A Tale of Two Visions
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
President Barack Obama had just about lost me before he gave his budget policy speech on March 13 at George Washington University. I’m not saying he’s got me all the way back, that I’ll contribute to his re-election campaign more than I can afford, the way I did in 2007-8. For now, my political contribution list remains unchanged: Progressives United, former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold’s operation; and USUncut, the folks who are focused on reining in corporate greed, as expressed in our federal tax code. But I’m watching, waiting to see if the President who has disappointed me (and a host of others) time and again in the past two years is back in touch with the candidate whose ethical and moral values I thought I understood before Inauguration Day.
Obama referred to the “middle class” twelve times in Wednesday’s speech. That would be twelve times as many as in his State of the Union address in January, if he’d used the term once that night. But he didn’t, and you can’t multiply twelve by zero. Sometimes statistical analysis breaks down.
The President said a number of things I was hoping to hear. He called out the House Republicans’ budget czar, Paul Ryan (R-WI1) for his cruel and inequitable 2012 phony deficit reduction budget – which pays to the rich and large corporations almost all of what it takes from the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Obama said it’s not going to happen.
[The Republican budget plan] says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.
This was the Obama who used to say, and said again Wednesday, that while we’re a bunch of rugged individualists, we also recognize we have a responsibility to each other.
He’s wrong on one point there. The really rich, with a few exceptions, and the political far right feel no responsibility to the poor, the struggling portion of the middle class, those with disabilities, those elders who are frail and vulnerable. They don’t even see us.
The officers and directors of corporations that trade on the stock market are by law responsible to the stockholders and no one else. Their job is to “maximize shareholder value,” which means make as much money as possible, wherever, however, and using whomever you can. If they don’t see the workers who make them rich (and they don’t), you can be sure they feel no responsibility to the poor, the struggling portion of the middle class, those with disabilities, those elders who are frail and vulnerable.
We are invisible to the corporatists. I was thinking we were invisible to Barack Obama as well. If I prayed for personal matters, I’d be praying now that he doesn’t see us only because he needs our dollars and our votes, that he’ll continue to see and care about us after Election Day 2012.
So I signed on this morning when someone from the Obama campaign wrote and asked me to show my support for his vision of a kinder, gentler deficit reduction plan (my words, not the campaign’s).
And I’m glad that at last, thanks to Paul Ryan and his over-the-top budget plan, the Republican value system is out there for all to see: use cuts to functions that provide a social safety net to those who need it, that neuter the EPA and other agencies tasked with protecting the environment, and decrease the safety of everyone who ever boards an airplane – take away money from things people need and give it to the people who need it least.
Obama didn’t say nearly everything I wanted to hear, but he said enough to make me keep listening. Ryan has said everything I never wanted to hear from someone in government, but I’ll keep listening to him, too, but only to remind myself and as many others as I can whose interests he represents.
Writing on The Daily Beast, Andrew Basevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, said what I mean:
[...] to have more than cosmetic results, Obama will have to take on some very sacred cows and some very powerful interests. In the days to come, the president will have ample opportunity to demonstrate the courage and vision that he has thus far kept mostly under wraps.
Posted on April 14th, 2011 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Politics and Political Issues