great Society. Roll back the New Deal. Weaken and eliminate the foundations of the social compact. President Hoover is a weak tribune for such a battle. What "middle ground" will he find in his journey of compromise and community organizing in the far right of center, aided by the guidance of his tax-dodging economic mandarin Jeffrey Immelt? It's astounding that any of this is even happening. Yet it is.
Want to deal with the debt and deficit? Stop the wars. Pull out of most of those 150 countries where we have a military presence. Stop the corporate welfare, especially subsidizing fossil fuel extraction. Raise taxes on individuals. Go after the tax evasion of the big corporations. Tax the gambling on Wall Street. Invest in productivity-enhancing and job-creating infrastructure, universities, research and public education. If big business wants to get cute and threaten to leave, or hold a capital strike, fine. Play like the Chinese: Want entry to America's market (which is still the largest and richest in the world)? Play by our rules or else. Even that wouldn't be necessary if we returned to the checks and balances of healthy American capitalism. Anyway, do all this before you talk about putting your Grover Norquist drowning hands on my Social Security and Medicare (which, by the way, are not entitlements).
None of that's going to happen, for reasons we've discussed many times on this blog, including this recent post. So the question before us is, what next? What happens when the GOP gets control of the Congress and White House in 2012 or 2016 and is able to implement the Randian vision already in play in places such as New Jersey and Wisconsin?
Repealing the Great Society and the New Deal will essentially put America back in the late 19th century. It's a long-held dream of the right-wing thinkers, to be sure. But how will it play out in a populous, urbanized, complex America in the 21st century? We have many years and many winners to live off. What we don't have, especially for the losers, are the close-knit families, small towns and civic connections of the Gilded Age. And the vision of the right also entails a very big government, but one spending on the military and corporate welfare. Meanwhile, in addition to that lost treasure, we will face the disruptions caused by climate change, high-cost energy and a banking/casino sector ready to blow up again at any minute. None of that faced America circa 1890.
Will we ever reach a point when enough Americans remember their country as it was? When they realize, "Gonna come a time when we all gonna hafta ante up. Ante up and kick in like men. LIKE MEN!" And women.
I talk to rich men who complain about their taxes, boast of changing their legal residency to cheap states even as they grow more wealthy thanks to the quality states in which they live. I hear from average working stiffs. A typical email that came to me recently read, "I would shred the social safety net that subsidized people who can't even take care of themselves to have kids. Just because my neighbor can pop out one new kid every nine months doesn't mean that I have bottomless pockets of money to pay for food, shelter, education, healthcare, etc. This country is drowning in a ocean of people who are not paying their own way and the rest of us, even working as hard as we can, can't keep funding all these 'rights.' " Their ignorance is towering. The former doesn't realize that his wealth came as much from the commons as from his business acumen. The latter is so filled with hate, envy and cluelessness than he can't be reached. Push him and he's against Wall Street, too — but that's not the main target of his wrath.
Without a fighting opposition party, without a real press, without a progressive Reagan, without all the checks and balances that held the worst of our natures at bay, the America I knew will not die hard. It has gone down with remarkable ease.