The time to fight is now
“Heaven ne'er helps the men who will not act” -- Sophocles
One of sharpest of the many good and original signs held by participants at a pro-union rally Feb. 26 at the Minnesota Capitol was this: “There's oil in your tea.”
It goes directly to the greatest irony of all the apparent ironies in our escalating war between informed citizens and the irrational deniers of fact who have been suckered into helping the financial aristocracy – including oil barons such as David and Charles Koch -- destroy our poor and take down our middle class.
Wisconsin is the present focus of the conflict, but the war is going on all across the northern two-thirds of the country. (The super-rich won easily, long ago, in the deep South and parts of the West; what's going on there is just a mopping-up and maintenance operation.)
The spectacle of millions of Americans fighting with passion and rage against their own interests, as well as the interests of everyone who isn't very rich, all but paralyzes many liberals and even sane conservatives.
“They can't be serious,” some folks say. “They don't understand what they're doing.” “Don't they get that they'll be ruined along with the rest of us?”
In truth, it is stunning to be faced with such total lack of logic, such complete absence of what we (ironically) call common sense as we see in the signs of tea party ralliers who tell us to “Keep government out of my Medicare.”
If you can't argue facts, since facts they don't like don't exist for the suckers of the far right, and you can't use logic, a concept they never grasped, how do you fight for sanity in government and fairness in politics?
Some gentle types, taking a lead from our craven “Capitulation Are Us” president, want to have a “dialogue” with the dummies rather than fight, hoping that calm discussion will change the minds of at least some of those who worship at the feet of Glenn Beck and believe that the “Tea Party” is a popular uprising of patriots.
Some think it's a matter of “framing” the issues in a way that will be understood by the boobs.
Well, let's grant that Democrats, to whom many liberals unfathomably still look for help, are lousy at explaining or selling good policy. Even if they could (or wanted) to do that job, it wouldn't win this culture and class war, or even keep us in the battle.
People you see carrying the tea party-type signs, the counter-demonstrators (few as they are) in Madison, those who plug in endless “unions are rotten relics of the past” comments on online discussion boards and write searing letters to editors about the “laziness” and general uselessness of all government employees are not even slightly touched by reason.
They know what they know and that's what they know, even if it is the most extreme nonsense.
That is because the things that motivate them, folks, are fear, envy and worship of those who are rich – the latter a true American religion, more deeply held than the Christianity that many loudly and mostly falsely profess.
(How many of the radical right's leaders, clergy and politicians, have been caught almost literally with their pants down in the past decade or so, or with their hands in the till, or both, and how many of those same clergy and pols have devoted themselves to cheating and grinding the poor into the dirt, contrary to what the Bible says were Christ's teachings?)
One of the most effective tactic of people like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – demonstrably a characterless cheat*, by the way – and his owners, the Koch brothers, is to fan the flames of envy that some people feel for others.
Envy, I learned long ago, is a powerful human characteristic.
I worked once for a very small daily newspaper in a small town in the heart of farm country. Something I learned there, and have confirmed over and over in the ensuing 50 years, is that rural people are sure that the people in cities are cheating them. They believe deeply -- although it is demonstrably the reverse – that cities are sucking up their tax dollars while they get nothing back from their states or the states' metropolitan areas.
People in “red” states, where Republicans rule, believe down to their toes that people in “blue” states – where Democrats tend to win elections – are gobbling up their tax dollars when, in fact, the numbers show that states like California and Minnesota pay more in taxes than they get back in government services and people in places such as Mississippi and Tennessee get far more in public money than they pay in taxes. It's been that way for many decades; we in the “liberal” states subsidize the redneck states.
People who are barely literate and work, if they're lucky, at strictly physical jobs, are angry that educated professionals make more money than they do. Lots of people are mad as hell that teachers earn middle-class incomes (in some areas; that's often not true in country towns). And – partially because the right wing propaganda mill has been beating out this theme for decades – a great many Americans are absolutely sure that all government employees are grossly overpaid.
That Barack Obama committed a shameful act of politicial theater by freezing the pay of federal employees confirmed to many that they were right in that belief.
And so there is support for Scott Walker and his counterparts in Ohio, Texas, New Jersey and elsewhere when they set out to destroy the unions of government employees. There is enthusiasm for the idea of unilaterally breaking employee contracts and cutting pensions that people have worked for and counted on for decades. There is joy at the idea of destroying public unions – and thus, inevitably, all unions.
And the lies are believed.
I'd guess that a substantial majority of Americans believe government employees are paid considerably more than their counterparts in private employ for the same work at the same levels of education. It's flatly not true – public employees, in fact, make almost 25 percent less, on average, than those of comparable education and experience, than do those who work for businesses.
In many cases, public employees have had their unions negotiate better pensions than their privately employed counterparts, and they have paid for those pensions through lower take-home pay. (Although their total earnings, including pensions and other benefits, still are generally lower than those of corporate employees.) And now the right wing wants government bodies to break the deals and cut the pensions. Contracts? They're only to be honored if they're between rich guys – and you can't count even on that.
It used to be that when people saw a group of their neighbors get raises or improved pensions through collective bargaining, they figured they'd get the same improvements before long. But we've been hammered with right wing “everyone for himself” propaganda for so long that now a majority get angry when someone else's situation improves. “If I don't have it, nobody should get it,” is the obvious popular attitude.
OK. That's envy.
The fear that drives people to support the right-wing plutocrats comes from many places, in many forms, as everyone likely to read this already knows.
Americans love to think we're all cowboys – independent, smart, strong and brave.
Somewhere in the back of our heads, most of us know that the majority of Americans are, in fact, ignorant of the world and constantly afraid.
Think about it. We've been under “orange alert” for most of the past 10 years. Polls show that many Americans are willing to give up Constitutional rights and freedoms to be “safe” from terrorists, although we've had only one genuinely successful attack in this country by foreign terrorists – and that could have been prevented under existing law and rule if the Bush administration had done its job.
Huge numbers of Americans are afraid of immigrants, not for the generally stated reasons, obviously, but because the immigrants are in some way “different.” They're black or brown-skinned, or follow a religion that is considerably different from Methodist, Baptist or Roman Catholic, or simply have different cultural mores. We've never been comfortable with “different,” and many of us are truly frightened by the fact that the country no longer looks as it did 40 years ago.
Ye, gods! A black man, a black family, in the White House! That alone makes many people fairly wet their pants in fear, and it doesn't matter what he stands for (or doesn't).
It's enough to make millions set their jaws and do whatever the big money manipulators tell them to do to “win back our America.”
And here's another truth seen as blasphemy in ostrich America: Many Americans really, deep down, don't want their kids to do better than they have done in life.
I discovered that truth while working on the Minnesota Daily, the daily student newspaper at the University of Minnesota, roughly fifty years ago, and have heard it confirmed repeatedly ever since.
(See essay below this one.)
The fight in the states between right-wing operatives such as Karl Rove and financial aristocrats such as the Koch brothers and their foot-kissing servants such as Scott Walker on one side and the people who work for a living on the other has awakened some people from their television-induced comas, and the will to survive has brought some of those people to cast aside their fear, but most people in this country are just digging deeper into their holes at this point.
We've heard quite a lot over the past years about how those good folks in North Dakota and the Minnesota prairies and Kansas simply are not liberals and how we have to pet them and curry their manes to get them to vote for Democrats such as right wing Rep. Collin Peterson, from Minnesota's seventh district, and, yes, corporate servant Barack Obama. And never mind that such people sell us out time and again to big money interests. Somehow a Democrat who takes away our ability to buy our own homes or is eager to kill contractually negotiated pensions is supposed to be better for us than a Republican who does the same thing.
Nuts to that.
We need to do a hard sell of the facts. We need to rub the noses of the tea partiers and their sympathizers in the messes they have helped to create and show them that if they buy garbage they eat garbage. We have to counter the massive, hugely expensive propaganda campaigns of the super rich who intend to own this country, including all of its people, very soon.
The battles taking place in Wisconsin and elsewhere now give us an opportunity to counter the lies – to make some points even through the dimwitted oafs of the corporate press. But we also have to spend – to donate to the outfits that now are running television ads in Wisconsin to counter the ads bought with Koch money. We must give through the nose to other, similar campaigns. And we have to stand up and be heard, in local groups, at social occasions, anywhere we can get an audience of one or more.
This is it, I think -- the last chance or pretty close to it.
To hell with those nice, dim relatives in North Dakota and Kansas, folks. Raise your voices to be heard by people who can still think, and who can see, or be shown, that the present fight is their fight. Win a few battles, and then the facts will seep through to those who are, for now, so frightened of change they cannot think.
*In case you missed it, which is more than likely, given how little coverage it has received: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gives a variety of excuses for having left Marquette University as a young man without getting a degree. The truth, as was recently reported by Truthout and other organizations, is that he was “asked to leave” the school before his senior year. The reason was that he cheated and defied campaign rules while running for student government president at the university. One of the things he did was have some of the similarly unethical punks who worked on his campaign pick up and throw away almost all of the copies of the school's student newspaper when it endorsed his opponent.
This leopard is still wearing its original spots.