Everywhere I looked I kept running into this question of a lack of civility in a politics that has become so polarized the American people cannot see those they disagree with as even being on the same planet much less members of a common body politic.
This past weekend Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, first lady and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden had been invited to be grand marshals at a NASCAR event. Both women have been working hard to get more aid to returning veterans and their families in a bi-partisan effort. They were booed lustily by the crowd while an army sergeant and his family were rightly cheered. Even though the crowds were hardly supporters of Michelle Obama’s husband’s administration, they could have afforded the first lady and her vice presidential counterpart a respectful silence when they were introduced.
Newt Gingrich, Republican frontrunner for President of the United States assessment of the Occupy Wall Street protestors is that they are lazy people who need to get a bath and get a job, ignoring the fact that long struggles with unemployment and the courage to dramatize the part played in their common lot by Wall Street is the more accurate assessment. In fact, Gingrich’s statement was a politically tone deaf response to what the Occupy Wall Street Movement is all about and why it is present on the American political scene. It was also stridently mean spirited as when so many Republicans charged the jobless over the past few years with being lazy and uninterested in work.
Distinguished presidential historian, Dr. Douglass Brinkley of Rice University was testifying before a Congressional Committee concerning plans to drill for oil in a Federal Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Professor Brinkley had camped in the refuge and had some observations to make about the wisdom of drilling there. An Alaska Congressman on the committee referred to Brinkley as Mr. Rice leaving both his academic credential out of how he had asked to be identified, and getting his name wrong. The Congressman even suggested that it was “garbage” that was coming out of the mouth of Mr. Rice or ah, Dr. Brinkley. The professor did not take these insults quietly. He pointed out what they had gotten wrong and told the Congressman that it was he who worked for citizens like Brinkley and not the other way around. He said “you don’t own me.” The Congressman’s language and manner in addressing him was reminiscent of days when African-Americans of distinction had their credentials in life disregarded and were the object of discourtesy by members of the dominant racial group. Professor Brinkley is white. The committee chair essentially told Brinkley to shut up and just take whatever insults members may wish to make to those testifying before Congress.
Governor Scott Walker and his business allies are spending millions of dollars already in their campaign to portray his administration as a model of ethics and his policies as striking successes. Walker also responded to the presence of over thirty thousand protestors seeking recall signatures to launch a recall election as lacking in civility and wasting the taxpayer’s money.
The original injuries to public employees in the entire State of Wisconsin with the sudden and previously unannounced end of collective bargaining and the illegal manner in which the law was rushed through the legislature in the deep of the night. Walker’s taped phone call with a man he thought was one of the Koch brothers, of Koch Industries. indicated he was completely under their influence and even seriously thought of putting provocateurs in the masses of people protesting at the State Capitol to help turn the crowds to violence and discredit them, totally ignoring the immorality of these things and the real threats to the safety of otherwise peaceful protestors.
A Republican Party careening at high speed further to the political right of the spectrum in a vicious and deliberately mean-spirited attack on the American Middle Class and on anyone who is not fully aligned with them has seriously breached the social contract.
Most Americans commonly accept an American Dream where people have a family supporting job; they work hard, and are rewarded with wages that keep their families stable. If they cannot work or when they become too old to work they rightfully make use of a social safety net created in the Franklin Roosevelt New Deal depression years of the 1930’s with Social Security, and with added dimensions added during the Johnson years with Food Stamps and housing assistance and welfare for the truly poor, and Medicare and Medicaid for both elderly Americans and the poor, a product of the 1960’s. Law abiding and hard working citizens not only can obtain these “entitlements” that a portion of their wages pay for. Their taxes pay for the rest. Americans also agreeably supported their republican form of democratic government because they knew the people they voted for would look out for their interests and well being. And Americans want to own their own homes and live securely in them.
What have they got instead in the last thirty years, and increasingly in the last ten, is a Republican Party and business community hostile to all these things and anxious to blame the victim for all of the nation’s problems.
The Congressional budget super committee first seeks to badly cripple both Social Security, which itself is not contributing at all to the budget deficit, and to seek huge benefit cuts in Medicare.
The United States Supreme Court with a clear 5-4 conservative and big business court gave us Citizens United that makes it possible for large corporate donations to go unreported to candidates in any manner chosen. Yes, Unions can also contribute, but the real net effect is to empower the rich and the corporate side of our nation. Elected representatives now listen primarily to those who pay for electing them The average citizen is left out in the cold and the social contract of a government of the people by the people and for the people, and where they give their consent to be governed is shattered.
When the banking system in the United States and the housing market both collapsed in 2008 it was not because homeowners were misbehaving or not paying their mortgages, it was because Wall Street had been speculating on the real estate market, creating a huge bubble that was bound to burst. Derivatives were sold and mortgages and the likelihood of people defaulting on them became themselves commodities to be bought and sold. Whenever excessive speculation (high risk investments) dominates a derailment of that market is a certainty. Many of those on Wall Street not only were betting on disaster for the housing market, they stood and did make a great deal of money on the loss and foreclosure on millions of American’s homes. They still are. “Let the foreclosures go on,” Mitt Romney says. His buddies on Wall Street have not pocketed all their ill gotten gains yet.
Millions of Americans are out of work, and millions more are working in jobs well beneath their skills or for fewer hours then they need to support their families. The median income of Americans dropped ten percent in the last decade, the first such drop since 1954, and some fifty-seven years. This one promises not to be temporary. People are unable to make enough consumer purchases to support the job growth that is needed.
The response of our Republican representatives in Congress is that huge cuts in Federal spending will get you a job; or that large new tax cuts for “job creators” AKA millionaires and billionaires and their runaway corporations will set things right.
The confused mass of the citizenry who think that when demand for goods and services increases in the economy business would be forced to hire them back are looked at as idiots who do not understand high finance. When the President, whatever you may think of him, proposes and champions modest programs to spur hiring among police, firefighters, and teachers, and to help returning veterans get jobs, along with infrastructure improvements designed to get construction workers back to work his opponents do not even seriously consider a vote on the measures.
Is it any wonder that our politics is polarized and that civility toward one another is at an all time low? When John Boehner says that his Democratic counterparts are on some other planet it is not because they have moved away from him but that he and his party have moved away from the broad social contract previously supported by the vast majority of American citizens. Gosh darn it, that broad support for what we’ve discussed here as the social contract is still supported by the broad mass of Americans but Republican leaders are not listening. Their tone deafness on hundreds if not thousands of public questions is breathtaking.
You can’t be civil to people that are taking away everything that permits you to support your family and a dignified life and retirement.
When the American Middle Class is being smashed to bits on the rocks of Tea Party corporate speculation on our property or what remains of it, and deficit cutting and tax cutting carnivals of doom the rest of us are well, going to be a trifle upset.
Please permit a glaring lack of civility in response to your glaring lack of civility and common sense. We’ll start being civil and putting away our protest signs and expectations of pepper spraying arrest when you people get your act together and start thinking in terms of the greater public interest and public good and not the interests of a privileged few.