Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Nation Full of Fear and Blaming

I've been keeping one eye on the Republican primaries lately, bemoaning the lack of a decent GOP candidate--interestingly, with both my liberal and conservative friends alike. Why? This crop of candidates is running on a platform of fear and blaming. And why not? The "hope" and "change" promised by Obama has been largely unrealized (many of his strategies have been blocked by Congress time and time again); many of the people of this nation, unemployed or underemployed, have come to feel disgusted by their own government. Government seems ineffective and stuck in gridlock and partisan bickering. Meanwhile, the deficit keeps hovering in the background--not to suggest that it's not something to be concerned about--and our government is threatening to get the budget under control by slashing and burning: privatize Social Security, or raise the retirement age to 70, make drastic cuts to Medicare, keep defunding education (or pushing for privatizing that as well).

"But wait," people are saying. "My employer and I have, in good faith over all these years, had money taken out of my paychecks to fund my Social Security and Medicare. Now you're saying when I retire that the programs I was promised won't be there?"

Oddly, Obama is taking the blame for this when he has, in actuality, been resisting the idea. The idea to privatize Social Security and to cut social programs of all kinds are Republican strategies. Obama has, however, been willing to negotiate deals with the Republicans in order to get other things done. Reforming Social Security and Medicare are back on the table. Thus, many fear what the future holds for them--that is, unless they happen to have millions of dollars on hand.

And our fear is being compounded by a lot of the current talking points. Iran is said to be developing nuclear weapons, though naturally Iran denies this and says it's nuclear energy they're working on. Since the United States under George W. Bush committed the first "preemptive strike" it's ever committed by invading Iraq (claiming there were weapons of mass destruction present, which turned out to be untrue), it now appears some politicians accept this precedent as a great idea and are calling for us to bomb Iran. Blow up their nuclear facility. But is this good policy, or are they only talking tough and saber rattling because it's an election year? If we bomb Iran, Iran will likely retaliate. They may not attack us; it's more likely they'll attack Israel; but since the US is an ally, sworn to protect Israel if it is attacked, we'll find ourselves right in the middle of yet another war.

So much for the deficit. Once upon a time war was a somewhat profitable venture, even though we had to borrow money to conduct it; at least war would create jobs and get Americans who weren't fighting to work in factories. Well, wars aren't profitable ventures anymore. The government lately conducts its wars by contracting with the large defense firms and by contracting with shady entities (remember Blackwater?) to do some of the dirty work. The money flowing into other countries to prop up the war machine is often misused, and contracted jobs are shoddily done and unreasonably expensive. The money doesn't flow back into the American economy. It flows into the hands of the contractors, many of whom aren't hiring Americans to do the work (remember Halliburton? Remember the millions of dollars of missing equipment)?

So now another war looms on the horizon--if you're bothering to listen to some of the political hawks. Well, we've still got a mess in Afghanistan. (Bless Obama for finally getting us out of Iraq.) We are not making things better in Afghanistan, not when we have our own soldiers going postal and massacring civilians. The majority of Americans want us out of Afghanistan as it is (Obama got bin Laden; mission accomplished, finally; why are we still there?) And yet some of our politicians are calling for another war?

What about unemployment here? What about jobs? What about our futures? That's what Americans are concerned about, yet the political dialogue is about everything else BUT these things. Aren't our politicians listening to us?

Mitt Romney ran Bain Capital and claims as a businessman, he knows how to balance budgets and create jobs. Really? He also broke companies up for profit and put lots of people out of work. He doesn't talk about the specifics of HOW he would accomplish the things he wants to accomplish. (Obama, on the other hand, did have a Jobs Bill, but the GOP did not cooperate in getting it passed. Instead, they stalled on issues such as not removing the Bush tax cuts for millionaires. They keep pushing the stale idea that tax cuts create jobs, but who is swallowing it? The wealthy have had those tax cuts through two Bush Administrations and all of Obama's term so far, yet where are the jobs?) They're in Singapore, China, and India... they're creating them everywhere but here.

Most Americans--Republican and Democrat--actually support rolling back the Bush tax cuts, and even Michelle Bachmann insisted that the tax rates should be where they were when Reagan was President; then our economy flourished. Really? I'd go for that myself. Because when Reagan was President, the tax rates were HIGHER than what they'd be even if Obama rescinded the Bush tax cuts.

Gingrich's great idea is to drill, baby, drill, so we can produce more oil ourselves and be less dependent on the Middle East for our energy, and he's sure he can create tons of jobs doing this while bringing the cost of gasoline down to $2.50 per gallon. Then again, he also thinks we should put a base on the moon and start mining there, or something to that effect--it was such an off-the-wall, expensive idea that even all the Republicans I know were laughing at that one. I think it's been shown repeatedly that even if we drilled like crazy here in the good ol' US of A, we would still be producing what is essentially a drop in the bucket in comparison to all the oil we actually consume. The hard truth is that we need to find other sources of energy or else cut back on our consumption.

Ron Paul's solution to the deficit is simple: stop giving foreign aid, period; stop involving ourselves in wars; dismantle government until it's teeny-tiny, and don't approve spending for anything. Well, is it really a good idea to throw the baby out with the bath water? Some government regulation is a good thing, unless you don't care that we have clean air and drinkable water. And people who want to keep their Social Security and Medicare and other govt benefits can't be too crazy about Paul, either. (He won't be nominated anyway; he doesn't belong to Wall Street in the way virtually every other politician does. The way it works right now is that our govt works in collusion with corporations and the big banks. They drive the economy; we are at their mercy. The Founders actually warned about this, but we have long since gotten stuck in this quagmire. There's no easy way out of it.)

And then we have Rick Santorum, who has no ideas about anything except that he wants to blur the line between separation of Church and State. He wants to outlaw abortion, outlaw gay marriage, outlaw birth control--or at least make these things as hard as possible to get. What this has to do with jobs or the deficit is beyond me, but he sure does have plenty of ideas to get our "moral house" in order, since, according to him, Satan is attacking the United States.

No wonder we're all fearful and frustrated. And with those feelings comes ANGER.

People are uncomfortable with fear and uncertainty. No one is offering any real solutions to our problems. We don't deal well with these feelings of discomfort, and we will do anything to make them go away. (I should know; I spent the better part of my adult life trying to drink anxieties and uncomfortable feelings away.) When we are fearful, we are at our worst. We start looking for things to ease the discomfort. The easiest way to do that is to scapegoat others, to blame others for our problems.

So: it's the gays, it's the loose women, it's the welfare recipients, it's the damn illegal immigrants, it's the Muslims, it's the Jews. (Oh wait. We're not attacking the Jews; that was Hitler's strategy for getting support when Germany was in a situation similar to ours after WWI.)

It's textbook political strategy: divert attention away from the real conversations that need to take place (the deficit, lack of jobs, flat wages for the middle class), and get the populace all pissed off and afraid. We point fingers at each other and our minds snap shut.

We are in the midst of a fear-driven, frustrated, angry backlash right now--against women, against gay citizens, and against science and education. What are we in, the Dark Ages? When we have a Presidential candidate saying that Obama is a snob because he wants a college education--or at least higher education, training beyond high school to prepare students for jobs, many of which are technical in nature--we have a problem. When college professors are scorned and seen as "elites," a "pack of liberals who are indoctrinating students to be liberals," we have a problem. (I also have to wonder how my Republican colleagues feel about being lumped in with the rest of us like that, who are assuredly not "indoctrinating" anybody.) But no, when we have one political party insisting "intelligent design" ought to be taught in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution ("it's just a theory," they say, thereby making clear they are clueless about scientific theory and how that operates), and when we have one political party insisting global warming is a farce conjured by Al Gore because... well... because I guess Al Gore hates big oil? I'm not even sure what their reason actually is or even if they have a reason), when the science overwhelmingly demonstrates that yes, it is happening, what is wrong with us? I once heard a well-meaning very conservative Christian say, in all seriousness, that he wasn't worried about global warming because if we were in any danger, God would intervene.

God would intervene? Did God intervene when six million innocent Jews were slaughtered during the Holocaust? Did God intervene when the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did God intervene during the black plague, which wiped out a good portion of Europe long ago? Since when did God ever intervene to correct anything that happens on this planet? I'm afraid "God's terrible non-intervention" (to quote one theologian) is the consequence of humanity being granted free will, and with that comes having to suffer the consequences of the stupid things we sometimes do.

So, what to do? We have to start insisting that WE THE PEOPLE direct the dialogue, not the politicians or the pundits on the cable channels. We have to start insisting that politicians start doing the job they were elected to do: represent the people. Stop representing Wall Street and stop representing the doctrines of your Church. Represent your diverse constituents. We don't actually want much.

I know what I want. I want a country in which people are free to do as they choose, without interference from either govt or the church. The only restriction on personal freedoms should be: do as you please as long as what you're doing is not hurting anyone else. I want everyone guaranteed basic human dignity and respect. I want a level playing field, for every American to enter the job force having had an equal opportunity to gain the education or training he or she needs, and I don't want "the system" gamed against anybody. I want affordable health care; I'm tired of reading about people being bankrupted when someone in their family gets ill. I want a secure retirement and the opportunity to build a nest egg that isn't placed into the hands of some crook on Wall Street who will gamble it away. I want a decent Armed Forces in the event we are attacked; but I don't want us to be the police of the world (that's the job of the UN and the ICC) and pick fights all the time, endangering the lives of our sons and daughters for causes that are not rational and have nothing to do with our own protection or nothing to do with human rights. (In fact, I want NO MORE WARS unless Congress actually declares a war, the way it's supposed to work.) I want people to take responsibility for their own lives, but I also want to see us have a social conscience too, to care for our fellow citizens. Since we all do contribute to the well-being of America with our tax dollars, I want so see that money spent in responsible ways and not be squandered by government. We wouldn't resent paying taxes so much if we felt we got something back for our money in return: I want our schools well funded; I want our roads to be drivable; I want our bridges to be safe; I want to see American workers ply their trades for compensation that is fair based on their skills and experience and to not have their employers take advantage of them in the name of greed. I want to live in a world where the drugs I take for illnesses won't make me sicker; the food I eat hasn't been poisoned and is safe. In short, I want our government to work FOR us.

I don't think I'm asking for much.


Rita said...

Very well said. I even found myself agreeing with some things that I don't really agree with.

Joyce said...

LOL! Honestly, I think most of us want the same basic things... but boy, do the politicians like to make us all think we are MILES apart. Nobody is ever going to agree 100% on every last thing, but there is more than enough common ground on both sides of the aisle for the two parties to get along if they really wanted to. Some days I wonder if the public just isn't being played by all the grandstanding in order to make us think we have a choice, but in fact we kinda don't. There are no easy answers, but I guess I'm just getting sick and tired of the divisive political "sound bites" and political ads that tell lies or create false impressions, etc. I wish there'd be a genuine attempt to educate the American public about "Look, here's the situation. Here are the options. Nobody will be completely pleased, but we can negotiate this and that in good faith, and that way everybody gets something." I don't know whether they just underestimate the American public or what.