Where We Stand in America

[This post originally published for Shane Brooks’ blog, “Whiskey With My Coffee.”]

This week, I saw something different on television. This week, I saw a man, paid by a large multinational corporation to talk about national events on a major corporate cable news channel, lose his mind. And while he may not have intended to set a fire under middle-class Americans, that is precisely what happened.
MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan, host of the Dylan Ratigan Show, went off the rails when one too many guests spouted political talking points, ignoring the reality facing our nation. Here’s a small taste of his comments:

“This is not some opinion; this is a mathematical fact. Tens of trillions of dollars are being extracted from the United States of America. Democrats aren’t doing it, Republicans are not doing it, an entire integrated system, financial system, trading system, taxing system, that was created by both parties over a period of two decades is at work on our entire country right now. And we’re sitting here arguing about whether we should do the $4 trillion plan that kicks the can down the road for the President for 2017, or burn the place to the ground, both of which are reckless, irresponsible, and stupid… It’s being extracted through banking, it’s being extracted through trade, and it’s being extracted through taxation, and there’s not a single politician that has stepped forward … to deal with this… I would like [President Obama] to go to the people of the United States of America and say, “People of the United States of America, your Congress is bought, your Congress is incapable of making legislation on healthcare, banking, trade, or taxes because if they do it, they will lose their political funding and they won’t do it.”

Apparently, his inbox flooded with support. And fair enough, because what he said was both intensely honest and something most of us probably do not expect from a cable news host in the post-Kieth Olbermann-on-MSNBC-Age. (How sad that I just wrote that most of us do not expect honesty from our news programming…) For more on the Dylan Ratigan rant see my post, “Dylan Ratigan: American Moses” at my home blog, “Solving America.”

It is on the heels of this momentary lapse into honesty that I sit down to write my first post for “Whiskey With My Coffee.” And in honor of Mr. Ratigan, this writer thinks a double-shot of truth may be on the menu…

Our country’s government is broken. It is clear as we look around us that no political system, rooted in the tenets of democracy and promising a voice to its people, could be said to be in working order and remain this dysfunctional. In a nation of over 300 million people, far less than half of eligible voters, or in a banner cycle perhaps sixty percent, take part in electing 536 people to make our decisions for us. The candidates for those positions are chosen, not for the content of their character or the boldness of their ideas, but for their ability to talk a good game, ferret out photo-ops, and most importantly, raise mounds of cash from donors who can afford to give them the legally allowable limit.
Our country’s economy is broken. The richest 1 percent of households earn as much each year as the bottom 60 percent combined. The median household income in this nation is around $50,000 per year, barely enough to survive. And yet, some of the most profitable corporations in America, including Exxon Mobil, Bank of America, and General Electric, earning profits in excess of $25 billion combined, paid zero dollars in income tax last year. All three of those corporations actually got refunds.
There is no doubt that the United States of 2011 faces a crisis unprecedented in its history. Never has so much wealth been concentrated in the hands of so few. And while the wealthiest of the wealth, the moneyed interests who helped create this system through a cycle of corruption, buying members of Congress, and the White House, and then extracting wealth through their patronage, are free to jump ship at any time, taking their trillions to whichever port will harbor them next, the American middle class–the people who built this country, educated its children, constructed its roads, clothed and fed its masses, and provided the purchasing power to prime the most powerful economic engine in the history of this world–are left to drown.
Those who survive will be the ones that rally together, ending their dependence on a system that cares little, if at all, about their fate. Those who survive will do it by ending their desperate need to be part of that system. These are truly the Dark Times, but the future can be brighter. We must make that future for ourselves. “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” A famous politician recently used that quote. It was never more true than it is today.

Dylan Ratigan: American Moses

In the Book of Exodus, the Hebrew religious leader Moses was charged with the unenviable task of asking Pharaoh to release his people from their bonds of slavery and then, after Pharaoh consents in the face of divine persuasion, leading the Hebrews out of captivity to the land promised them by God Himself.

Of course, leading a large group of people involves more than walking in a line and hoping they follow you.  As any leader of men will tell you, not everyone is willing to follow.  One can imagine that the Biblical prophet encountered a lot of those who doubted his leadership, questioning the intelligence of leaving a land as comfortable as Egypt, with its fertile lands and flowing Nile River, to wander into the desert, even if it meant the end of their enslavement.  Further, many of Israel’s Children probably balked at the notion that they should trade one set of rules (Pharaoh’s) for another set (God’s) when all they may have really wanted was a chance to live freely, and at their own pace.

Yes, leading people who are not interested in following can be a challenge, even dangerous.  Few individuals risk this exercise anymore.  Those who dare invite change and challenge to the status quo are often visited by hardship, scorn, and a sudden and immediate lack of career advancement.  Of course, others, if they plan things appropriately, are convincing in their actions and arguments, and receive the support of enough people in enough numbers, can, in fact, change the world permanently.  When these changes are for the betterment of society, it is the duty of those who would be led to give their public support to those who are trying to lead them into a better future.

That is why this author invites you today to consider the recent action taken by Dylan Ratigan, host of MSNBC’s “The Dylan Ratigan Show.”  In his August 9, 2011 program, Mr. Ratigan played the part of an American Moses, speaking openly and honestly about his understanding of the US Congress: that it is bought and paid for by corporate money.

It is pretty clear from watching the video that Mr. Ratigan had reached his breaking point.  This doesn’t seem like someone who woke up and said, “I’m going to go off script and tell everyone who will listen that the US Congress is bought.”  Indeed, it was the deafening exchange of the Democratic Strategist and the Republican Strategist, spouting their talking points, talking past each other as well as past the American people, that caused Mr. Ratigan to say what many of us believe.

So, why were Mr. Ratigan’s comments so profound and potentially important in the history of American political dialogue?  It is significant that this idea was shared on a mainstream, middle-of-the-day news program.  This wasn’t some crackpot ezine author.  This wasn’t “Loose Change” or “Zeitgeist.”  This was a respected host, paid by NBC for his ideas.  It is very possible that Mr. Ratigan placed his career in jeopardy for speaking the truth (see Kieth Olbermann, or even Norm McDonald).  That is exactly why all of us, including your humble correspondent, must speak loudly, publicly, and authoritatively in support of the ideas Mr. Ratigan floated yesterday.  Shout it from the church tops!  Plaster it on your Facebook page!  Get behind this man, and let the President, as well as Congress, know that we agree 100% with what he said.

Or not.  I hear the Nile River delta is nice this time of year…

This is What Democracy Looks Like?

An interesting clip in the New York Times this morning (“Disapproval Rate for Congress at Record 82% After Debt Talks”) reveals some fantastic information about the attitude of the American people towards their elected representatives in the Federal government:

  • “More than four out of five people surveyed said that the recent debt-ceiling debate was more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country.”
  • “Nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the United States in the world.”
  • “72 percent disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress handled the negotiations.”
  • “66 percent disapproved of the way Democrats in Congress handled negotiations.”
  • President Obama’s disapproval rating was 46%.
  • “The Tea Party is now viewed unfavorably by 40 percent of the public and favorably by just 20 percent.”

According to the article, the 82% disapproval rate for Congress is the highest it has been since the New York Times began asking these questions 34 years ago, and is even higher than when the Federal government actually shut down in 1995.

How can Americans feel this way without rioting in the streets over the outcome of these negotiations?  When three-quarters of voters disapprove of both parties, there is time for a change.  It is instantly clear that both Parties choose to serve their moneyed masters over the American Will.

The Crux of the Problem

And so, we emerge from a dark week in Washington, when many millions of Americans saw their greatest fear realized.  No, not a default on America’s credit.  This humble author believes such a default was never going to happen, and that this whole “crisis” was, to an extent, blown out of proportion by the mainstream media for political purposes.  Rather, Americans’ greatest fear was that their desires would not be considered by the elected officials who approve bills and sign laws in this country.  Example: in a recent CBS poll conducted before the deal was struck, that 66% of all Americans, including 55% of Republican voters, believed the deal should include both spending cuts and revenue increases.

How did we get the deal we did in the face of numbers like that?

The crux of the problem is that the government we’ve elected is not interested in compromise.  Consider the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) from the floor of the Senate, as discussed in this recent Mother Jones article by Andy Kroll (“Man, That Debt Ceiling Fight Sucked! Let’s Do It Again!”): “[McConnel] … described the Republican tactic of refusing to raise the debt ceiling in order to extract favorable concessions as ‘a new way of doing business in Washington.'”

It would hardly be fair of me to reference McConnel’s words, and the actions of other Republicans like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and the Tea Party caucus, who were willing if not hoping for the government to default as a way of proving their point / drowning government in a bathtub, Grover Norquist-style, without acknowledging that Democrats were equally complicit in the final deal.  After all, Democrats control the Senate and any legislation that is passed through it, and the President still holds the power of his office, at least for another few months, to sign or not sign legislation that he believes is or is not in the best interest of the country.  The action of Democrats like President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are starting to reveal a pattern.  The only question is, what pattern is it?  Is it a pattern of unwillingness to stand on principle (something Democrats have long been accused of, and something which may cost them electorally in the future as well as in the past) or a pattern of gleeful compliance with conservative principles?  This writer will allow for the remote possibility that Democrats believe $2 trillion in cuts with no revenue increases are in the best interests of the United States and her people.  If that is true, then the pattern they exhibit is one of willful dishonesty and hypocrisy.  This writer will reserve judgment on the Democrats at this time, while acknowledging that, to their credit, Republicans don’t pretend to believe that we should maintain a social safety net for the poorest, sickest or most elderly of Americans, nor do they pretend to believe in putting politics before their constituents.  Republicans deserve credit for being honest about their intentions, if nothing else.

And so, we finish where we started this morning.  As Andy Kroll suggests in the article cited above, this protracted budget fight is just one scene in a more complex space opera of political battles, electoral fights and conspiracy-laden, Citizens-United-fueled campaign attacks that will pepper our lives for the next 18 months.  The questions this correspondent will consider today are “what recourse do We the People have” and “who will stand up to all of it?”