Friday, June 3, 2011

Repubs continue war on the poor

Wisconsin Repubs continue their assault on the poor, assigning them more blame for their fate and more responsibility for carrying the burden of our fiscal challenges.

It fits very nicely with the Ayn Rand approach to life as exemplified by Paul Ryan - the superior shall rule over all others at their expense - or the crass power grab of those making off with our economy, the corporate state personified in people like the Koch brothers, the CEOs of big manufacturing firms (Bucyrus, Harley Davidson, Kohler, Mercury Marine, Georgia-Pacific, Harley-Davidson, etc.), and the bastions of the nation's ideological right, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, Murdoch and Fox faux-news, and then their minions that do their bidding.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
Of course, there is a lot of crossover among all these folks. Government is for the rich, or to free the rich to become richer. By their belief system, the poor are just slackers, laggards or lazy, responsible for their own fate. Of course, any black kid growing up in the inner city with lousy schools and fragile families torn apart by the daily struggle for survival facing racism all around and the expectation of failure should be able to be just as successful as the multi-billionaire Kochs, right?

Okay, once more we have news that reveals as clearly as ever the moral bankruptcy of this Repub class - the new GOP assault on the already woeful W-2 program. At a time of high unemployment, growing poverty, the demise of the middle class, slashing of wages and benefits even if you have a job - the Repubs are preparing to implement measures to shrink W-2 client roles.

Well, if you read this blog, you probably read the paper, so here's the story for all the gory details.

We are becoming a cruel society, cold, heartless. The worst in us is rising to the top now - all these latent attitudes of racism and derision towards those for whom life is a struggle. It is easier to defend your privilege if you demonize those who pay the price for it. Meanwhile, politicians representing your defense and your scapegoating make policy right out of those attitudes and make them popular on Fox or Charlie Sykes and Rush Limbaugh shows.  Feeding the worst in us, that's the politics of the right these days.

The big headline, of course, had to do with the expansion of the school voucher program: income level raised, vouchers that can be used to go anywhere, even if that means public money for religious education (good people disagree on that question, of course), even if that means tax-payer money to families that can afford to pay for private schools. Because the intention here is clear: step-by-step, the rightist Repubs are bent on undermining and eventually throwing public education under the bus (well, except that the buses won't be running in and out of poor neighborhoods anymore either).

Look, MPS is a mess, lacking vision and a clear sense of mission, lacking effective leadership, lacking the zeal required to address the poverty and racism, and the structural issues, that ensure that many Milwaukee kids get a mediocre-at-best education. And the whole national approach is a mess, focused as it is on standardized testing and competition and race to the top b.s. and preparing kids to compete in the global economy and blah, blah, blah... But abandoning public education as a basic right for all kids is not the path toward revolutionizing a woeful, failing system being strangled by bureaucracy and politicization, and collapsing under the weight of long-neglected realities of social injustice and economic disparities.

Here's a truth about capitalism, a sort of economics 101. Capitalism requires a poor class; it requires a certain level of unemployment. It is part of its unjust structural nature. This belief that everyone has a chance to succeed if they just work hard enough contradicts capitalism itself since, if everyone did that, it would be the end of the system. Can we all be Koch brothers or Scott Walker? Who then would do the dirty work in their factories, or cut Walker's lawn, or be the security people that have to sit outside his house all day keeping him safe? And who in the world would want to go into the office buildings overnight to clean the toilets of the CEOs and their staffs?

Because of this basic truth of the structural injustice in the system, different societies make different decisions about how to compensate - or not - for that injustice. We deride Western European countries for their broad, generous social safety nets, but you don't see more affluent people out in the streets about the high taxes they pay for their superior publicly financed health care systems or public schools or generous unemployment benefits - because they all know that these programs benefit everyone in the end in part by creating a certain stability in the society. Gaps between rich and poor may still be wide, but nothing like here where the gap is widening as the corporate right and their minions no longer want their lavish wealth to be taxed to ease the burdens of this great injustice.

Look what happened to the centrist Barack Obama when he dared to once use the phrase "spread the wealth." Accused of being a socialist (as if that is the worst thing you can call anyone), some of his right-wing evangelical opponents might take a moment to read the Gospel of Luke.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
We have arrived at the mean season, very, very mean. Nasty. Ugly. The rich are turning on the poor and selfish individualism is being made our state religion. Politics is now being dominated by those who don't think a society's people need care for one another, see the connections between one person's or one community's suffering and the enrichment of someone else - though these connections are obvious, and become more obvious with each measure passed in our state legislature this year.

What bothers me is that I just don't see any real effective pushback. I mean, a lot of angry people got arrested at the Capitol yesterday disrupting the vote on the voucher stuff, but where is the discourse that really speaks to the growing selfishness and isolation of the wealthy? Where is the discourse on the economy that puts what is happening in its real context? Where is the counter to this philosophy of rugged individualism that is pervasive and represents nothing real in this world?

Because none of us - not a single one of us - is an isolated individual, and everything we do has cause and effect. And right now, the things being done in Madison will certainly have effect - they will deepen the suffering all around us, further deteriorate the quality of life in our state, widen the chasms among us, and make for one difficult future in this beautiful state.

It's disheartening. To see politicians appealing to the worst in us, to see the ugly discourse rise to the surface like this - it's disheartening. Hard to win back what you lose. We have to start thinking about how we are going to live here in a fundamentally new way. Those of us who care about these things have got to come together in a broader and deeper solidarity with a different vision to guide us than the one guiding the Repubs in Madison right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment