Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Happy Holidays (Unless You’re Poor)

Earlier this week, the headline on the news ticker contained in my ISP’s homepage read thusly:

“2 million lose jobless benefits as holidays arrive”

And the lead paragraph read as follows:

“Extended unemployment benefits for nearly 2 million Americans begin to run out Wednesday, cutting off a steady stream of income and guaranteeing a dismal holiday season for people already struggling with bills they cannot pay.”


There was more, but I was appalled enough to not bother to click past the link. What the lead paragraph didn’t say was this: Congress could have done something about this. Congress had time and had the means; but obviously didn’t have the political will.  (Don’t tell me we can’t afford this sort of thing: we’re still in Afghanistan, aren’t we? We always get money for that with no questions asked.)

Both parties had a hand in this. Congressional Republicans decided that if they didn’t get their way in the debate over “shall we continue to give absurd tax cuts to the millionaires and billionaires in our midst, so that trickle-down economics can continue to be a euphemism for giving more to the rich and not nearly so much to the already poor?” (never mind that such an economic policy has been proven to be fraudulent) … then they certainly wouldn’t act on anything else. And Congressional Democrats somehow still don’t seem to realize that until mid-January, they are still in the majority and so actually COULD act on this issue. With a little backbone and a tiny bit of arm-twisting, they could – though it would be important for them and their well-meaning President to come to grips with the fact that the opposition party clearly isn’t going to play ball with them no matter how much they hope to broker deals in the spirit of bi-partisanship.

About bipartisanship: it only works if both partisans decide they want to work at it. … Most normal everyday persons can take a hint.  Since early 2009, the Republican hint has been so heavy, as a friend of mine once wrote, as to drop out of the envelope and crush your toe if you’re not careful. President Obama and his Democratic Senate majority and his temporary House majority appear not to be normal persons, as they cannot take this hint. In fact, all you have to do is read the quotes from Sen. McConnell and soon-to-be House majority leader Boehner. I have access to those quotes; I imagine the Congressional Democrats do, too!  But if not, here’s the jist:

The Republican leadership’s number one goal – they said this! as if this is what people elected them to do! – their number one goal in the coming Congressional term is to make sure Mr. Obama is a one-term President. Not to deal with the tanking economy, not to try to generate more jobs for Americans, not to find some way for us to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan gracefully, not to make sure everyone from rich to poor can have decent health care … not any of those things. Their top priority is to say and do anything they can – in fact, to fail to do anything, really – so that the President looks bad, can’t accomplish anything, and therefore is defeated in the next election by a more deserving Republican.

Every President has critics. (Supporters of George W. Bush complain about how vociferous the “Bush bashers” were.  Sorry: inarguably, that guy had it coming.) But this is more petty than middle-school kids’ interpersonal relations, and I’m surrounded by that every school day. Congressional Republicans care more about de-clawing or embarrassing or otherwise dumping on the President (for reasons which I genuinely suspect go well beyond politics, which is a topic for another post), than they do about what they were ostensibly sent to Washington to do: governing. Making policy decisions that will benefit the people of the United States, and not just the most wealthy one percent of them. Into which category most of them fall.


Ah ha.

I’m with you now. I get the joke.


Politically or in terms of personal gain, we have greedy persons in government. They have mistaken positions of responsibility for positions of power. Well … it’s not their fault. It’s how it’s done nowadays. And it’s been done that way for many many years, so why should we blame them?  Why? Because they’re also – allegedly – human beings. I know lots of human beings on this Earth that are far less well-off than the current members of Congress, who are nonetheless so much better than politicians at being concerned for the welfare of the even-less-fortunate – and in fact they don’t just FEEL concerned, they go do something about it.

But the politicians in Washington are in a position to be able to make large-scale decisions and changes in current policy that would have positive effects on a great number of people on a scale that dwarfs the abilities of average individuals, or even charitable organizations. Our government has, or ought to have, the ability to almost literally move mountains in order to assist its people.

Clearly, Congressional Republicans don’t have that as a high priority. And clearly, Congressional Democrats don’t seem to have the grit to call them on it. (Possibly they’re thinking about proceeding in a cautious manner, because those who have power are most concerned with not losing it. Irony alert. Some of them are lame ducks already, and if we’re not careful, more may yet become officially lame, down the road.)


Here’s the thing. In order to become a Congressional anybody, you have to have enough money to advertise yourself as a candidate, such that lots of people know who you are, or at least are exposed to your name and your absurd campaign promises. TV ad time is expensive. You either have to raise a ton of money, or you have to already have a lot of money. In the latter case, I know my teacher salary ain’t gonna cut it. And unless I go build a fairly massive fundraising organization, that revenue stream is not going to flow into my world. So I, as a fully accredited citizen of this country, really don’t have the means to be able to run for elected office on a national or even a statewide scale, even if such a goal were my life’s dream. Very nice that Barack Obama got elected President. Lots of little kids who don’t look much like white persons got understandably excited by this. But most of them still don’t have a prayer of being elected President just like Mr. Obama, or Senator or Governor or state rep or city councilperson, and it’s got nothing to do with race or ethnicity and every last thing to do with economics.

So, before we can attempt to fix what’s massively wrong with our society’s economic condition, and not just the current economic near-meltdown but the fact that the top one percent of this country’s citizens controls a ridiculously high percentage of this country’s wealth … we have to address the means by which these fixes can be accomplished. Namely: how can we conspire to make it possible for any citizen of the United States to be more than legally eligible, but actually eligible, to be elected to higher office?

Campaign finance reform.

Which is admittedly not the hottest topic on CNN right about now, but if we are ever to get to a place where (with apologies to Walt Kelly) we have met our representatives and they are us! … if we ever were there to start with … we have to talk about it, and seriously, and fast.


[ I know: if we start letting just anyone run for office, we could end up with the likes of Sharron Angle, or Christine O’Donnell, or John Raese, or Ken Buck, or Joe Miller – people who either espouse genuinely awful personal views or are clearly not well-qualified for the job of dog-catcher, let alone Senator from the Great State Of. My answer to that is two-fold: [1] when you try and scare up good talent, you sometimes have to deal with the occasional yahoo; that’s the breaks, that’s the chance we take. And [2] ummm… you’re saying that the current batch of well-qualified, personally upstanding citizens therefore includes Jim DeMint, Michelle Bachmann, David Vitter, William (“$90,000 in the freezer”) Jefferson … Charlie Rangel … see, I did include Democrats! … Jan Brewer … and Joe (“you lie”) Wilson? And have you ever read any quotes from the late Jesse Helms? Makes your skin crawl. I rest my case. ]


But talking about campaign finance reform isn’t in the best political interests of those currently in those higher offices. On top of which, this past year saw the Supreme Court rule that corporations’ financial contributions to political campaigns constitute free speech, which of course is sacrosanct under the US Constitution, and must not be limited!, even though it gives corporations free reign to affect political debate in such a way that the effect of normal average persons’ free speech amounts to zero.


So. Stalemate. No, worse than stalemate: big corporations and those currently in power hold all the cards.

What now?


December 4, 2010 - Posted by | government, media, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Rob: Nicely done. Were I still in the “grading biz”this would be an A and “paper of the week.” When I left home at 17, my mother told me two things: “Don’t bring home a “shotgun bride” and never vote Republican. She’s still alive and kicking butt as a union organizer at 83 and I haven’t disappointed her in either sex or politics.

    Comment by Joe Mccoy | December 6, 2010 | Reply

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