Will the U.S. once more sacrifice economic justice at home for war abroad? Dr. King used to say that the bombs dropped over Vietnam exploded in America's cities. The war on poverty was lost in those jungles.
And now? The war in Afghanistan is now in its eighth year. Vice President Joe Biden told "This Week" that our policy is "going to work," but "all of this is just beginning. And we knew it was going to be a tough slog," so "it's much too premature to make a judgment" about how we are faring.
Just the beginning after eight years? We are spending $100 billion a year on Afghanistan, with U.S. casualties rising, and with no noticeable progress on the ground. The government that we support is noted for its corruption and ineffectiveness. Our military is trying to do nation-building in a country whose warring tribes unite only to expel outsiders.
The drones releasing bombs over Afghanistan are falling on our cities here at home. More than 20 million workers are unemployed or underemployed. States and localities are facing another round of severe cuts, with some 300,000 teachers and educational workers about to face layoffs. Unemployment of young African-American men without college nears 40 percent.
We desperately need Congress to act -- to extend unemployment benefits, to forestall debilitating cuts in schools, teachers, Medicaid and basic services, to finance the rebuilding of America in everything from bridges to fast trains to a smart electric grid that will make us more competitive and put people to work.
But war drains our Treasury, takes the lives of our citizens and requires the attention of our leaders. Now our politics is turning perverse. Conservatives rail against deficits and block action on jobs in the Senate. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell says that we don't have to offset tax cuts for the wealthy with spending cuts, but leads his party's filibuster against extending unemployment benefits unless they are "paid for." The supplemental for Afghanistan passes; the supplemental to keep teachers working is blocked.
Across the country, there is a growing divide between the elites in Washington and the American people. In a poll for Politico by the firm Penn Schoen Berland, the divide was apparent. Only 27 percent of people outside the Beltway think the country is headed in the right direction; among 227 Washington elites polled, 49 percent think it is on the right track compared with 45 percent who think it's going the wrong way.
This disconnect between Washington and the American people is dangerous. Ironically, most out of touch are the Republican conservatives who may well benefit politically from the economic distress. The vast majority have obstructed everything Obama has tried to do. They made the recovery plan weaker and larded it with tax cuts for the upper middle class. They are prepared to increase the deficit to fight the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and to sustain tax cuts for the wealthy, while they impede even basic steps to put people to work.
America is coming once more to a crossroads. We need to rebuild our strength from the inside out. In the short term, we need to put people to work. We need to regain our position on the cutting edge of science and technology. We have to begin making things in America once more.
This will take focus, finances and management. And each of these will be starved so long as our soldiers are mired in wars across the other side of the world. That is why it is time for citizens of conscience to come together and challenge the elite consensus before it is too late. On Aug. 28, the UAW and Rainbow PUSH Coalition and dozens of other groups will convene demonstrations in Detroit and elsewhere to call for action on jobs. On Oct. 2, the one nation coalition led by the NAACP, La Raza and the AFL-CIO will convene a march on Washington with the focus on jobs and justice. This is the beginning of what must be a "tough slog" to put America on the right course.