As if you needed any more evidence that congressional Democrats are completely out of touch with the needs of the people they are supposed to represent, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is close to Obama and frequently thought to be signaling the President’s positions on issues, announced yesterday that massive deficit reduction is “the challenge of our generation,” urging fellow Democrats as well as Republicans to “seize [the] moment” by supporting a truly “historic” package that would, without question, include deep cuts to social safety net programs. Because what we really need in this country is even more desperate people who are unable to make ends meet.
If Dick Durbin thinks debt reduction is the preeminent challenge we’re facing, all I can figure is that he must be living in some alternate universe. Which I guess he is. Durbin and the rest of the millionaires’ club in the Senate are so far removed from the lives of the people they were elected to represent that they might as well be from another dimension. The deficit that so concerns Durbin and the DC establishment barely even registers as a concern for the people in my community. Indeed, the only reason it registers at all is the ruling class’ relentless propaganda campaign.
Let me tell you, Dick, what people in my California community are concerned about. Our county’s official unemployment rate is 14.7%, but the real unemployment rate in our neck of the woods is at least 10-12 percentage points higher. Sometimes a whole week goes by without a single “help wanted” ad appearing in the local paper (not counting “make thousands stuffing envelopes from home” schemes and the like). Jobs are so scarce and people are so desperate for work that a supermarket putting up a Help Wanted sign for three no-benefits, minimum wage positions received hundreds of applications in a matter of hours.
While at least one in four are unemployed, many more are underemployed or stuck in low wage jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the basics. The lack of discretionary income in the area has devastated small businesses. The barbershop that used to cut my partner’s hair, the Mexican restaurant we occasionally stopped by for takeout before our car broke down and we couldn’t afford to get it fixed, the two Internet cafés we visited a couple of times per month to escape the unbearable slowness of our dialup connection–they’ve all closed their doors. So have countless other businesses during the last few years. You can’t run a business without customers, and most people in our area have no money to spend.
The cops, however, are busy. The vast majority of police calls involve drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, and mental health issues. Many people are self-medicating because they have no access to health care. If you’re in agony and can’t afford treatment, you’ll use whatever is available to numb the pain. If that “whatever” happens to be illegal, you may find yourself locked up and your future employment prospects greatly diminished by a criminal record. All because you were too poor to access medical or dental or psychiatric care.
Substance (ab)use and financial hardship also take a toll on relationships. Many women are stuck in abusive households, because low wages make it very difficult to move out and live alone. While home prices have plummeted due to the housing crash, rents have not. On the contrary, the large number of people losing their homes to foreclosure has increased demand for rentals, driving up prices. Without government assistance, it takes two minimum wage earners to rent a home, and the waiting list for Section 8 housing is long.
In short, Dick, my community, like so many others all over the country, has been absolutely devastated through no fault of our own. The challenge we’re facing isn’t the deficit. That’s easy enough to fix (hint: you may want to take a look at how it was created in the first place), but frankly, given the extent of the crisis, the deficit shouldn’t even be a concern right now. And if McCain had won, it wouldn’t be.
Ever notice how Republicans never care about deficits when they are in the White House? They run up massive debts with no concern at all. Go to war while cutting taxes? Sure, why the hell not! But all that changes the moment a Democrat is elected. Then, suddenly, there’s nothing more important than the deficit. Why do you think that might be, Dick?
Look, we know what the Republican endgame is. It’s all about dismantling what’s left of the New Deal and the Great Society. In their Randian utopia, it’s every man and woman for themselves. No worker protections, no environmental protections, no minimum wage, no pensions, no social security, no food stamps, no government assistance or regulation at all (actually, make that no assistance for the public and no regulation of business; there will be assistance for business and regulation of the public, especially the uterus-equipped public). That’s their goal. What’s yours?
Because, let me tell you Dick, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell you guys apart. Two percent less evil won’t cut it. And make no mistake about it, reducing the already grossly inadequate benefits of people too old or too sick to work? Evil. Depriving people of the opportunity to earn a living wage by pushing free trade agreements and refusing to support unions? Evil. Locking up the poor for trying to survive while the rich get a free pass? Evil. A country as wealthy as this one condemning people with treatable illnesses to needless suffering and death because they can’t afford medical/dental/psychiatric care? Evil.
None of these things become any less evil because you managed to close a loophole for corporate jet deductions or got the rich to pay a little more in taxes. Shared sacrifice is a bad joke. There is nothing shared about sacrifice in this country, Dick. People at the bottom do nothing but sacrifice, while those at the top, and that clearly includes DC Democrats, don’t know the meaning of the word. If you did, you wouldn’t suggest that millionaires giving up a minor perk constitutes sacrifice, especially sacrifice on par with having to go without food, medication, or heating oil.
Protecting the social safety net programs is the bare minimum we should be able to expect from congressional Democrats, but it’s not enough. The boundless greed of the rich has destroyed everything in its path, from the environment to the hopes and opportunities of middle and working class Americans. To get this country back on track, we’re going to need to reverse course, and the Democrats will have to decide whose side they are on. Unfortunately, it’s abundantly clear that most of you already have.