With Tea Party conservatives and many Republicans balking at raising the debt ceiling, let me offer them an example of a nation that lives up to their ideals.
It has among the lowest tax burdens of any major country: fewer than 2 percent of the people pay any taxes. Government is limited, so that burdensome regulations never kill jobs.
This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled.
The budget priority is a strong military, the nation’s most respected institution. When generals decide on a policy for, say, Afghanistan, politicians defer to them. Citizens are deeply patriotic, and nobody burns flags.
So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan.
You might say that he is engaging in a good bit of hyperbole. And Kristoff admits that he is. But the question remains, where is it the Republicans want to take this country?
The long trajectory of history has been for governments to take on more responsibilities, and for citizens to pay more taxes. Now we’re at a turning point, with Republicans arguing that we need to reverse course.
And where is that taking us?
Police budgets are being cut, but the wealthy take refuge in gated communities with private security guards. Their children are spared the impact of budget cuts at public schools and state universities because they attend private institutions.
Mass transit is underfinanced; after all, Mercedes-Benzes and private jets are much more practical, no? And maybe the most striking push for reversal of historical trends is the Republican plan to dismantle Medicare as a universal health care program for the elderly.
There’s even an echo of the electrical generator problem. More and more affluent homes in the suburbs are buying electrical generators to use when the power fails.
For years now I've been suggesting that David Simon is a prophet of our times. This piece by Kristoff reminded me of a speech he gave 4 years ago about the message of his show "The Wire."
He speaks about the growing divide between our urban areas and the gated communities on their fringe. And then he explains why this is happening.
We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital, to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual, I have great doubts...
I didn’t start out as a cynic, but at every given moment where this country has had a choice - its governments, institutions, corporations, its social framework - to exalt the value of individuals over the value of the shared price, we have chosen raw unencumbered capitalism. Capitalism has become our god. You are not looking at a marxist up here, but you are looking at somebody who doesn’t believe that capitalism can work absent a social framework that accepts that it is relatively easy to marginalize more and more people in this economy. Capitalism has to be attended to. And that has to be a conscious calculation on the part of society, if that is going to succeed. Everywhere we have created an alternate america of haves and have-nots. At some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not.
Simon was speaking primarily about urban America. And the truth is, much of the country didn't care. But what has happened in the last few years is that this reality is now catching up with working class suburban white America as well.
Over the course of this decade (2000-2010), two economic downturns translated into a significant rise in poverty, nationally and in many of the country’s metropolitan and non-metropolitan communities. Suburbs saw by far the greatest growth in their poor population and by 2008 had become home to the largest share of the nation’s poor. These trends are likely to continue in the wake of the latest downturn, given its toll on traditionally more suburbanized industries and the faster pace of growth in suburban unemployment.
When Simon says we are going to have to consciously attend to capitalism in a way that validates the humanity of the individual, I believe that is the question of the hour. And from listening to President Obama over these last few years, I am convinced that he is very aware of that.
Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.
I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.
I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.
The cynics amongst us will surely point out what a "squishy" concept empathy is. They're right...you can't legislate it or command someone to be more empathetic. All you can do is live it yourself and let that be the call that invites others to join you.
When President Obama refuses to join in the demonizing of his opponents, that's exactly what he's doing. But we should never make the mistake of misreading empathy for weakness. It takes an incredibly strong person to put out that invitation. And as we're seeing with the Republicans, a divide and conquer mentality makes all but the most rich and powerful weak.