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The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

George Carlin Knew Why They Call it 'The American Dream'

Bill Berry

Ah, the week of St. Patty's Day, and maybe the luck of the Irish will lead us to the pot o' gold coins.

But don't count on it. Not in Wisconsin, not in these times. Nonetheless, in honor of this hopeful holiday, when a saint evicted the snakes from the green island, we can go to that great American philosopher of Irish descent. Surely he can put the events of recent weeks in context.

We speak here of George Carlin, who left the earth too soon in 2008, but saw the future quite clearly, which may have hastened his departure. Thanks to the Internet, he will be forever with us, or at least until Big Brother yanks him away for being too subversive.

For now, you can find Carlin's 2005 skit, "The American Dream," quite easily. I can't, however, recommend it in this column, because it is indelicately laced with some of the "seven dirty words" that got him arrested at, appropriately, Milwaukee's Summerfest in 1972. So promise you won't go and find it, and if you do, I didn't send you there. My parish priest would frown upon that.

(CommonDreams, however, is happy to save you the hassle):

I'll clean things up here a bit, so you get the gist of the genius. It must be said that Carlin actually agreed with Gov. Scott Walker on education. As Carlin said, "Education sucks." But their views diverge from that point. To wit:


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"The reason education sucks and will never, ever, ever be fixed is because the owners of this country don't want that. … I'm talking about the real owners, the big, wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. They got the politicians. The politicians are there to make you believe you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have owners. They own you."

In fact, said Carlin, they own everything — the best land, corporations, you name it. Well before the Citizens United decision of last year, Carlin was proclaiming the owners have "long since bought and paid for the Senate and Congress, the statehouse, the city halls. They have the judges in their back pockets." Media? "They own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear."

The owners spend billions every year lobbying to get what they want, said the Irishman who wore black, not green, adding: "You know what they want? They want more for themselves and less for everybody else. I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking — well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. That doesn't help them. That's against their interest. They want obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly (bleep) jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears as soon as you come to collect it."

And now, said the comedian who didn't crack a smile throughout the whole routine, "They're coming for your Social Security money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street, and you know what, they'll get it. You know why? It's a big club, and you ain't in it. You and I ain't in the big club.

"They don't care about you at all, at all, at all, you know, and nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care. That's what the owners want. Call it the American dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it."

That last part, the line about people being asleep, would have to be altered after the past few weeks in Wisconsin. The governor deserves credit for that. Of course, the owners want us to go back to sleep. Sit back, watch basketball, or go to the store and buy some stuff. It'll all get better. That's what we're told to believe.

Bill Berry of Stevens Point, Wisconsin writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.

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