By Ted Braun
In this interim period between the political conventions and the election, our nation's mood is one of great anxiety.
First, there is the great deficit hole we've dug for ourselves. In January 2001 when Bill Clinton left office with a $236 billion surplus, President George W. Bush took us into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without a plan to pay for them, which will add some $3 trillion to our national debt. At the same time, the wealthiest people in our nation were given huge tax breaks, adding another $1 trillion to the deficit over a ten-years period. The effective tax rate the wealthy are now paying is the lowest it has been in several decades. Our large corporations today are also enjoying record-breaking profits, thanks to huge corporate loopholes resulting in a massive loss of federal income. Meanwhile, our military spending, one of the causes of our present day deficit, has tripled since 1997.
Second, there has been growing economic hardship: losses in the area of jobs, pensions, housing, and health care. Tuition and fees at four-year colleges have climbed 300 percent between 1990 and 2011, adding a great debt burden to young people as they consider jobs, marriage, and the start of families. Just as the very time when a strong social and economic safety net is needed, there is talk about reducing (or privatizing) Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other governmental spending programs to help reduce the deficit.
There is a myth in our nation that frames the way some Americans view this turn of events: the myth that our nation was founded on meritocracy and that one's mobility and success are a sign of one's value and ability. On one side of our society are the successful, productive people, the job creators, the makers; on the other side are the failures, moochers, the takers, and those who depend on government programs to prop them up. Chief liturgist of this viewpoint was Ayn Rand who condemned the idea of ethical altruism, preferring instead the "virtue of selfishness." According to her, taxes and regulations reduce the incentive for the best and brightest of our society. Unfortunately, there are a number of leaders in our nation who are disciples of Ayn Rand.
Third, our electoral process is seriously flawed. On this past September 11 former U.S. president Jimmy Carter issued a blistering indictment of the American electoral process, stating that it is shot through with "financial corruption" that threatens democracy. "We have one of the worst election processes in the world right in the United States of America, and it's entirely because of the excessive influx of money." The dynamic is fed, he said, by an income tax code that exacerbates the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the electorate, allowing the rich even greater influence over public discourse and electioneering. In his indictment he lamented the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that allows unlimited contributions to third-party groups that don't have to disclose their donors. An unlimited tsunami of money is now flooding political contests as every level, not just the national election.
Another part of this flawed electoral process is the photo ID requirement for voting, our modern equivalent of the poll tax hurdle once in place in our nation. A report in the news this past week stated that there are an estimated 500,000 voters in Pennsylvania without valid photos. It is questionable whether that many will be able to get the required identification before voting day.
Fourth, lest we think that we'll still be able to survive this interim period and ensuing election without too much disruption and threat, along comes journalist Chris Hedges to add to our national blues. In a September 24 article he writes, "Corporate power, no matter who is running the ward after January 2013, is poised to carry out U.S. history's most savage assault against the poor and the working class, not to mention the Earth's ecosystem."
Hedges describes the "cash-drenched charade of a two-party democratic election."
"All the things that stand between us and utter destitution—Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants, Head Start, Social Security, public education, federal grants-in-aid to America's states and cities, the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and home-delivered meals for seniors—are about to be shredded by the corporate state. Our corporate oligarchs are harvesting the nation, grabbing as much as they can, as fast as they can, in the inevitable descent."
Let's see what happens.