In June of 2009, The Rational Middle premiered on the national stage. Of course, by national stage, I mean 12 readers per day…well, maybe 12 readers per week. Right at the outset, the notion of government both big and small, interested me. The role of perception in how big government is defined was the subject of an early post, Other People’s Big Government. Human nature being what it is, our own plans are usually superior to those of our fellow citizens, and their plans are typified by the reckless endangerment of our liberties and way of life. I have written the idea often, but the point remains; in a nation of 300 million, everybody’s absolute liberty is impossible to maintain. The Stones had it right; you can’t always get what you want.
But if you try really hard, you really can get what you need. And that idea friends, is what our arguments should revolve around. The major problem now, is that our problems, dreams, ambitions, and issues have been marginalized in favor of ad-friendly soundbites. Our democracy is being talking-pointed to death. The phenomenon of the day is an outgrowth of how detached we the people are from our own ability, our own right, to chart the course of the nation. It may make perfect sense to establish policy that rewards personal responsibility and ambition within the working class, it makes none to structure an economy that favors only the most wealth-defined successful within the construct. This is precisely the path we have taken over the last three decades, and the results of the journey ought to be self-explanatory.
Painting by Max Peter
There is a pervasive line of thinking in American politics today that says government regulation is an impediment to personal freedom. Adherents to the pure faith of libertarianism have long argued the point; social conservatives eager to appease their pro-business brethren have long co-opted the point. This notion is the central consequence of the idea that all government is separate from the people, and mandates that no form of government can ever reflect the ideals of a people.
Lacking in this conversation are any mentions of what personal freedom is, or who it applies to in our society. In 21st Century America, the conservative arguments on personal freedom center almost exclusively on the right to earn and retain wealth. This economic focus departs from the pure libertarian ideal that encompasses all personal liberties, but serves nevertheless as the foundation of the entire argument. The conflict not addressed, that personal liberties of diverse peoples necessarily conflict with one another, is the conflict that we resolve via a government.
Much of the world we know is defined by its mythology, and politics is no different. Perhaps my favorite bit floating around the ether goes something like this; “The recession was caused by greedy Americans who make too much money and demand unsustainable benefits, while producing little of value. These people are not Wall Street brokers or big ticket bankers.” That’s right friends, the enemies of all that is good and wholesome, apple pie and baseball, are no longer poor people with no prospects and less work ethic. Step right up into the modern world, where working folks who have solid wages and benefits are the bad guys.
This brave new world we live has a really neat new math to power it as well. It would have to though, wouldn’t it? Basic arithmetic just doesn’t support the common contention, in both conservative thought and a brain dead national media, that purposely deflating wages would be the economic wonder drug that works wonders. The basic arguments that conservatives seem to be making on this subject are difficult enough to swallow, but the follow up arguments they are forced to make when their math breaks down are priceless. This isn’t high powered stuff here either, this is basic arithmetic…I promise.
For years, America has been treated to a steady attack on poor people. When bad things happened over hill and dell, you could bet that poor people were the cause. White poor people in Appalachia, brown poor people in the Southwest, and black poor people everywhere; where there was crime, despair, or peeling picket fences, there was poor people. Poor people, it seemed, were poor because they didn’t like work. Poor people were poor because they were lazy. As with many arguments, there were, and are, nuggets of truth to the claims. Some percentage of the poor, perhaps even a significant percentage, were and are lazy. But much of the focus on the poor was of a political nature.
Democrats, starting in the 1960′s, began to specialize in getting the poor vote. Republicans, beginning with the Reagan Democrats in 1980, started drafting working class Americans to vote against programs perceived as catering to the poor. Class division, after all, is such a wonderful tool for creating electoral momentum. But we have moved past the poor in today’s America. Much of the architecture set up to ensure help for the poor has fallen by the wayside; even our education system is being pushed out of relevance. Nowadays, the political powers that be have picked out a new target; the working class.