Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pushing Back

Yesterday in this space, I wrote about the nation receiving some nasty reminders that while the forward momentum of the American Taliban might have been blunted recently, they still have a huge voice in the national agenda and are not going to go away. Yesterday itself was an extremely eventful day on the national political stage, and for once the items in the news had nothing to do with Primates Flinging Poo.
The major story was the climbdown executed by the Susan Komen Foundation on the matter of distributing funds to Planned Parenthood, after the outrage generated across most segments of society over the past three days. Komen at first gave conflicting reasons why they were going to stop doing it, then basically gave up and copped to it being a bad idea yesterday and rescinded the decision --because the decision was made in the first place simply to placate an American Taliban Representative from Florida who is trying to end the exercise of abortion rights in the United States. Whatever your views on abortion--and I honestly believe that most Americans are genuinely uncomfortable to a degree with the practice--, picking on Planned Parenthood is a different matter. The American Taliban is driven to apoplexy by widespread practices of sex outside marriage, but the fact is that for most Americans, sexual activity outside marriage has become by far the norm, and organizations like Planned Parenthood that help people with birth control and routine reproductive health matters are seen as beneficial by the vast majority of the population. It is a bit of a culture war thing, but the horse is way out of the barn on that issue.
And it presents the American Taliban and their wealthy benefactors with a bit of a Catch-22. One of the reasons that economic inequality has taken such root in the United States over the past 32 years is the bread-and-circuses strategy that we have been subjected to--and the inundation with sexual activity and sexual imagery in the cultural outlets we all are exposed to and participate in is perhaps the biggest circus we have. In plain English, people obsessed with getting laid are not as likely to pay attention to matters like vanishing economic opportunity and concentration of wealth at the upper end of society, and people like Rupert Murdoch figured this out a long time ago. But if the powers that be start making noise about taking away the diversions from the peons, the peons start paying attention, not just to the attempt to remove the diversion, but to the whole picture--and suddenly there's a lot more awareness of just how messed up the world has become, and more thought about who is responsible.
And that's not working to the American Taliban's advantage. One other piece of news yesterday was that the unemployment rate has dropped to 8.3%--certainly nothing wonderful, but a lot better than 10%, and a sign that it's going to be more and more impossible to paint the Empty Suit as a failed President. Generations tend to last roughly 30 years, and I've been wondering for a while now whether Obama is this generation's Reagan. I was in college during most of Reagan's first term, and I distinctly recall the glee with which a pile of Democrats announced they were running for President in 1983, because the economy was so bad through late 1983--and then when it started perking up in 1984, eventual nominee Mondale was left with nothing to point at as the election approached, and he got his head handed to him. A similar scenario appears to be playing out 28 years later; while the economy likely is not going to be healthy, perhaps ever again, it is somewhat better than it was two years ago, and it is improving. The doomsayers on the right are looking sillier by the day, not only because what they are proposing to do isn't going to be helpful, but their assessment that the current bunch is in over their head doesn't appear accurate any longer, and they have to resort to rhetorical gymnastics to try to stay relevant. It was amusing to watch Paul Ryan, who has complained long and loud for two years about how the economy is stalled and not growing, suddenly become concerned that the economy is growing at too fast a pace.
It's all politics. The Taliban doesn't care about the economy or indeed the well-being of most of us. The Taliban's primary focus in economic matters is to give even more money to rich people; they really don't have any other ideas, and are actively opposed to any initiative that doesn't serve that purpose. And people are wising up to that fact, and they are not going to vote for people who espouse those views. Even if the alternative is voting for a black guy, which, truth be known, has been a huge largely unspoken factor in the opposition to the Empty Suit since the day he announced he was a candidate for President years ago. For many people, the evidence is becoming clearer that whatever their reservations about Obama or government in general, what the Taliban is proposing to do is not something they want to see. Period.
Another example came in the national transportation appropriations bill now being put together in the House of Representatives. The proposal is to eliminate mandating a percentage of the money raised through transportation taxation--gas taxes and the like--on mass transit, and instead have it appropriated annually. The catch is that it can be held hostage to the whims of future Congresses, and it will make much easier to cut such funding. The reality is that it is designed to foster our continued dependence on fossil fuel consumption and the culture of the automobile-which is the aim, again, of most of the American Taliban agenda, to keep the money flowing into the coffers of the corporate behemoths that fund it. It bears repeating--the purpose of the entire Taliban agenda--or, just so there is no confusion, to call them by the name they prefer for themselves, the conservative Republican agenda--is to make sure that the money keeps going upwards and that anything that hinders the upward flow of money must be curtailed or stopped. That's it; there is nothing else. They don't give a shit about morals; they don't give a shit about values; they don't give a shit about the future; they don't give a shit about anything other than the continued ability of their business elites to squeeze every last cent out of the American  population. Many of them believe that planning for the future is a waste of time because Jesus is coming back soon; even if they won't say so publicly anymore (some of us remember James Watt), that is the agenda driving far too many of them and the ideas they are espousing.
Are these the people you want running the country? I didn't think so.
And I noticed that our local Republican Representative has, twice in two days, been exposed as part of the problem. Richard Hanna's district reaches down from Utica to the borders of Binghamton, and he displaced a Democrat last fall. He's kept pretty quiet this past year, and there was some hope that he was not as obnoxious as the Tea Party bozos that make up the majority of his freshmen class. But this week, when pressed, he came out in favor of drug testing those on unemployment, and yesterday he displayed a real lack of foresight by saying that just because the current proposal in the mass transit bill gives New York a slight increase, he doesn't see a problem with it. That's the kind of short-sighted tunnel vision that we most emphatically do not need in positions of responsibility. The important part of legislation is not what is in a particular appropriation. The important part of legislation is what it sets as national, long-term priorities--and by eliminating long-standing commitments to maintaining and creating mass transit, it is inimical to the long-term interests of the nation--and to the people who depend on mass transit for their transportation needs. Many people in large cities don't drive. Many poorer people in smaller cities don't drive. They need some way to get to work and to participate in society. Unless the aim is to bring back a culture where the vast majority of people spend their lives within ten miles of the house they were born in, the commitment to mass transit needs to remain high. And that's not even taking into consideration that a commitment to mass transit lessens the dependence on fossil fuels and all the benefits that lessening that dependence brings, at least in theory.
What is encouraging in all of what is going on recently is that the Taliban is being pushed back. The aggressive pushing of conservative agendas is meeting sustained resistance--because when all is said and done, the large majority of us are not conservative. And in the last several months, it almost is possible to be guardedly optimistic, because there has been a dawning of--not quite widespread activism, but at least a sense that "these people need to be stopped." From Occupy to the general disgust with Primates Flinging Poo to resistance to attempted coups like the Kamen mess to things like the Wisconsin recall election brewing--pushing back is becoming more common.
And not a moment too soon.

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