April 17, 2011
For the title of his article in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz has borrowed Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, “ . . .of the people, by the people and for the people . . .”
His essay is called “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%, “ a title that’s currently more accurate than Lincoln’s famous line by billions of taxpayer dollars, but who’s counting? Certainly not working and unemployed Americans who still support Republicans. Maybe there was a time the GOP considered the interests of working class Americans, but today’s Republicans have given up any semblance of being a party of the people. The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the richest Americans, a church of the top one percent.
But first, let’s be clear. The leadership of the Democratic Party is as culpable as Republicans in the corruption of our political process, but it at least still maintains a vestige of U.S. working-class sensibility. The corruption in American politics is deep and bi-partisan; it’s just that Republicans have gone fully over to the dark side while the Democratic Party (but not necessarily its leadership) still retains a shred of working-class consciousness.
But don’t we live in a classless society?
How silly to think this today in the midst of the most gluttonous redistribution of wealth from one class to another since the days before the 1929 stock market crash and great depression. To believe we’re a classless society in 2011 is to inhabit an ideological media-fogged zone of denial. The only factions that have an interest in claiming that America is classless are those busy as a cabal of lords feverishly establishing a new feudalism: a full-fledged society of over- and-under classes.
As Stiglitz says, “The upper 1 percent of Americans is taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.”
I’d add that, in practical terms (in terms of the significance of your voice, the accuracy of information available to you, your opportunities for jobs) —if you’re a middle-class working American, you are beyond 40 percent controlled. The stock argument of conservative rip-off artists has (at least since the reign of the odious King Reagan the Charmer) been, “Trickle-down, people, trickle down. The richer I am, the better you’ll feel.”
Stiglitz again: “While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.” That’s 1 percent of New Rome living the high-life and 99 watching WWW Smackdown.
In a feudal society if you’re not a king or lord, you’re probably somebody’s dog or vassal (which my dictionary says is a “person granted the use of land, in return for rendering homage, fealty, and usually military service or its equivalent to a lord or other superior.”). I’d wager most of us these days are feeling more like vassals than lords, and many are feeling like mutts. But the corporate line is that mass of us are as lucky as Lucky in Samuel Beckett’s prescient play while they pull strings like Pozzo.
Regarding use of land, we need only meditate on the country’s current home foreclosure rate to understand the power of taxpayer-bailed-out-banking-lords: when lords are too big to fail, they make up their losses by snatching recovery funds out of the hands of vassals. Add to this the fact that most U.S. military personnel are not drawn from the ranks of lords, and it would not be strange to have a feeling of insipient feudalism.
This American lord/vassal relationship becomes more pronounced every day. It permeates the operation of our system from the Supreme Court ruling that corporations may fund the careers of politicians with founts of cash while Republicans simultaneously attack unions in state after state. GOP hostility to labor also shows in Maine, where the Republican governor insisted that a mural depicting the virtues of labor be removed from Maine’s Department of Labor! Finally, there’s Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan. His idea is to balance the federal budget by giving more tax breaks to the richest among us while wringing every last buck from programs that benefit the rest of us, including SS, Medicare and Medicaid. To see Republicans in action, you’d think American labor had no part in building this nation and, therefore, has no claim to its bounty.
In an article in Yes magazine, writer Robert Scheer laments, “The delusion of a classless America in which opportunity is equally distributed is the most effective deception perpetrated by the moneyed elite that controls all the key levers of power in what passes for our democracy.”
Sadly, it’s a delusion that affects too many average Americans who support Republican buzzword issues such as “family values” while their families are relentlessly devalued by Republican economic policy.
The bottom line is that Republicans have an axe to grind with labor because labor unions typically support Democrats and challenge corporate interests. As Rachel Maddow reported on her MSNBC show recently (4/7/11), this attack on Democratic financing is not coincidental; it’s part of a strategy of the corporate elite to muzzle the voice of average working Americans, to bust unions to kill Labor’s financing of Democratic candidates while allowing corporations to buy any politician they deem corruptible. Insistent application of this strategy will soon shut up American workers and virtually shut us out of the electoral process.
We’ve come to a lousy pass since the beginning. In America, what was good has been replaced by what’s profitable, while what is profitable is worshipped as The Good. It’s a simple matter of perspective and moral relativism for some. For instance, the Bible says that “In the beginning was The Word,” but that was obviously reported by a poet. A mechanic would probably have said the first efflorescence was a wrench. But a politician would have said the universe had flowered from a lie. Everybody loves his tool.
And lo, it has come to pass that the most sacred tool in America’s tool box is money and Republicans have unfortunately become America’s most malevolent master mechanics.
by Jim Culleny
for The Shelburne Falls Independent