DISGUST with the execrable U.S. House of Representatives, presided over by Republican Tea Party Congressman John Boehner, was caricatured in the New York Daily News cover page of October 1, 2013. The cynicism of Boehner-era Washington is likened to a bitter roman à clef—the popular television series “House of Cards.”
‘We won’t wait. We’ll do it now.’
Happy New Year! Exit the ‘Raw Deal’ in 2014
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2014 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near America
According to my calendar, prognostications are in order for life in United States in this fresh New Year. This time around, I offer only two insights to 2014—Prediction I, already clearly evident in the person of the mayor of New York City, and Prediction II, which will provide the whole nation a good great sigh of relief.
First: socio-economic justice will be the “defining challenge” of our time. Second: right-wing ideologues of the U.S. House of Representatives, a legislative body that registers a six percent voter approval rating in three major opinion polls, will be ousted from office in the November federal elections—returning rationality to the Congress; as well, perhaps, an impulse for decency.
The late President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) coined the locution defining challenge back in 1964 in the cause of persuading an earlier Congress to enact critical programs constituting his declaration of “War on Poverty,” an initiative derided and attacked—then and even now, a half-century later—by those who advertise themselves as followers of the famously merciful Jesus Christ, yet who deny the poor everything but disdain.
One way or another, directly or indirectly, every American is a beneficiary of justice seen to by Mr. Johnson. His vision was to extend and perfect the social welfare programs created by his Democratic Party predecessors in the White House: Franklin D. Roosevelt and his “New Deal” of the 1930s, Harry S. Truman and his “Fair Deal” of the 1940s. In their time, too, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman knew virulent opposition to their initiatives on the part of the Republican Party.
Upstanding Christers of the modern-day Republican Tea Party—a confederation of frightened bluebloods and xenophobic thugs—has bound the Congress in legislative constipation. The party line is to kill or maim, or at least stall, any proposal in furtherance of America’s fundamental purpose: “[T] to form a more perfect Union, establish justice…promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” as it is written in the preamble to the Constitution.
But with the dawn of 2014 comes Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who won landslide victory in the mayoral election here in New York, following twenty years of regressive Republican regimes. Against the conventional wisdom of political operatives—more accurately, “wisdom”— Mr. de Blasio earned a whopping 74 percent of the vote by decrying a neo-Dickensian state of affairs wrought by the plutocrats and xenophobes: an untenable “Tale of Two Cities,” as he put it—a city of multi-millionaires and the rest of us: the rabble priced out of penthouses running of late to $90 million (€66 million) and tenement flats at twice the national average for monthly rent.
As leader of America’s most important city, headquarters of the country’s media and financial establishments, Mayor de Blasio ascended immediately to a national pulpit. He was quick to preach a sermon very much in the spirit of Rooseveltian-Trumanesque-Johnsonian populism.
In his inauguration address of January 1, delivered at high noon from the marbled steps of City Hall in lower Manhattan, the mayor referenced illustrious New Yorkers who shook not only New York, but America and the world—
Nearly a century ago, it was Al Smith who waged war on [unfair] working conditions and child labor. It was Franklin Roosevelt…who led the charge for unemployment insurance and the minimum wage. It was Fiorello La Guardia who enacted the New Deal here on the city level, battled the excesses of Wall Street, and championed a progressive income tax. [I]t was New Yorkers who challenged the status quo, who blazed a trail of progressive reform…who took on the élite. [Today] we are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities…When I said we would take dead aim at the ‘Tale of Two Cities,’ I meant it. And we will do it.
We won’t wait. We’ll do it now.
In a country where income inequality has reached proportions not seen since the 1920s and financial chaos not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s—where recovery from the criminal manipulations of Wall Street, from 2008 onward, redounds overwhelmingly to a wealthy sliver of the populous—Mr. de Blasio’s message resonates profoundly.
There is little mystery in that. Everyone knows what has transpired since 1980, when a right-wing president retired from second-rate Hollywood pictures brought “morning in America,” as he called a Zeitgeist in which the rich became richer, the poor became poorer, and the middle class grew increasingly acquainted with the gutter. Call it the “Raw Deal.”
No starker contrast between the New York of millionaires and the rest of us was seen than upon the day following Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration—January 2, when a blizzard driven by the freakish polar vortex swamped much of the country in snow. Mr. de Blasio busied himself with one thing while his immediate predecessor—ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sat scowling through much of his successor’s inaugural address outside City Hall—was busy with quite something else.
Mr. de Blasio, a man of modest means, shoveled snow from the sidewalk in front of his vinyl-sided, one-bathroom, mortgaged row house in Brooklyn.
Mr. Bloomberg—the multi-billionaire owner of un-mortgaged, multi-million-dollar townhouses in Manhattan and London; ocean-front mansions in Bermuda and Long Island; a rambling farmhouse in upstate New York; and a mountain-side mansion in the Colorado ski resort town of Vail—rounded up his girlfriend and the stand-by pilot to his $28 million (€21 million) Mooney Bravo private jet and flew off to Hawaii, en route to New Zealand, for two weeks of playing golf.
The election of Bill Clinton in 1992, as first Democratic president since Mr. Reagan, fell short of helping close America’s gaping economic divide to any significant degree.
During eight years of the Clinton administration, what remained of union-wage manufacturing jobs moved to Mexico, or else China and the cheap labor states of southeast Asia. Stock traders and bank swindlers became legally free to convert Wall Street into a badly-run gambling casino that risked the home mortgages of ordinary people as collateral for brainless bets. The result: record home foreclosures sparked the Great Recession of 2007, from which most have yet to recover and by which the wealthy have flourished.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in a survey released late last year, personal income for America’s richest one percent increased by 201 percent since Ronald Reagan won office in 1980 and commenced a reign of cruelty-with-a-smile and peasant-be-damned. Over the same time period, working- and middle-class incomes stagnated; in the practical sense, these incomes diminished because they did not keep forward pace with normal rates of monetary inflation.
For the very poor—who, if they can find jobs, work for today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (€5.31)—conditions are disastrous: adjusted backward for inflation, the minimum wage of 1980 would be $10.75 (€7.88).
Among the one percenters are the members of Congress. More than half of them millionaires, according to an analysis this month by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C. The median net worth for the five hundred-thirty men and women of Congress is $1,008,767—up from last year’s median of $966,000. (The difference, $42,767, is close to the overall median annual income for Americans not on the payrolls of Wall Street or Congress.)
These dark and dicey days, the non-rich tend to have their assets all tied up in survival. And they have come to a much fuller appreciation of the most notable dialogue penned by the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940). In his Depression-era novel of 1934, “Tender is the Night,” a character articulates the pecuniary nature—
makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.
Teapublican boobs in the House of Representatives, indentured to the armaments industry and organized money, will drown in a tsunami of public disgust come November. (In the upper house of Congress, the U.S. Senate, a Democratic majority is expected to remain.)
A flip of merely seventeen seats in the House is sufficient for progressives to wrest parliamentary control. Together with the Senate, the nation’s business could then be put aright. According to an October 2013 survey of House prospects in November by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, North Carolina, a Democratic candidate would likely defeat a Republican Tea Party incumbent in twenty-one of twenty-four districts.
But by no means will the contest be easy.
Teapublicans are not intelligent; like rodents, however, they are single-minded, and consumed in self-preservation. With minimal appeal to voters outside a shrinking demographic—white males aged fifty and over—the Republican Tea Party nowadays looks for electoral success by way of two shadowy back doors.
The party’s Washington bagmen grease local government hacks with “donations” in return for their contorting the boundary lines of Congressional House districts in their states for the benefit of conservatives, so-called. Extra helpings of grease are heaped on state hacks agreeable to adopting election laws strategically calculated to suppress the vote in precincts not known to pull the Republican Tea Party lever—neighborhoods that are home to African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly and infirm, and the poor.
So it will be difficult. But not impossible.
Dreams have been lost to the Raw Deal, too many dreams. Yet still the Republican Tea Party—until November controlled in the House by Congressman John Boehner, a terminally cynical man—calls for ever more loss. People are sorely aware of this.
People know that “conservatives” slashed the availability of low-interest federal loans for college students; reduced food assistance to single mothers and their children, the incapacitated, and the poor; shut down the government for nearly a month last year; cut the well-earned benefits of military veterans sent to pointless foreign invasions that bloat the exchequers of war profiteers; offended women, homosexuals, and racial minorities (viciously and continuously); campaigned (viciously and continuously) for repeal of the nation’s long-needed health care reform statute—which they call “the worst thing since slavery,” among other disparaging things; refused to extend unemployment insurance benefits to the jobless; and held gun manufacturers blameless in the epidemic slaughter of America’s schoolchildren.
People have died, and dreams were lost. But dreams have a way of living on in America, which is a beautiful thing. And we Americans have a beautiful history of contesting dream-snatchers.
A righteous and growing force will stun those too insensitive to feel shame for what they have done, and failed to do; too stupid to see what is coming; too stupid to heed the well-known counsel of the late Paul Wellstone, a professor of political science who served as a U.S. Senator from Minnesota.
“The future will not belong to the cynics,” said Mr. Wellstone, who died in a plane crash twelve years ago. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag