Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Is the American Dream A Lucid One?
Jim is the quintessential Midwestern guy. He grew up in a small town in Iowa, one like so many across our nation where you can walk from one end to the other and never meet a stranger along the way. In Jim's town, made up of people whose livelihood comes from the land, the virtue of hard work is etched into the consciousness of the people at an early age. Folks in Jim's home town understand that hard work is the key to unlocking the promise embodied in that timeless refrain from our American Declaration of Independence - the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Many people, from small towns like Jim's to vast urban expanses like Chicago, feel as if the promise made by our Founding Fathers is slipping further and further away from them and their posterity. America has become a debtor nation that imports nearly 3 times as much as it exports. Foreign investment from former Soviet Russia, Communist China, and Islamic republics such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)is at an all time high. The richest, most prosperous 1% of Americans enjoy unprecedented tax breaks while the bottom 99% are on the edge of financial disaster daily. Couple this with the perpetual fear of terrorist attacks from unseen enemies, the infiltration of the U.S. by illegal immigrants, and the continued role that our nation's history of racial intolerance plays in relations between and amongst its citizenry, it is no surprise that there is a well-spring of fear and distrust brewing in middle America towards our elected officials and, sadly, towards each other.
The inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's first black President was hailed by many as the ushering in of a new order in Washington. As Obama iterated many times in hypnotic prose during his campaign to throngs of supporters, change had finally come to America. To the complete and utter surprise of many of his followers, the change that candidate Obama promised to bring with him from the Windy City to our nation's capitol was not permanent, lasting reform but simply a change in the subject. President Obama has not only continued to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has expanded America's presence and financial obligation in those regions. When the fat cats on Wall Street were finally caught holding the ball on years of shady deals and bad investments and our nation's car manufacturers were faced with the impending consequences of years devoid of innovation, Obama and his heavily corporate funded administration put together a tax payer funded $700 billion bailout package to alleviate their culpability. All of this comes as nearly 10% of American workers are unemployed with little to no prospects for future employment, many more are underemployed and can barely meet their daily necessities, and Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate bicker about whether it is fiscally responsible to extend Emergency Unemployment Benefits to laid off workers whose initial benefits have run dry. This comes after nearly a decade of government expansion and spending under the George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama regimes.
It was no wonder that Jim was worried about the state of his country for his two teenage children when I spoke with him after Friday's Cubs/Phillies game at the new Sport's Corner in Wrigleyville."I don't hate him because he's black. There's not that many black people in my town for me to reference. My next door neighbor is black and we get along just fine. I strongly dislike his politics." Jim is active in the Tea (which stands for "Taxed Enough Already") Party movement, a political offshoot of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party that came about partially in response to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the recent series of health reform bills.
Like many Libertarians, Jim is a social liberal and fiscal conservative. He is an ardent supporter of protecting individual rights - "I could care less what two men, two women, or a combination of the four do in the privacy of their bedroom. That's something that our elected officials and these nut job evangelicals that support them shouldn't be putting their hands into" - and maintaining tight purse strings when it comes to spending the public's money. Jim's fore parents were immigrants from Ireland. He knows that the hopes and dreams of millions upon millions of people are made manifest by a mere glimpse at Liberty Enlightening the World from her perch at Ellis Island. He in enamored by the perceived unwillingness of immigrants to do things "the right way". "I don't have a problem with people wanting to come to America looking for greater freedom and greater opportunity but for them to come here illegally, continue to have babies, and expect me and other hardworking taxpayers to subsidize their stay is completely irrational and that's the current state of immigration policy in our country."
When our discussion turned to the Wall Street bailout and the government takeover of the automotive industry, it became evident that there was conflict between Jim's politics and his profession. Jim told me that he's worked for Morgan Stanley for over 20 years as a financial analyst and feels that blame should not fall solely on the shoulders of the financial warehouses. "Did greed on the part of a few bad apples help to create the economic collapse? Yes. Tell me this though. What about the people who were making $40,000-$50,000 a year but decided that they deserved a $200,000 house and a new car without having the equity? They deserve some of the blame too, right?" I told Jim that there is definitely culpability on all fronts but, as the experts on complex financial tactics such as stock swaps and as the gate keeper for loans and mortgages, the financial institutions should bear the brunt of the responsibility. I asked Jim if he thought the bailout of the banks was in line with his political views. "No, but what were we supposed to do. Let the entire system crash?"
Jim was really interested in my political views and to say that he was shocked by my responses would be a huge understatement. I explained to him that I was a Libertarian that has been heavily influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand, which expouse the divinity of the individual man and hold productive work above all else. I believe that we all have the right to pursue the American Dream but are not guaranteed the tools to achieve it. That is where our intelligence, ability, and will to succeed must necessarily come in. The biggest minority in America and throughout the world is not a particular racial, religious, or socio-economic group. The most endangered species is the individual human being and his/her individual identity. This is evidenced by the collectivist modus operandi (individuals are subservient to the homogeneous mass known as "the state" or "society") that is currently the dominant socio-political philosophy of Western-style democracies and developing nations around the globe.
I explained to Jim that I believe the shift from the sovereignty of the individual to the primacy of the state or society has its genesis in a substantial shift in our nation's monetary policy by virtue of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which ceded the U.S. Treasury's and Congress' constitutional right to coin money and set its value to 10 private banks with absolutely no connection or obligation to the federal government. The second blow was dealt by the 32nd POTUS Franklin D. Roosevelt in the form of the First (1933) and Second (1934-36) New Deal. These programs were implemented in the wake of the Great Depression under the guise of providing a social safety net to the most vulnerable elements of society during economic downturns. Both incarnations of the New Deal focused on the 3 R's: relief, recovery, and reform. The benevolent intentions of FDR and his administration aside, the New Deal was the single greatest expansion of government power since the Civil War that saw the creation of dozens of alphabet agencies, the largest amongst those still in existence being the Social Security Administration (SSA), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
I also voiced my displeasure with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark piece of legislation that outlawed unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public ("public accommodations"). While the intentions of the legislation cannot be doubted, the social and political repercussions are immense. In my opinion, forced desegregation caused bitterness on the part of white citizens who were not prepared for mixing in public spaces. It also enfeebled black citizens who, during Jim Crow segregation, were forced by necessity to develop their own doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, skilled laborers, etc. The greatest blow was not dealt to one racial group or another but to the free market economy. Rather than allowing those businesses that refused to serve a segment of the population eventually succumb to decreased revenues and the sweeping tide of change, our elected officials chose to manufacture progress. As former Arizona Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater once famously stated, "You can't legislate morality."
So, now, here we are in an age where there are as many lobbyist on Capitol Hill as there are elected officials. Every special interest group, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to the National Rifle Association (NRA) has a mouth to the ear and a hand in the pocket of a congresswoman and Senator looking for their slice of the entitlement pie. Elected officials are judged more for how much pork from the budget they can carry back to their communities as they are on their personal philosophy and moral base. The word sacrifice has been stricken from the nation's vocabulary. Need more money to buiid a highway in Alaska? Don't worry about how to pay for it. We'll just borrow it from our children's and grand children's Social Security fund. Need to expand Unemployment benefits? No need for tax increases. We'll just fudge the numbers and add them to next year's budget.
It's extremely unpopular and unpatriotic in contemporary political parlance to say that it is not the government's responsibility to put food in every mouth, clothes on every back, and provide a job that pays a livable wage to everyone regardless of ability. It's taboo to admit that America's immigration policy is schizophrenic - on the one hand allowing workers from India, China, South America and Europe with skills that our government finds desirable to come here and, often times, over stay their welcome but don't allow those dirty Mexicans and Central Americans to cross our borders as they flee inhumane working conditions at sweatshops set up by multi-national corporations from America and political regimes propped up by American money. The so-called conservatives will scream bloody murder if you suggest for one second that a woman has an unalienable right to choose what to do with the product of her body.
Our elected officials - Democrats and Republicans alike - are not in the business of maintaining our safety and sovereignty, keeping our moral compass calibrated, and thus preventing the whole of civilized society from falling in on itself in a drunken, gay, interracial orgy. They are about grabbing, consolidating, and holding on to power and control indefinitely. The looters of this world found out a longtime ago that it was easier to wait for the mature minds of the world to create and innovate before they swooped in to steal the profits and glory than it is to work, toil, bleed, sweat, lose sleep and, possibly, die for the fruits of our labor. The looters in our country are like vultures and hyenas feeding in perpetuity at the carcass of the American taxpayer. They need not do more than create an ever present enemy or a natural disaster before the terrorized, scared citizenry opens up the coffers and gives their representatives carte blanche to do whatever needs to be done to make the uncomfortable feeling go away.
"You should really think about running for office," Jim exclaimed after I had finished delivering my Libertarian treatise. "An articulate black guy with conservative values would go over well in my town. Hell, I'd throw in the first $50,000 for your campaign." I asked Jim if that was the case then why didn't more people support J.C. Watts, the former republican Senator from Oklahoma, who is also black. "Everybody was drunk off of the tech money flooding in from Silicon Valley. Now that everyone is broke they'd vote for your shit in a paper sack if it talked as good as you."
A black guy's shit getting elected to public office. If that's not the American Dream then I don't know what is.