Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why people turn away from politics

So today in the Globe we read how the Senate has allowed the latest proposal for raising the minimum wage to die on the floor, keeping the minimum wage at the same level where it’s been since 1997. It’s $5.15 an hour, or about $10,000 a year for a full-time worker. Imagine trying to live on that amount of money. Would you choose to pay rent on the kind of dump you could afford at that income level, or would you choose to buy food? You certainly couldn’t do both.

This, I believe, provides the best possible illustration of why so many people turn away from politics in disgust. What is the point of bothering to get involved in the political process when, repeatedly, year after year, we see this kind of class warfare being waged against the non-rich? Of course, this is exactly what the Republicans want. They only want the rich to be involved in the process, because if everyone else is powerless and utterly disenfranchised – exactly the situation we’re in now – they only have to worry about making policy that suits the needs of their base. There is no accountability, because no one else has any power. This might as well be medieval England; those of us who are not rich have the same amount of clout, and the same chance of exerting our will to change the system, as the serfs and peasants of that age had in relation to their monarchy.

Ordinary people turn away from politics in disgust because they see that for all the rhetoric we constantly hear about democracy, what we have in this country is anything but a democracy. We have a professional political class that exists solely to do favors for large corporations and rich individuals, so that those corporations and individuals, in turn, will finance the reelection of the politicians. We see utter scumbags like Rick Santorum standing up and screaming about how the business community will suffer irreparable damage if it is forced to pay its workers a living wage. At the same time, the Republicans are pushing legislation that would make it harder for individuals to file for bankruptcy. I read recently that the leading cause of personal bankruptcy is cancer. People get cancer, their health insurance doesn’t cover all their medical care, and they are forced to declare bankruptcy. The Republicans want to increase these people’s desperation and misery.

Ever since the Clinton years, the professional hand-wringers who run the Democratic party have been standing back and being polite and hoping the Republican blitzkrieg against middle-class America would go away on its own. These people deserve just as much of our contempt as the Republicans do. I find it revolting that so few in the Democratic party can be counted on to stand up and speak the truth. They are so terrified that if they talk about these issues, they will be accused of trying to set off a class war.

Well, I’ve got news for them – in the middle class, we are fighting this class war every day, and we have been for some time. The Republicans are the ones who started this war against the poor and the middle class. Will we wait until the next Depression to start speaking the truth, in plain language and loudly enough for ordinary Americans to hear? Will vast swaths of the middle class have to end up living in the streets before there’s an outcry that is equal to the gravity of the situation? When will we have an active opposition to this insanity?

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