October 3rd, 2008
I’ve studiously avoided the topic of politics since my feckless peers threw Hillary Clinton out with the bath water. I’ve bitten my tongue against denigrating phrases like “the bubba factor” to describe the working class. I’ve sat on my hands to prevent myself from writing diatribes against poisonous but persistent Republicans, and vaporous, elitist liberals.
I’ve tried to get behind the Democratic nominee, even though he was not my first choice. Maybe, I think, Obama’s two year campaign for the nomination while in the Senate wasn’t as calculated as it seems. Perhaps he was right when he said he couldn’t accomplish what he wanted politically while in Congress. Maybe his lack of national and international experience isn’t such a bad thing. In any case, as a lower class, gay, liberty-loving, pro-choice, pro-peace, uninsured Democrat who is swimming upstream in this corrupt, leaden economy – and who doesn’t want her government, courts, and schools ruled by religious dogma – Barack Obama became the only choice I could make, regardless of my reservations.
I knew that, so I un-bookmarked my favorite news sites, determining that outside of casting my vote there was not much else for me to do. The professional pundits would have their say a million times over, darts would be thrown and re-thrown, minds would be made-up fairly early, but barring another voting disaster like the one that was created in 2000, we would know who our future President was in November. I had, and still have, confidence that it will be Barack Obama.
Then again, I remember the polls which had Gore leading significantly, and I will never forget that we ended up with a President who did not win the popular vote. There was corruption at some polling places, problems with machines, and disputes over absentee ballots. The hanging chad debacle in Florida brought us televised images of Republican thugs, looming over vote counters like second-rate Mario Puzo characters. In the end, it was an “activist court” – the same kind of court Republicans say they despise – that handed George his imperialist crown, and allowed him to bring this country to where it is now – on the brink of a major meltdown across every board. Still, the vote was close enough to be in dispute. It was close enough to leave delegates and the courts breathing room.
As I drive around the wealthy suburbs in the heartland of Minnesota, I see the McCain-Palin signs that those living closer to the city don’t see in any appreciable number. It worries me, but more than that, it leaves me feeling angry in a way that maybe only someone else who has really struggled in the past eight years can understand.
I watched Sarah Palin and Joe Biden politely dance with each other last night. Her folksy charm, his bleached smile. Her giddy smile, his gentlemanly charm. Her soccer moms and “Joe Six Packs” to his Scranton coffee shops and gas stations. It was an easy debate, mellow and slowly paced, and from where I sit – in the living room of my rented apartment (where I’m a month behind on rent since my hours got cut) – passionless. Neither candidate exhibited a sense of urgency over any of the issues facing us today, and both seemed out of touch with a large portion of middle America – who aren’t just worried about sending Billy and Suzy to college, but about being able to provide them with essential basics, like food and shelter.
Yet the increasingly poor working and middle classes weren’t really addressed in the debate – except that Palin wants to make sure that they can’t declare bankruptcy. Here in Minnesota, bankruptcy reform included a provision stating that attorneys must be paid their fees up-front before the paperwork is filed, at an average cost of $1600. It’s a law that allows wealthier filers immediate relief, and that prevents those who are living in poverty from filing at all. That was the Republican solution to what they perceived as massive bankruptcy fraud – to give richer Americans an out while further crippling the poor, whose jobs are the first to go, who are the least likely to have medical or disability insurance, and who cannot afford to stop judgments and wage and tax garnishments against them.
Palin said there were some “good lessons” to be found in these corrupt, predatory, pro-wealthy, anti-poor times. People, she said, shouldn’t live above their means. They shouldn’t buy a $300,000 house when they can only afford a $100,000 house. Which might be good advice, if a $100,000 house truly existed as anywhere near the average anymore. Instead, a vastly inflated real estate market has left Minnesotans with $230,000 “starter homes”, and in some new developments, the tiny tract of land those homes are on aren’t even included, but are to be bought after the home mortgage is paid off. This was one of tactics used in order to create the appearance of “affordable” housing, which, in actuality, has ceased to exist. A two-bedroom rental apartment in the Twin Cities metro runs about $1200 without utilities. My daughter’s first mortgage, on a three bedroom town home, is $1600 and that doesn’t include the association fees.
In the meantime, the minimum wage is still less than $7 in most states, Target employees are still starting off at $8.00-$10.00 per hour, and bus drivers make $10-$12. The starting pay for a public school teacher in Minnesota averages $29,907. Factoring in 30% for taxes, and the cost of health insurance (if available) it is easy to see how and why so many Americans are living “above their means”. It’s the economy, stupid, and buying a cheaper brand of toilet paper and clipping coupons isn’t going to get the average working class American out of the downward spiral of debt.
The myopic Palin, though, doesn’t wish to “point the finger of blame” or “look back”. Which is odd, considering the blunders and transgressions of the Bush/Cheney administration, and the level of corporate corruption and political underhandedness during their reign. An unwillingness to admit these issues even exist doesn’t exactly bode well for a future of tackling them head-on. (Where are those missing Halliburton millions by the way?)
Someone will, I’m sure, take the time to count the number of times Palin said the word “maverick”. I lost count. McCain may have once had some maverick ideas, but his ideas today, on everything from health insurance to troop withdrawal, are ineffectual and stale, promising nothing more to the working and middle classes of this country than more of the same, for longer.
Then again, what we have from Barack Obama and Joe Biden is hope, and I feel scant little of that, particularly after Obama (and McCain and Clinton) voted yes on a (now) $800B bailout, filled with pork barrel spending, that EXCLUDED consumer protections that were part of original bill. Taxpayers will now not only be helping some of the most corrupt and predatory lenders on Wall Street, but they’ll also be shelling out $478M to the film industry for making movies in America, and $192M in rebates to rum producers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“It is completely unacceptable for any kind of earmarks to be included in this bill,” said McCain the week before he voted on the bill. Later, he said he “had to” support the plan because the country is “on the brink of economic disaster.” Eschewing Palin’s advice, McCain looked back and pointed a congratulatory finger at himself. “There were plenty of other bills that I fought against, voted against” because of pork, he said. This one, though, which takes corporate welfare to a whole new level, and which is the most massive gamble in U.S. economic history, McCain helped pass.
And Barack Obama voted right along with him, as did the majority of Congress, even while the public’s phone calls to Senate offices were running about 100-1 against. What can be said about politicians who ignore the will of their constituents, and who refuse to rise above the din of political panic to fight for what’s right, just, and proper? Even if one was to believe a bailout was the solution, there was no logical reason for the pork barrel earmarks, or the exclusion of consumer protections. I find it ironic that the two men who are promising to bring change to Washington – to end “business as usual”– have failed to do this as Senators. Instead, lesser known mavericks from both parties, willing to risk Wall Street’s disfavor and unpopularity among their peers, were the ones who stood up against the tide and said no.
There were no mavericks in last night’s debate and sadly it appears there are none on the horizon. There’s Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin – some hope for change, or more of the same. There are all the usual cliches from both sides, a disconcerting lack of substance, an unwillingness to fight the good fight, and there’s been no sense of urgency about anything other than Wall Street’s financial institutions.
As for the war, and spending for the war, I am amazed by the misleading rhetoric. Funding for the military has not just gone towards armor and equipment for the troops, it has gone to enormously expensive contracts for giant private entities like Halliburton. Voting against “funding the troops” isn’t always about the troops, but about who we’re choosing to rebuild parts of countries we have demolished, how much we’re willing to pay, and how accountable we wish to hold them.
Patriotically baiting one-liners such as “brave men and women who have died for our freedom” continue to be used to chill dissent. The awful truth is that many of our dead soldiers did not to save our freedom. Our freedom was not in danger of being taken away. While 9-11 was an unparalleled disaster on American soil, it was not an attack from another country, but from a group of Muslim extremists, most of whom hailed from our government’s ally, Saudi Arabia. Our freedom from terrorist attacks since that event can be attributed more to tightened security at our own borders than waging war abroad. Very few of the major extremists, including Bin-Laden, have been caught and even if they were, the destructive bane of radical Islam would not stop with their capture. Further, even if America and her allies could force democracy on Islamic states, there is no guarantee – and more than a strong likelihood – that it would be temporary. Islam does not separate the political from the religious, and Sharia law, which Muslims subscribe to as part of their faith, is at odds with American-style democracy.
Our want (and greed) of oil from these regions has, in so many ways, hampered the evolution of the Middle East. We have propped up dictators and made multi-billionaires out of royal families. We have funded madrassas, educated their scientists, and given technology and weaponry to oppressive armies. Our worries that the religious extremists in the Middle East will go nuclear are not without basis – yet we continue to pour money and other resources into the region for the sake of oil. At the same time, we have failed miserably in developing, producing, and promoting other forms of energy.
I am angry. Disgusted. Disappointed.
But I’ll vote for hope, even if scant and waning, because the alternative is just too frightening to consider.