Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Season of Discontent

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

This election season has been cast as the season of discontent, voters angry about rising taxes under President Obama (they’ve actually gone down on the federal level, truth be told), angry at Obamacare, angry about unemployment, angry about a stalled economy, angry about illegal immigration, angry about incumbent politicians more interested in grandstanding and fighting among themselves than solving our nation’s problems.

But in a very real sense this election is at least a short term referendum on our devotion to our fellow human beings, particularly the less fortunate. Too many people seem to be okay with the idea this would be a better country if we simply cut social services, if we ignored the decay in our infrastructure and our school systems, if we abandoned the democracy of health care for all, if we permitted wealth to accumulate in the hands of a select few while the rest of the populace suffers through decreasing assets.

If you didn’t see 60 Minutes on Sunday, you missed two excruciating reports. The first, by Scott Pelley, focused on Newton, Iowa, devastated by the loss of Maytag due to outsourcing and other businesses. Even the part-time mayor lost his full-time job when another company plant reduced its work force. Pelley concentrated on how the fallout from these closing and layoffs forced small business owners to cut staff to the bone, in turn forcing some to shut down completely. Anyone who has had to meet a payroll, to manage workers, knows any layoff is traumatic, more so for the employee, but also for the supervisor. Having to pare my staff by 25%, having to let go wage earners who were either the primary or sole providers for their families, made my decision to retire that much easier. If you watch Pelley’s report, you’ll see pain and anguish in the eyes of small businessmen and their families.

The second report, by Leslie Stahl, exposed the hypocrisy of the political system. Stahl interviewed David Stockman, architect of the Reagan tax cuts, the largest in history. Stockman chided Republicans for adopting a mantra of no new taxes and reducing current taxes at a time of deep budget deficits. He skewered them for wanting to extend the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, the top 2% of the country. Democrats, as well, came under attack for not being truthful about the need to raise taxes on the middle class.

In case you’re wondering, the quote at the top of the blog is nearly 50 years old. It’s part of the 1961 inaugural address written by John F. Kennedy and Theodore C. Sorensen. Sorensen died Sunday. Too many of his progressive thoughts might die as well if the country turns to the right in voting today as polls are predicting.

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