My personal memories of 2010 will be less than stellar; outside of the growth of this blog there is a paucity of professional accomplishments to celebrate. Politically, 2010 will stand as one of the most confusing years in the history of our nation. The hallmark of this year is the level to which political message has risen above real political action and governance. This is the year where the transformation of political parties has come to fruition. Once instruments that supported and nurtured a set of principles, Democrats and Republicans have outgrown their simple and honest purpose. Principles are now defined and crafted to suit the ambitions of the parties.
Republicans have long been proficient at political branding; indeed, the conservative success of the last thirty years is linked directly to their ability to push Democrats away from their own name. But 2010 stands as a shining example of that talent in action. In 2008, Americans had reason to firmly reject the notions of supply side economics and interventionist foreign policies that conservatism had wrought. The Republican Party was dead, the pundits declared, and it would be a long stay in the wilderness before they returned. President Obama’s pragmatism and ability to work across the aisle (demonstrated in the Senate), would preclude real controversies. Domination of the Senate and House by the Democrats would allow for the orderly procession of problem-solving legislation. 2010 culminates a very different 2 year period from the one predicted by the pundits.
Much of the political commentary and rhetoric of the past several years have featured variations on the same theme; the (pick your villain) poor people, union workers, public employees, illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes (or don’t pay enough). The next statement typically involves some mention of how any demand that successful individuals and businesses pay more in taxes, and thus subsidize the welfare of those lower people, is class warfare. Commentary on the benefits and fiscal logic of progressive taxation is, alas, fodder for another post. This post is specifically about the foundation for these political attacks.
Everyone pays taxes…the only things certain in this life, Franklin said, are death and taxes. In these United States, the majority of the taxes we the people pay fall into the conservative definition of a fair tax. With one notable exception, all of the institutions financed by these universal and absolutely flat taxes are in fiscal trouble. Social Security stands alone as a flat tax-supported program that is solvent. Its sister program Medicare, while supported by the same mechanism, finds itself the victim of the highest continuous single-industry inflation rate in the history of the world. State and local programs, financed almost exclusively by flat sales taxes, flat property taxes, flat fees, nearly or totally flat state income taxes, and various gambling schemes, are also on the outside of solvency looking in.
After a year of health care battles, financial clashes, immigration dust-ups, tax compromises, treaties, and the repeal of DADT, the President of the United States is embroiled in the biggest controversy of them all; his verbal support of the Philadelphia Eagles for giving Michael Vick a second chance. One might be moved to wonder about the consistency with which we the people are willing to apply the Christian value of forgiveness. Just over two years ago George W. Bush, on behalf of we the people, forgave the criminally bad management (and just plain crime, for that matter) of the entire Wall Street investment banking industry. President Obama, in similar fashion, forgave the equally tawdry practices of the auto industry just less than two years ago.
The actions of both of those groups cost far more damage to human life and liberty than anything a second rate hustler like Mike Vick could pull off. I suspect more than a few dogs and cats have suffered in the recession triggered and then exacerbated by the artists formally known as business geniuses. But then, this news story isn’t really about forgiveness, vengeance, or crime; like everything else coming from the totality of the U.S. media, this story is about the story. President Obama didn’t call a news conference, take out a full page ad in the New York Times, or send out a mass email to his supporters to advertise his “support” of the Eagles. Mr. Obama made his comments in a private conversation with the owner of a private business. Despite the sedate nature of the comments, the opportunity to stir up another juicy presidential controversy has the media ratings monsters drooling all over themselves.
Advocacy groups like the A.A.R.P. have long been on the leading edge of the fight for the rights of older Americans. The right to self-determination, driving privileges and, especially, the right to work as long as one is able are all cornerstones of that fight. Americans, however, have long cherished the right to retire from one’s lifetime labor before injury or sickness forces the choice upon them. Retirement security is therefore a principle concern of our democracy, and so remains a political hot potato.
We live at a time when the war on the working class has brought pensions squarely into the cross-hairs of politicians and pundits looking for scapegoats and an easy fix. In the past, it was the working poor and jobless who bore the brunt of the economic blame that so often circulates during tough times. Today, working class Americans with careers in industry, law enforcement, fire protection, the military, education, and state and municipal services are being attacked because they earn decent wages and benefits that include retirement security. This malevolent scrutiny is added to the cynical attacks mounted by Wall Street interests on Social Security. The promise of dignified retirement that is so critical to the American way of life is under dire threat.
On the bright, beautiful morning of September 11, 2001, I was tasked with remerchandising the cold beer at a drug store in Henderson, Nevada. The job, needless to say, did not go the way I thought it would. That morning I was at least nominally in charge of a crew of 4 gentlemen drawn from the other major wholesalers in Southern Nevada. On a normal day, the chatty group was boisterous; a constant stream of complaints and “suggestions” about the set that I designed (usually “suggesting” where I might place it), chit-chat about family, rants about football, and stories told by resident historian Frank filled the air.
On this day there were no conversations about beer, no ribbing about sales or football. The work was done with a quick and barely concealed anger; the only discussions were over whether the bombs we dropped on Afghanistan would be nuclear or conventional. On that day and the days after, America was focused and united; we knew what our shared task was. We would hunt done those who attacked us, and relentlessly work to secure our nation against any such attack in the future. It might be that answers come easier when the bullets are still flying, because September of 2001 seems to be the last time that our shared task was so straightforward.
It is one of those myths that Hollywood just can’t get enough of; Robin Hood and his merry band of woodsmen. Different writers, directors, and actors have put their stamp on the character; some looking to create good entertainment, others trying to be “true” to history, still more trying to make a statement about the world. It is the latter, those entertainers that dare to dabble in allegory, that built the simple character of English folklore into a powerful symbol of political strife.
The various stories leave us with a multitude of questions, and all have a bearing on the politics of our 21st Century democracy. Did Robin Hood steal from the rich and give to the poor? If he was the earliest example of wealth redistribution, was his pursuit noble or nefarious? Did Robin Hood simply steal back money taken by the rich from the poor through evil taxation? Was Robin Hood the first know example of a liberal Democrat, or were the dashing rogue and his merry band the earliest incarnation of the Tea Party?