Not to put too fine a point on it, but much of the time, many of us Americans—and I don’t exempt myself for a minute—essentially have our heads up our butts. You can’t entirely blame us. We’re trying to get through the day, consumed with the moment-to moment events of our own circumscribed lives, with our loved ones, with our homes, with our jobs (if we have one), with having sex, not having sex, losing the weight, changing our hair, avoiding our colonoscopies. (Which actually brings this paragraph full circle).
Lately, we’re obsessing over whatever iGizmo it is we’ll never surrender till someone pries from our cold, dead hands. If we focus on the outer world, it’s pure escapism—sports & Snooki.
But when it comes to history and politics, that’s when we Americans really rear our buttheaditude. Two illustrative stories come to mind:
1) A recent Gallup Poll of 1,015 adults asked to name the nation’s greatest president.
2) The Battle of Wisconsin.
As for the presidents: For most historians, naming the top three is a gimme—Lincoln, Washington, and FDR. Only the order is in dispute.
Not so for Gallup’s sampling of regular folks in Feb. 2011:
Ronald Reagan — 19%
Abraham Lincoln — 14%
Bill Clinton — 13%
John F. Kennedy — 11%
George Washington — 10%
Franklin Roosevelt — 8%
Barack Obama — 5%
Theodore Roosevelt — 3%
Harry Truman — 3%
George W. Bush — 2%
Thomas Jefferson — 2%
Well, no. Liberals of course, argue that he set the country back 50 years, empowering repressive social conservatism and promoting the trickle-down economics that helped create the ever vaster economic chasm between the rich and the rest of us. But leaving aside ideology I don’t even think Nancy Reagan would give Ronald Reagan the gold. Nor, to be fair, would any sane person rank Clinton third or the 34-month term of JFK fourth, or Obama in seventh, above TR and Truman. And when was the last time W and Jefferson were mentioned in the same sentence?
The point is that these surveys always skew wildly toward contemporary presidents. This is the year of Reagan’s centennial, he’s in the news again, Teabaggers are summoning his memory (though, as many point out, he’d probably not survive a primary today). At the same time, if you asked these same 1,015 folks to name the worst POTUS, I suspect W, Bubba, Ronnie and Barack would poll very high—certainly better than Harding (Warren, not Tonya) or Buchanan (James, not Pat).
Now, to current events: How many Americans are really aware of the Battle of Wisconsin—specifically the fight over collective bargaining—and if they are, do they know the stakes?
How many Democrats, moderates and ordinary working stiffs realize that Scott Walker’s anti-union purge is part of a nationwide effort by the GOP—backed by powerful right-wing forces like the Koch Brothers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce—to use “fiscal responsibility” as a weapon to crush the Democratic Party? To make Karl Rove’s wet dream of a permanent GOP majority reality? And in the process, wage nuclear class warfare, obliterating workers’ rights and recourse, suppressing wages and benefits and maximizing profits for a very few?
For insight into the GOP strategy, look at the Citizens United decision delivered by our tea-stained Supreme Court, which allows corporations and labor unions to flow unrestricted cash into the political campaigns.
Corporations tilt heavily toward Republicans; unions tilt Democratic. Shutting down unions is like cutting off the Dems blood supply. And it’s not just money; unions are crucial to getting out the vote, and registering new voters—who historically trend Democratic. Squelching unions is key to GOP voter suppression plans—the same reason they waged a vendetta against ACORN, why they’re pushing voter ID legislation, and trying to end same-day voter registration. The more new voters, the higher the turnout, the better for Democrats—at least most of the time.
But as Andrew Levine, Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes in CounterPunch:
“Even this is not the main reason why Madison matters. It isn’t just Democratic-leaning unions that Walker and his Tea Party colleagues want to undo – it’s public sector unions. This matters for reasons that are much more obscure than the others but that are plainly related to many of our contemporary afflictions — the financialization of contemporary capitalism, the globalization of manufacturing and trade, and, more generally, the world-wide assault on social and economic advances won at great cost over the past century and a half. The problem, in short, is that to survive, capitalism must expand – and, with so few areas left for expansion, the public sphere is a target too tempting to resist.”
That’s a hell of a lot harder to digest than, “I gotta cut the budget which means those overpaid public workers have to suck it up and STFU.”
All we know is what’s in our own, narrow frame of reference. And, when it comes to contemporary politics, what’s quick and easy to digest. What’s in front of our face—and we take most of that at face value. Bumper sticker stuff. That’s why Fox News is so effective—it spews out falsehood, opinion and wild speculation as fact. And as Mark Twain said, more or less, a lie can circle the globe before the truth can put its shoes on.
And yet, truth may be gaining ground. The thousands of peaceful anti-Walker protesters in Madison seem to be getting their message across. According to polls, a significant majority of Wisconsin voters oppose Walker’s attempt to crush collective bargaining. Now, faced with a similar revolt in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels—perhaps keeping in mind his presidential ambitions—has backed off union-busting “Right-to Work” legislation in his state.
Whatever one thinks of the Koch-Tea Party, it has dominated endless news cycles and shifted the national conversation with its anti-government, anti-labor, Obamaphobic demagoguery.
Maybe the progressives, union members and Democrats making their stand in Madison can change the subject
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