Letters to a Senator

“We are the first generation to leave our kids worse off than we were. How did this happen? Why is there such a wide distance between the rich and the middle class and the poor? What happened to the middle class? We did not buy boats or fancy cars or diamonds. Why was it possible to change the economy from one that was based on what we made and grew and serviced to a paper economy that disappeared?”

Those are the words of a 69-year-old woman, written to Bernie Sanders. They appear in At Grave Risk, Bob Herbert’s New York Times op-ed this morning.

For all our focus on what is happening in Wisconsin, which is certainly important, let us not lose sight of what has already happened, to far too many.

As Herbert puts it at the beginning of his column, which you MUST read,

Buried deep beneath the stories about executive bonuses, the stock market surge and the economy’s agonizingly slow road to recovery is the all-but-silent suffering of the many millions of Americans who, economically, are going down for the count.

going down for the count – an image from the boxing ring, where one of the competitors has been knocked out, or, if you prefer, down and out.

Those here know that Bernie Sanders would read letters like this. He personally responds to stories like these. He has been screaming for years about what is happening to ordinary Americans.

He is unusual. Too many of our political leaders are too focused on the next election, on not offending those whose financial and political support they want for that next election.

In the meantime, consider other words from that opening paragraph: all-but-silent suffering – the stories that somehow our media ignore in favor of the manufactured assemblage of tea party types.

Yes, the destruction of unions over the past few decades has been a part of it. So has globalization. Both are the product of mindsets that cross party lines, that focus on “economic competitiveness” to the degree that everything else becomes subservient. Thus we have a Democratic administration whose focus on education is framed in terms of international competition and which place such emphasis on STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – in a way that surprises considering how many in those fields are currently without jobs. It is a corporate wet dream to have an oversupply of labor that is unprotected by unions and by government to drive down their labor costs.

Corporate interests, and their lackeys – in the Republican party to be sure, but among far too many Democrats – frame their arguments in terms of greedy workers, in industry as well as in education and other government functions. Having unconscionably slashed benefits to their own workforces they now seek to turn those workers again the few people who still have full benefits, government employees. This kind of turning out of power groups against one another is an ancient practice of the rich and powerful in this country. Among the landed gentry of the South, it was to turn the white working class against the blacks. Racism was a convenient tool then, it remains one today. Only now it is not just blacks, but Hispanics, foreigners of all stripes. Never mind that many of the rich benefit directly from the work of undocumented aliens, as a certain state-wide Republican candidate in California illustrated last year with household help, and as one Republican presidential aspirant trying yet again for his party’s nomination illustrated with the lawn service he used.

We read of the angst, the depression, the approaching desperation in the words offered to Senator Sanders.

“All we want to do is work hard and pay our bills. We’re just not sure even that part of the American Dream is still possible anymore.”

People want to work, yet unemployment, if calculated honestly, is well above 10% and likely to remain there for many years. In some communities it is over 20%. What do people with family ties there do?

Instead we continue to waste trillions upon unnecessary military expenses and endeavors. Iraq and Afghanistan have financially burdened our progeny to an extend of national indebtedness unimaginable when I was the age of the teenagers I now teach. Yes, we assumed great burdens during World War II, but when that war and the fighting in its offshoot in Korea came to an end, we taxed ourselves and paid down that burden on future generations. We had incremental tax rates of more than 90%. We even forgave the debts European nations owed us through the Marshall plan. And the nation thrived economically.

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