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‘Let ‘Em Eat Peas’: An Elitist Mantra for Our Age

It has been a challenging week for many people.  While our elected officials have been broadly reported to be at odds about exactly how to raise the debt ceiling or not, millions of Americans have no work, are running out of ways to keep their homes – rented or owned, and struggle even to keep the basic necessities for themselves and their families.

Nurses served soup to hungry folks in Lansing, Michigan. There was a stampede of people hoping to secure low-cost housing in Dallas. 

Yet in a glaring display of the inability of this nation’s elected leaders to publicly recognize and address the suffering happening across the country – in every Congressional District and in every state – those who have the power to alleviate some of that suffering have decided it’s time to cut the social safety nets of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security rather than protect and enhance it.  How that will help the economy is unclear to me.  No one has yet explained to me how allowing more people to go belly up helps us now or in the longer term. 


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People who are not working, who don’t have homes, who don’t have a weekly paycheck – no matter how meager, who don’t have adequate retirement protection and income, who don’t have healthcare, who don’t have access to healthy foods,  and who may not have a health environment , have a very hard time contributing much at all to their local economies.  It is common sense to me that tax revenues fall ever lower, local and state governments are having budget difficulties unlike those ever seen before, and the entities least able to absorb large losses and a weakened economy are hurting most. 

Earlier this week, while chastising the Republicans for not agreeing to a debt ceiling deal that would include his suggestions to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits, President Obama said Congressional members needed to do their work, reach a deal and just “eat their peas.”    That’s insulting not only to the peas but to every one of us who worries that both Republicans and Democrats have so lost their way that cutting benefits that will harm real people in very real ways has now become just another “man up” photo-op moment in a political struggle instead of the horrific and damaging action that it really is.  It was a diminishment of the seriousness of the actions both parties are about to take that will cause great and terrible harm to millions.

While no one knows for sure if Marie Antoinette ever really said, “Let them eat cake,” we do know the elite in France all those years ago in the 1700s were clueless to the cries of people who couldn’t afford bread much less the cake they had been admonished to eat.  It appears that in 2011 in the United States of America, we can now replace that admonition with our own:  “Let them eat their peas.”    That’s just about the size of things from Washington, DC, from my view. 

The elite of this nation have largely forgotten the rest of us.   We’ve already sacrificed.  There was no sharing of peas or anything else.  Wall Street was bailed out; Main Street was sold out. And the march goes on to call for “shared sacrifice.”  It’s a ruse of the most horrible kind, and it dishonors those who have gone before us. 

Donna Smith

Donna Smith

Donna Smith Donna Smith is the former executive director of Progressive Democrats of America and currently a Medicare for All campaign surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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