The Question Still Haunts Us

Ed. note: This was my response to a letter from a friend, updated only very slightly, and was posted three months before the 2012 general election. Sadly, the question still haunts us.

Reading time – 3:34; Viewing time – 8:36  .  .  .

Thanks so much for your comments.  I completely and enthusiastically agree  .  .  .  You said we have bigger fish to fry and we certainly do have enormous financial issues.

We really have been living beyond our means for decades and our politicians (both R’s and D’s) have done a good job of protecting their jobs instead of doing their jobs and, in the process, they have led the public to believe that there is a free lunch.  We, the public, somehow went along with them when, to paraphrase Richard Pryor, the politicians said to us, “You gonna believe me or your lying good sense?” And we believed them. Go figure.

Notwithstanding the stupidity of all parts of that dynamic, my original comments that perhaps seemed polarized were and are intended to be focused on the broader issue. You used the word “reprehensible” and it is both apt and at the heart of my meaning. Here are a few data points, all of which raise a singular question.

The Republicans, led by Ted Cruz, held hostage the entire nation – even the entire world economy – to their fiscal demands. I understand that it was a leverage point, but the debt ceiling and a new budget are two entirely different things and the authorization to increase the debt ceiling should have been done as an independent issue. It should have been done immediately in order to declare our resolve to remain the standard for the world economy. Threatening financial disaster can be seen in another way: It is a statement of the kind of America the Republicans are trying to create. Is that really who we Americans are?

Conservatives Reagan, Bush I & Bush II, each in his time, ran up the biggest deficits/debt in the history of the world. Reagan and Bush I increased taxes to pay for their spending. Bush II instead both decreased taxes and started two unnecessary wars. All of that pushed us to the brink of financial disaster. Is that really who we Americans are?

Recall for a moment the Reagan-initiated frenzy for deregulation, a Republican mania that continues today. That led directly to the financial collapse of 2008 and, yes, D’s were complicit in that. All those trillions of bail out dollars are gone and with no accountability and nearly no mechanisms to prevent another round of “too big to fail.” Strangely, the Republicans are howling for still more deregulation which would put us at ever greater risk. Is that really who we Americans are?

A violent storm went through my area this morning and a power line was downed by a broken tree limb just a block from my house. The police were out in the violent storm within minutes, cordoning the area and protecting everyone from the continuous blast of 600 volt sparking and fire. Before heading to my basement due to a tornado warning, I saw more flames from another direction, called 911 and was connected to the fire department. I reported the situation and a bunch of guys saddled up and headed out in a fire truck, this while most of us were huddled in our basements from the continuing storm.

Consider, too, the school teachers to whom we entrust most of our kids’ education and those who drive snow plows through blizzards so we can go where and when we want. All these people protect and support us, including in dangerous situations and often in terrible conditions. They are also the people who the Republicans want to strip of some of their pay, their pensions, their right to bargain collectively and the Republicans want to lay off a bunch of them, too. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker wants to take nearly all of the savings from the heavy load put on the backs of Wisconsin cops, firemen, teachers and others and give it to rich people. Is that really who we Americans are?

Paul Ryan wants to kill Medicare, send everyone and their money to a few private medical insurers and leave millions of those who need health care adrift in their poverty. 70% of the savings from his plan to kill Medicare would go directly to rich people and corporations. Is that really who we Americans are?

In Michigan, the Republican controlled state government has decided that they have the right to take over any local governmental body in the state if the geniuses in Lansing decide that the locals need their help. [Update: Take a look at the Flint, MI lead-poisoned kids to get an idea of what a fine job those geniuses are doing.] They have effectively stripped voting rights from entire communities and imposed a dictatorship on the state. Is that really who we Americans are?

In Arizona, former governor Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio enshrined discrimination into the law and into desert concentration camps. Is that really who we Americans are?

Rand Paul says that it’s immoral that we helped the victims of Hurricane Katrina. That pretty much captures the America he and so many of the hair-on-fire R’s want us to become. Is that really who we Americans are?

The Republicans voted in lock step to continue to give tax breaks to the biggest oil companies which have the greatest profits in the history of the world. Huh?

Everything I see tells me that the Republican party wants to turn the clock back to the days of the robber barons. Life was very good then for the very rich. For everyone else, well, it wasn’t so good. The Republicans seem to be in favor of anything to kill those hated programs that help people who need help. Yes, I know there are plenty of dim-witted and even self-defeating programs that never should have been started or which have long outlived their usefulness. And don’t misunderstand me:  There is nothing wrong with being rich. The wrong is in excluding everyone else.

The financial burden from the past is enormous and vexing. The financial challenge of the future will look different from the free lunch nonsense to which we are accustomed. There is plenty of fixing to do. The key, though, is our clarity of vision of who we want to be – our national True North. That direction is being decided right now, in part, by people doing reprehensible things. The reprehensible behavior is not one-sided, of course. The bulk of it that I see, though, comes from the right.

I wish I could find one of those moderate Republicans you mentioned who has the backbone to speak what s/he believes, rather than what they thought would get votes from “the base” and who would offer reasonable centrist views. I’m hoping that you are incorrect about them being extinct, but instead find that they are in hiding, waiting for the chest thumping storm of temper tantrum insanity to pass. I will welcome an honest exchange that focuses on making a better America.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe we are right now at an important crossroads in the battle for the soul of America. We are in a defining moment of setting a vision – a self-image – of who we Americans really are.

In my Money, Politics & Democracy presentations I break the news about our American vision in this way:

We are crafting the America our children and grandchildren will inherit – and we’re doing it right now!

We better get about the task. We better speak up about the task, because:

If you don’t make your voice heard, people who want a very different America from the one you want will be heard, because they will be the only ones talking.

Speak up! In the Comments section below. With your friends, your family and, yes, even your crazy brother-in-law. Speak up or you and your children will have to put up with what you’ve tolerated.


Copyright 2024 by Jack Altschuler
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4 Responses to The Question Still Haunts Us
  1. Noreen Winningham Reply

    Two things:
    What exactly are the “free lunch” programs and attitudes you reference here? To me, giving tax breaks and subsidies to corporations who themselves state don’t need it; leaving corporations unregulated and free to poison our food supply and climate — these are veritable buffets of free lunch. If you are referencing people in need, I dissent. It is a myth that the majority of such people are just laying around, waiting for the public dole.

    Secondly, it is always interesting that R and D’s are lumped together for tarring with the debt creation brush, yet never do we hear what happened to the Democratic-created surplus under Clinton or the debt decline under Obama.

    Well, here’s another thing: just as Michigan removed elected officials and replaced them with appointed, omnipotent ones, states across the country are dismantling voting rights. This impacts everyone.

    At what point, do We, the People get out the torches and say enough is enough?

    Til then, come hell or high water, VOTE,

    • JaxPolitix Reply

      Noreen, thanks for your comments. And you’re spot on, especially by imploring, “Come hell or high water, VOTE!”

      Here’s an example of the free lunch issue. When state workers needed a raise and the state didn’t have the money to pay for that, we increased their pay with deferred compensation in the form of pensions they would collect in their future. The only problem was that we underfunded those pensions FOR DECADES, allowing taxpayers to ride the free lunch train of having all those state functions performed without having to pay full fare. The chickens were always going to come home to roost eventually, and now they have in most states, which have multi-billion dollar pension deficits.

      Regarding voting rights, they have been further restricted in states with a Republican governor and legislature. That’s what politicians do when they are bankrupt of fair, workable solutions to the problems of government and the people know it. Those pols want to retain power, so they simply prevent people from voting.

      Back to the question that still haunts us: Is that really who we Americans are?

  2. Joni Lindgren Reply

    Your questions can be answered very simply by a female, Icelandic CEO of a bank who when asked by Michael Moore in his new movie called Which Country to Invade Next, “Would you like to live next door to the U.S.”? and her answer was, “No, not at all. We live in a “we” society and you in the U.S. live in a “me” society”.
    Why is the answer to our problems in the U.S. seen so clearly by the Icelandic people and all the rest of Europe and not us??? Why does our government allow 1/4 of the biggest corporations to not pay ANY taxes?? It’s the corporations that are the free-loaders and the cancer in our society….not the people!!

    • dominick Reply

      Corporations are the freeloaders and a cancer on our society?

      Please take a moment to listen to yourself and others that keep repeating this political propaganda delusion of blaming capitalist corporations for ruining our political system. Aren’t corporations that pay little or no taxes simply obeying the law? Do you think that they wrote the law for themselves, or did someone else – like the members of Congress and a President, or your state and local representatives?

      No one is holding the families of lawmakers as hostages, or holding a gun to their heads to take the money offered to them by corporations. In fact, these elected officials have made this exchange of cash for favors completely legal for themselves. Our country is not being run and ruined by an oligarchy of corporations and the wealthy, but an oligarchy of a handful of politicians. They are the ones taking the money and writing the laws for those offering them bribes.

      While politicians like to claim our government is of the people, for the people and by the people, they know damn well it is not run by the people – but themselves. Let’s face the facts. Unless we stop listening to the promises of politicians, and vet them to determine their accountability to us, instead of wealthy donors, we should not expect any changes after this election year. Vet before you vote. This may not give you more choices in our corrupted higher levels of government at this time, unless Bernie decides to accept my vetting pledge and create a real revolution in these 2016 elections. In the meantime, vet your local candidates, to quickly see if any one of them will agree to be accountable to you after the election.