In an Op-Ed article in The Times at the end of January, Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people “have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.” Americans are being asked to swallow exactly the opposite. In the mad rush to privatization over the past few decades, democracy itself was put up for sale, and the rich were the only ones who could afford it.
The corporate and financial elites threw astounding sums of money into campaign contributions and high-priced lobbyists and think tanks and media buys and anything else they could think of. They wined and dined powerful leaders of both parties. They flew them on private jets and wooed them with golf outings and lavish vacations and gave them high-paying jobs as lobbyists the moment they left the government. All that money was well spent. The investments paid off big time.
As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote in their book, “Winner-Take-All Politics”: “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many.”
As if the corporate stranglehold on American democracy were not tight enough, the Supreme Court strengthened it immeasurably with its Citizens United decision, which greatly enhanced the already overwhelming power of corporate money in politics. Ordinary Americans have no real access to the corridors of power, but you can bet your last Lotto ticket that your elected officials are listening when the corporate money speaks.
When the game is rigged in your favor, you win. So despite the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the big corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, the stock markets are up and all is well among the plutocrats. The endlessly egregious Koch brothers, David and Charles, are worth an estimated $35 billion. Yet they seem to feel as though society has treated them unfairly.
It’s a perversion of democracy, indeed, when individuals like the Kochs have so much clout while the many millions of ordinary Americans have so little. What the Kochs want is coming to pass. Extend the tax cuts for the rich? No problem. Cut services to the poor, the sick, the young and the disabled? Check. Can we get you anything else, gentlemen?
The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.
Egypt's revolution was accomplished by young people fed up with repression and lack of economic opportunity. And yet here, both young and old seem united in a quest to give corporations and oligarchs MORE power and MORE money, all in the service of the false meme of Rich People Create Jobs™. I can't remember the last time I felt that most Americans even knew what democracy meant. I remember during the Reagan years, the young woman who has since become my oldest and one of my dearest friends, who is a perfectly intelligent individual, saying "I think the president should be able to do whatever he wants without people questioning him." When Reagan started with his "welfare queen", I knew that from then on, ALL government spending would be equated with welfare. During the Bush years, people accepted the idea of free speech curtailment "at a time of war." The Koch brothers and Dick Armey and other cynical operators with boatloads of cash continue to set up astroturf groups to play to the fears of Americans who see the life they know disappearing and get them to blame "government", with the face of that government being a black man with a name they associate with Muslims. Add to that a media colossus that admits to making shit up, a remaining media environment that continually tries to emulate that formula, an educational system that is becoming less about teaching children to think critically and more about teaching them to blindly spit back what they're told onto standardized test forms, declining economic opportunity that forces people to work endless hours to prove their worth to a corporation so that they don't have TIME to question what's being fed into their ears or find other sources of information, and you get what we have today: a population that relies on government programs but insists that it doesn't; that THEIR program isn't one of THOSE programs.
Via Krugman we find this Bruce Bartlett column, including a table that shows the degree to which Americans believe that they don't benefit from government programs. Just a few examples:
60% of those who take the mortgage interest deduction
53% of those with student loans
44.1% of Social Security recipients
43% of Unemployment insurance recipients
40% of veterans receiving benefits under the G.I. Bill
39.8% of Medicare beneficiaries
Ronald Reagan succeeded beyond his wildest dreams when he pulled the "welfare queen in the Cadillac" out of the collective consciousness and turned this myth, which in actually was a wealthy white woman, into a perception that government spending = welfare.
Americans are going to find out very soon just what "smaller government" means. And they aren't going to like it one bit. But unlike the Egyptians, who wanted change and united many factions into a whole in common cause, Idiot America will continue to continue to blame black people (including the one in the White House), immigrants, abortion, feminists, and gays, while gnawing on the raw meat that Sarah Palin is gleefully tossing to them. And when they survey the wreckage of what their ignorance and stupidity has wrought, they'll wonder how such a thing could happen.
They'll still be afraid of all those brown faces in Egypt, though, because Glenn Beck told them they were the faces of an incipient worldwide caliphate.
MONDAY UPDATE: Krugman expands this into a full op-ed today.
And what they’ve been hearing ever since Ronald Reagan is that their hard-earned dollars are going to waste, paying for vast armies of useless bureaucrats (payroll is only 5 percent of federal spending) and welfare queens driving Cadillacs. How can we expect voters to appreciate fiscal reality when politicians consistently misrepresent that reality?
Once you understand the imperatives Republicans face, however, it all makes sense. By slashing future-oriented programs, they can deliver the instant spending cuts Tea Partiers demand, without imposing too much immediate pain on voters. And as for the future costs — a population damaged by childhood malnutrition, an increased chance of terrorist attacks, a revenue system undermined by widespread tax evasion — well, tomorrow is another day.
And of course they can bet that another terrorist attack will benefit them, so why not?