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Posts Tagged ‘rolling back the 20th century’

Wishing America a Happier Birthday

Friday, July 4th, 2014

democracy_a-challenge@TP. . . And Many Happy Returns

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

—from ¶ 2 of The Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, July 4, 1776

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Bloggers on politics and current affairs tend to welcome the Fourth of July not only for the fireworks and cookouts like everyone else, but also because America’s Birthday provides an occasion for a kind of midsummer Thanksgiving. It’s also a time when we cannot help but feel the contrast between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s present-day actualities. Of course the nation is inevitably found wanting—as any nation would be—but the holiday can be a time to take stock of our fitness, in the same way a person who wants to lose weight or build strength weighs herself, looks in the mirror, and resolves to strive harder and smarter at the gym and the grocery store.

America.2In the neighborhood cinema last week we saw a trailer for America: Imagine the World Without Her, the new film by Dinesh D’Souza (based on his book of the same title), which challenges audiences to imagine the world without the greatness that is the United States of America as we (conservatives) know it, or her. The film shows the Statue of Liberty and other national icons disintegrating as one what-if after another strips away the essential components of our national history.

Now, the film may or may not be worth seeing, but what these images of disintegration called to mind almost immediately was the ravaging effect of the Supreme conservatives and Tea Partiers in Congress and in state legislatures who are dismantling the New Deal, the Great Society, stripping away the social safety net, refusing funding for rebuilding roads, bridges, and levees, revoking hard-won voting rights protections, and blocking access to health care for women and the poor and to common forms of birth control. (See William Greider’s powerful essay “Rolling Back the 20th Century,” a survey that’s as illuminating today as when The Nation published it in 2003.)

Here are some things we are thankful for on the nation’s birthday:

Domestic affairs: Although the Labor Department’s reports are not to be taken at face value because their numbers do not indicate the nearly 6 million who have given up trying to find jobs, we are pleased to see that about 2.5 million jobs were created in the last year, and over 9.4 million jobs have been created over the last several years. A New York Times editorial today (“Jobs Rebound, Prosperity Lags”) reports:

The economy added 288,000 jobs in June, and tallies for April and May were revised upward, bringing job creation over the past year to 2.49 million, the highest level in five years. The unemployment rate also fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest level in nearly six years, and, even better, the decline was unambiguously good news. It resulted from people getting hired and not leaving the work force.

The editorial goes on to note, however, that

Job growth is still falling short by 6.7 million jobs, including government jobs that were lost and not replaced, plus jobs that were needed to keep up with the population but not created. The jobless rate would be 9.6 percent, if it counted nearly six million people who would be looking for work or working if the economy were stronger.

Regrettably (to put it lightly), much of this weakness could be avoided by aggressive congressional action—and it’s never too late. Many, many jobs could be created, and others kept, if another stimulus were to be enacted, a really robust one this time; or if congressional Republicans would allow a vote on the American Jobs Act that President Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress in September 2011, and for which he campaigned vigorously. (Click here to see what that act would have provided for—e.g., $35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and $50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure.)

Executive actions: We are pleased that President Obama, who for too long tried to be reasonable and conciliatory with an opposition party that had already resolved to block him at every turn and allow no legislative accomplishments, ever, has recently, and with evident relish, turned to executive actions to do what he can on issues that cannot wait—such as raising the minimum wage for federal workers and for workers employed by federal contractors, on making the U.S. better prepared to combat climate change, etc. Other executive orders can be found here. As President Obama remarked before a July 1 cabinet meeting:

. . . what I’m going to be urging all of you to do, and what I’m going to be continually pushing throughout this year and for the next couple of years is that if Congress can’t act on core issues that would actually make a difference in helping middle-class families get ahead, then we’re going to have to be creative about how we can make real progress.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans offer no solutions of their own and continue to block all Democratic attempts at progress on creating jobs, on funding of badly needed infrastructure projects, on comprehensive immigration reform, on gun control, and other matters on which the Obama administration has pushed for legislative action. (See, for instance, “GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities,” LNW 10/17/13, and “Jobs, Jobs . . . Senate Republicans Keep Vets Unemployed,” LNW 9/25/12.)

Foreign affairs: We are reassured (for the most part) that this president is secure enough in his own judgment about national security and the expertise of his advisers that he will not be rushed into a knee-jerk military response to the latest crisis in Iraq (or what used to be known as Iraq). We are relieved, for example, that he does not worry about what John McCain will say. Regarding Iraq and the ISIS crisis, we are writing to the White House and to the Democratic Senate leadership to urge them to keep diplomacy first, to keep U.S. involvement minimal, military action nonexistent if possible, and to use every opportunity to think long-term and use diplomatic pressure to try to bring about more equitable representation of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq’s national government.

We remain impressed that the president opted not to authorize military strikes on Syria, as he considered doing around last Labor Day—that was the right call, in our view, and a courageous exercise of restraint—and that he and Secretary of State John Kerry have worked to reduce Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile (nearly all disposed of now, we’re told), with cooperation from Russia. We also applaud Obama for being a vigorous supporter, since his days in the Senate, of nuclear nonproliferation efforts and of arms reduction agreements with Russia, particularly the New Start Treaty of 2010 (thanks also to former Senator Dick Lugar, Republican of Indiana, along with then-Senator John Kerry).

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“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends”

vintage-flagWe continue to believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, and, as long as gross inequities and injustices exist, we expect never to be really satisfied with this nation that has such immense potential. Much has been given to this country, and much is expected of it. Perhaps it is only through our own individual efforts at cultivating peace and protecting liberty, including our neighbors’—the America within each of us—that the nation can be brought closest to its fulfillment.

This formerly (and ever potentially) great country deserves better, so much better, than what many of its elected officials are doing for it at present. (Country First, or Party First?) On this national holiday, the nation’s birthday, let us all, let each of us, recommit to do our part.

“Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation.” —Alasdair Gray

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Further Reading:

On July 4, Yearning for a Progressive American Revolution” (LNW 7/4/13)

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: “Barack the Bear

Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog: “Obama no longer cares whether the GOP is outraged

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities: Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing (LNW, 10/17/13)

Review of Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution 

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Illustration credit: “Democracy . . . a challenge” found at Think Progress.

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“Nineteen Sixty-Three Is Not an End But a Beginning . . .”

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

hands-across-America

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Another Sweltering Summer of Legitimate Discontent

In this disheartening summer that has seen the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—because, the chief justice tells us, its protections are no longer needed—amid vigorous rollbacks of voting rights and access in states with Republican-controlled legislatures; and that has seen a shockingly unjust verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, the moderate-to-liberal American majority that believes in “liberty and social justice for all” sorely needs uplifting, inspiring. These dispiriting events, along with the 50th anniversary in June of the assassination of Medgar Evers, call to mind King’s reference to “this sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent.”

So it is no wonder that many of us look with a kind of hungry, yearning nostalgia to the idealism and promise signified by the great 1963 March on Washington that took place 50 years ago today. That march, with its hundreds of thousands of peaceful marchers of all colors—the largest demonstration Washington had ever seen—would have been an historic event anyway, but it was lifted to majestic heights that will be looked to for decades, centuries to come by the exalting oratory of Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech whose original script did not include the words “I Have a Dream.”

Why We Still Need the March on Washington

The general American public—those who are not right-wing reactionaries putting party before nation and ideology above party—has elected an African American president by strong majorities in two straight elections. We can all take pride in this fact. In five of the last six presidential elections (counting 2000) the popular vote has gone to the Democratic candidate. And yet it seems that the election of our first president of color has also pushed a certain kind of button, activating some rather scary retro-reactionary machinery that would drag the nation backward, ever backward into a darker and less civil and humane society. Since late 2008—when, you might recall, the entire economy was in free fall—the forces of extreme, radically conservative reaction (with help from one very influential cable news network) have shifted into overdrive to resist and revoke rights and protections hard-won by minorities over the past decades—indeed, they seem to be trying to roll back the entire twentieth century.

Although this chief executive has endeavored to be a president of all Americans, of whatever complexion or political orientation, and though he has tried time and again to accommodate the opposition’s concerns, the Grand Old Party’s “massive resistance” to even the simplest and most routine bills and nominations, and even to legislation originally proposed by Republicans, has strangled and poisoned the body politic to the point of paralysis. Every initiative proposed by this president and his party is stonewalled, achieved only through protracted struggle and deal-making, and then, even after passage, is vilified daily, as though expanding access to health care or investing in the repair of roads and bridges is a betrayal of the public trust.

Energetically and as secretively as possible, a well-organized and richly funded minority is busy revoking or strangling minorities’ and women’s rights while the rest of the population—those paying attention, anyway—watches in horror and disgust. Some protest, while most of the public is simply trying to survive or hold on to the job (if any), or is so exhausted or beaten down by hard luck and grim times that they can’t stand up to fight.

But times have been hard before, and these storms, too, the republic shall survive, if enough of us work together. And for an example of how we can work together for a better society and economy, and get results, we look to the words and actions of those who brought us the 1963 March on Washington.

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Tomorrow we’ll look at some of the similarities between 1963 and 2013, and at the socialist and labor union origins of the great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of August 28, 1963.

 

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On July 4, Yearning for a Progressive American Revolution

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

 

4July“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . .”

—from ¶2 of The Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1776

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Some random thoughts on this national holiday . . .

The coinciding of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, that cornerstone and launching pad event of the American Revolution of which we Americans are justly proud, with another massive wave of revolutionary fervor in Egypt and the second ouster of that ancient country’s head of state in two years, makes us wish for a more vigorous liberal revolutionary spirit here in the nation that likes to call itself “the world’s oldest democracy.” What we wish for is a revolutionary spirit—a constructive energy—among those who would spread and defend liberty for the common folk, for the downtrodden poor, the near-exhausted middle class.

Especially on this day of all days in the year there is a strong yearning to glory in the specialness of our nation, to love our country and wish it a happy birthday with a childlike simplicity and sincerity, to love it not only as it can be but as it is, now, today. Increasingly, however, this amor patria is a difficult feeling to sustain while also facing the facts of our nation’s recent history.

This country is composed of states, but they are far from united. Two political parties hold power, but, though similar in their dependence on money, they are far apart in their governing philosophies. One seeks to govern, to administer programs for the general good, while the other seeks power, control.

democracy_a challenge@TPWhen the most powerful, aggressive political energy is that of conservative reactionaries fired by a zeal to abolish longstanding functions of government, to abolish programs and departments, to roll back liberties hard-won by the common folk and minorities, to make life for the poor even harder, to scorn the less fortunate as undeserving even of the little that they have . . . then indeed it is hard to love the actuality, and one is driven to nostalgia for better times that once existed (“the greatest generation,” etc.), and to hope and pray for better times to come. And who will lead us?

There is a revolutionary spirit at work in this country, but rather than pushing for greater freedoms for the average citizen it is a spirit of reactionary zeal, like that of the Jacobins such as Robespierre and his dreaded Committee on Public Safety that became known for a Reign of Terror after the French Revolution. The revolutionaries now at work in the U.S. do not wear overalls or rags but Brooks Brothers and Armani suits. They are not grassroots organizers but are funded by conservative billionaires, acting in the name of the average Joe. They do not recognize the legitimacy of the popularly elected executive; since his inauguration they have plotted massive resistance to his moderate, centrist agenda; and seek the repeal of his publicly supported, and needed, legislation.

The two Supreme Court decisions last week that received the most attention in the press, on June 25 and June 26, concerned the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and marriage equality, or “gay marriage” rights. One decision was disastrous for this nation’s democracy, and the other was a positive step forward in the establishment of equal rights. Though we applaud the marriage equality decision, we wish it had not come so soon after the deplorable ruling against the Voting Rights Act, as its publicity and celebrations wiped the Voting Rights story off the screen—and the poor and disenfranchised are already ignored too much.

The week after these decisions, delivering more bad news for the average worker, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay—from 2014 to 2015—in the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that larger employers provide coverage for employees or face a penalty. The Commerce Department felt business’s pain—but what about the suffering and anxieties of 0ver 45 million uninsured? The health care reform law, passed in 2010, was already overly gradual in its deployment of benefits for the public—a politically calculated “time-release capsule.” Although the administration downplays the practical significance of this new delay, Republicans jumped with joy—See? The whole damn thing should be abolished!—and health reform advocates are disheartened by the Democrats’ latest display of cowardice in advance of the 2014 midterm elections. (The New York Times quoted Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University and an advocate of the law: “I am utterly astounded. . . . It boggles the mind. This step could significantly reduce the number of uninsured people who will gain coverage in 2014.”)

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