With apologies to Pastor Niemöller:
First they came for the banksters, and showered them with money and put them in the Administration in a way that was not change we could believe in.
Then they came for the military industrial complex, and sent more and more of our children to die in faraway lands that had never attacked us in a way that was not change we could believe in.
And now they’ve sold out our hope for a national health care system not run by millionaire gangsters in suits. And who is left to speak for us?
President Obama is playing the Bill Clinton game of throwing people a bone and telling them it’s steak. Perhaps he’s doing it because he thinks it’s his only choice; perhaps it’s because he’s surrounded himself with Bill Clinton advisors (and Hillary as Secretary of State); whatever the reason, while it worked for Clinton, it won’t work for Obama.
It worked for Reagan, and for the first Bush, and even worked somewhat for George W. Bush.
But it won’t work anymore. Here’s why.
From 1929 until the 1980s, most Americans were “high information voters.” They were paying attention to politics. The Republican Great Depression of 1929-1938, World War II, the Korean War, Kennedy’s election, and the War in Vietnam were all Big Events that caused Americans to pay attention. Americans of that era needed to know what was up in Washington, DC, because they felt the consequences directly.
This is why in November of 1954, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a letter to his John Bircher brother Edgar, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
The voters knew. Even as late as 1977, when George W. Bush ran for Congress from Texas on a nearly singular platform of privatizing Social Security, he lost badly. The voters knew.
Then came Reagan. He seemed so nice. He talked friendly. At the very minute – to the second – that he put his hand on the bible to be sworn in, those nasty Iranians let go the hostages they’d been holding (a kidnapping that had so humiliated the Carter administration that Carter lost the election).
America was once again a “shining city on the hill” and even though there were a few small invasions, Panama and Grenada and all, and a small recession, and a few S&L bank failures, mostly people lost interest in politics. TV was going big, home entertainment was huge, blockbuster movies were coming onto the big screen, and America was prosperous. Americans partied on cheap debt. We went to sleep. It was the beginning of the era of the “low information voter.”
During the 1980s, the right wing was working hard. Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and most of the media Americans consumed was consolidated in the hands of about a dozen very conservative-leaning corporations. Top tax rates were cut from over 70 percent to around 30 percent, so salaries at the top exploded, including those of the stars on TV…including the “news” stars.
The newly-rich TV news people began to hang out with the becoming-fabulously-rich business people, never again criticizing them because they now worked and played together and were members of the same clubs and their kids went to the same best schools. Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous became our new religion, “greed is good” our new mantra.
Conservatives began a war on textbooks, stripping from them references to the labor movement, so that anybody who went to middle school or high school during or after the mid-1980s can’t today tell you why phrases like “Pullman Porter” or “Haymarket Square” or “Great Flint Sit Down” have any meaning.
Reagan, and then Clinton, serially deregulated the media so it came into fewer hands still, while right-wing voices exploded across the landscape. By the mid 1990s there was virtually no corner of America, not even the smallest town, where a person couldn’t hear Rush Limbaugh. After Rupert Murdoch lost $100 million a year for a half-decade, finally around Y2K Sean Hannity and Fox News began to turn a profit and became equally ubiquitous. They all made sure that voters were “low information” or “wrong information.” The labor sections of the newspapers had vanished; NPR and 60 Minutes no longer did corporate-expose investigative reporting.
Reagan used our collective somnambulance to cut taxes for his rich buddies and throw trillions their way in defense contracts. George HW did more of the same, albeit without the elegance of Reagan. Bill Clinton smiled nice and raised taxes a few tiny points – from 33 to 36 percent on the most wealthy – and just that was enough to balance the budget, and during all those years it seemed like peace and prosperity were here. Politically, people stayed asleep.
The attacks of 9/11 woke a lot of Americans up, but they didn’t know what to believe. Retired generals taking million-dollar payoffs from defense contractors were wall-to-wall on the corporate news, telling us we needed more wars and more contractors and more military toys. The two dissenting voices – Bill Maher and Phil Donahue – were immediately silenced. Keep the people asleep. Other than a few old lefties from the 60s who showed up for anti-Iraq-war protests, it mostly worked.
Then came Barack Obama. People were sick of Bush, and Obama’s campaign for the presidency reminded the oldsters of what it meant to be politically active, while it taught the same lesson to the first generation to really involve itself in politics since the Vietnam War. Weeks before the election, the Bush crew had to admit that the phony-baloney Reaganonics games played by Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush while we were all asleep were collapsing. The economy was about to disintegrate. A wave of foreclosures, followed almost immediately by layoffs, swept the land.
People woke up, just like they had in 1929. They began to pay attention. And they had more than just Limbaugh and Fox to learn from; this new thing called the internet proliferated information without corporate control; Air America was birthed and liberal talk radio is now heard coast-to-coast; MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann caught fire (followed by Rachel Maddow); and even the normally cynical and innocuous Jack Cafferty at CNN began to go off on screeds worthy of the movie “Network.”
The Great Depression of 2008 – or what was billed as such – and the election of an African American president who used a ground-up instead of a top-down campaign caused high information voters to emerge again for the first time in 30 years.
Many, of course, were high with the wrong information. They showed up at tea parties and Palin rallies. But their passion is real, and their grievances are mostly legitimate. Thirty years of Reaganomics/Clintonomics has destroyed the labor movement, hollowed out our industrial sector, put us on a permanent war footing, wiped out the equity of the middle class, and created an entire generation of college-loan-indentured-servants. Who are now fully awake and seriously pissed.
We slept while Clinton’s boys Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and the whole gang, Republicans and Democrats together, signed us up for NAFTA and GATT; created the WTO; moved our jobs to China; sold off our airwaves; and “financialized” our economy (fully a quarter of all corporate profits in 2007 were from the “financial services industry” – an “industry” that creates nothing whatever that can be used or eaten or has any other real-wealth value). We slept through the explosion of the private prison industry and the wars in the Balkans (who knows where Kosovo is, anyway?). Seinfeld was far more interesting.
But now both the Vietnam oldsters and the Hip Hop youngsters are awake. Even the Reagan generation is awakening, but confused, as they’ve grown up on Limbaugh and Fox, and didn’t learn much in school about politics after Reagan’s guys stripped most classes of in-depth civics requirements. (It’s interesting – when Michael Medved and I debated in Chicago last year in front of 1000 people, 500 tickets sold by each of our radio stations, my side of the room was mostly people over 50 or under 30. His side of the room was almost entirely 30- and 40-somethings.)
And that’s why Obama is heading for a disaster.
He’s betting that he can do like Bill Clinton did to us with NAFTA and the World Trade Organization – hand us a turd and tell us it’s gonna blossom beautifully if we’ll just wait a year or three or five. Rahm’s betting that if he can “deliver health care reform” – even if the fundamental system of gangster corporations standing between us and our doctors while skimming 40 percent off the top for their mansions and private jets is intact – we’ll be all excited at his “victory” and elect more Democrats in 2010 and reelect Obama in 2012.
Ditto for cosmetic repairs of the banks, which is really just trickle-down Reaganomics on steroids. Rahm and his DLC buddies truly believe that this “change” brought to us by Bush’s man Tim Geithner or Clinton’s man Larry Summers is something we’ll “believe in.”
We oldsters of the Vietnam era, and the youngsters coming up who see how college loan banksters are screwing them as badly as their Clinton-era parents were screwed by the mortgage scammers, are all now fully awake.
President Obama, sir: Meet what is in large part your own creation – the High Information Voters of 2009/2010.
We’re awake, we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more. Natalie Portman to Matt Taibbi to Arianna Huffington to Bill Moyers represent the span of our four awakened generations; generations who have figured out how the game is played. And don’t like it.
First Obama continued Bush’s policy of giving the banksters money, and we protested feebly.
Then he expanded Bush’s wars, and we protested more loudly.
Now he’s going to force us to give trillions to the gangsters who run the “health insurance” companies (while they promise to behave nicely in return) and thinks we’re going to go along with it and it’ll get him re-elected.
Please, President Obama, step up and lead. We’d like some that “change we can believe in” that’s actually the real thing.
Kill the bill.