Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Taking America Back?

"We need to take America back!" has become one re-hashed rhetorical device used to rally New Right Republicans and Tea Party members this mid-term election. When hearing this empty-expression, it makes me think that to "take America back", would either mean one woefully wishes to take the country "back" to a place and/or time it was, presumably, once at before, or, that "we" (whomever "we" is) must "take America back" from someone, or something, that is apparently trying to take "it" away from "us".

According to the New Right, these two interpretations are exactly what this expression means. They argue, "Muslims are moving-in and taking over." And, "We must return our Nation back to the way our Founding Fathers intended." The yellow
Gadsden Flag, depicting a coiled timber snake (used by Benjamin Franklin to symbolize the American colonies) with slogan, "Don't tread on me", flies proudly over Tea Party rallies. This flag was initially used by American revolutionaries against the British Empire. But today, this slogan and flag have been dusted-off by "average Americans" who believe the "enemy" isn't from abroad but from within their own government. Of course, this view is perplexing; especially since our current government was chosen in an honest election by a majority of American people. Nevertheless, "Teabaggers" still feel the government is "tyrannical" and "does not represent them." They are paranoid and afraid the government is "trying to take away [their] freedoms."

Such hyperbole is utopian, sensational, and dangerous. America (whether one accepts it or not) can only -like all human civilization- move in one direction, forward. Admittedly, this "forward" progression may not always appear to be moving in the upward and enlightened pace we'd hope to go. In fact, there is a very real danger that we just might blow-it. We could plunge into a dark age guided by religious mysticism and totalitarian political ideals. Yes, the American experiment could fail; however, it will not be because of the fears of the “Teabaggers.” Actually, it is the very backward and confused ideals of the New Right that represent the greatest threat to an educated, pragmatic, competitive, and -most importantly- democratic America.

Of course, there are those who will argue -all for different reasons- that America already
failed. There are also those who'll assert I only consider New Right/Tea Party hyperbole a "threat" because I am an Atheist, Liberal, and Democrat. To which, I'd reply - and damn proud of! So, "Don't tread on me!" Politics is messy. However, one of the greatest assets of our country is that we can all debate our opinions, protest our dissatisfactions, and have freedom of (and from) religion. None of us know where America is going, nor can we honestly say we're proud of where our country has been; however, there are very real values, ideals, and customs I trust we all respect, enjoy, and strive to protect at all costs.

Perhaps my perceptions and understandings of "this Nation-Thing" (a.k.a - "our way of life") are dramatically different from those of the New Right? After all, unlike my more conservative and paranoid countrymen, I'm not concerned about having "more" Muslims in America (and feel a Mosque should be built wherever, even if two blocks away from "Ground Zero"). Sure, I'm an Atheist and would prefer to do without religious institutions altogether (however, I also understand the need for people and cultures to have something to believe in); besides, America is about religious freedom - for all.

I'm also someone who voted for and continues to support President Obama. Nevertheless, I'm still critical of his policies (as one should always be of their elected leaders). Admittedly, my criticisms are often that he's not "socialist" or "radical" enough! …Gasp! That's right, I said it, let us "spread the wealth!" In fact, I agree with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who recently
asked wealthy people to donate part of their fortunes to charity. Regrettably, greed still pumps through the bank accounts and veins of many Americans who will hypocritically muse on Sundays about "the generosity" of Christ, while refusing to pay taxes that “support the general Welfare” of their neighbors any other day of the week.

The Tea Party Movement has recently drafted-up a "
Contract from America". (Interesting how this is a contract "from America", as if this one fringe movement can assume it speaks for the entire nation). Anyway, since this document purports to speak from America, I suppose now is as good of a time as any for this American to chime-in on his thoughts and opinions of this document.

* * *

The “Contract from America" opens with three guiding principles. The first, regards "Individual Liberty". I'm mostly in complete agreement with these initial sentences; however, I find it confusing to see the Right stand in defense of "individual liberty", when they are also so concerned with what goes on in the privacy of LGBT Americans' homes. Of course, I'm also very suspect of this paragraph's concluding eight words - "free from excessive control over our economic choices." This is clearly in defense of corporate privatization and de-regulation.

I do agree Americans should be allowed to purchase (or not purchase) what they want (assuming they have the capital to do so); however, what the Right tacitly chooses to ignore, is that in the United States, large corporations are considered "individuals", yet often act above the same laws we expect individuals to follow. Americans (nay, citizens of the world) need to admit corporations have far more power and persuasion than any one individual; thus, there must be more regulation and oversight so that businesses are not allowed to commit anymore crimes against the
environment and humanity. If corporations want to remain competitive and sustainable then they should be turned into co-ops, so that the wealth and work of the company is more fairly distributed.

The second guiding principle of "The Contract from America" regards "Limited Government". Of course, I disagree with this Reagan-era relic; firstly, because I believe the danger of limiting government (anymore than it already has been limited), means government can become increasingly unaccountable to the citizens it should represent and protect. When government isn't in control, private corporations are, and when this happens, civic life is no longer democratic but instead a competitive game of who can, or cannot afford the necessary services rendered.

When there's a disaster, do we want the police, fire, and military to show-up, or, a privatized corporation? Unfortunately, this recipe of "
Disaster Capitalism" is already happening. More frightening, is what those on the Right would prefer happen to American Health Care, Social Security, and Education - auction it off to the highest corporate bidder so that only those able to afford these services receive the “best” product. When human beings and their needs are only seen for profit motives, then humans lose out. What's most perplexing is that many on the Right come from impoverished and destitute situations that are the direct result of corporate deregulation and un-fettered capitalism. Despite this, these misguided (and understandably angry) people still foolishly believe corporations have their best interests in mind. This is where Republicans and Democrats part-ways and have since President Franklin Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights.

Paradoxically, it almost seems as if New Right/Teabaggers share many similarities with certain Anarchists and fringe Leftist groups regarding their concern of limiting our government. The New Right wants government "out of our lives" much like Anarchists wish for no government at all. I know
where these folks get their paranoid ideas and it is shame they’re unable to see the snake-charming trickery influence the radio talk-show circuit holds over their lives. Of course, if these folks are really concerned with their privacy, they may want to look-back into the many Bush-era Department of Homeland Security policies that initiated much of this Big Brother mentality. Agreed, President Obama has done nothing to remove these policies for the good of our nation. I suppose, Kurt Cobain was right, "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not watching you."

Ultimately, all this "limited government" rhetoric is based on a host of silly paranoid scenarios. The Tea Party movement is constituted of a combination of conspiracy groups. There are the "
truthers" who believe “9/11 was orchestrated by the government.” The "birthers" who believe President Obama is “not an American citizen.” There are a growing number of Militias, all apparently keeping watchful-eyes to the skies for "black helicopters" and our borders from "illegal" immigrants. There are the "oathers" who fear the possibility of an impending martial law, in which "Americans will be rounded-up into concentration camps." Lastly, there are the Dominionists who are inspired by the pulp-fiction of Tim LaHaye and animated by a Christian Nationalism, which seeks to replace the Constitution with a theocratic "Christian Nation." All these groups are adamantly opposed to a multicultural United States and vehemently resist globalization. (I can assure you, resisting globalization will not make for a competitive United States.)

The final guiding principle of the “Contract from America” regards "economic freedom", which wrongfully asserts, "The most powerful, proven instrument of material and social progress is the free market." This point also argues "any other economic system, regardless of its intended pragmatic benefits, undermines our fundamental rights as free people." I could more easily "buy" this point if I hadn't already seen the very real damages a free market economy has and continues to do. Accordingly, individual "economic freedom" is not the same thing as the unfettered, unregulated, laissez-faire capitalism that perpetually consumes and wastes-away our depleting natural and human capital. Something needs to change within our current system. The current outmoded machinery must be reformatted and upgraded for the future.

The rest of The Contract from America is a ten-point list of demands. I shall now offer some preliminary thoughts on each…

1.)
Protect the Constitution
The complicated thing about the
US Constitution is that is was written in 1787. Since then, things have (thankfully) changed and fortunately, so hasn't this founding document. Americans have amended the Constitution so that African Americans and women can vote. Thus, if we never changed the Constitution, we'd be an even more racist and sexist nation than we already are. I think there should be more Amendments made to the Constitution; after all, we need to better meet the ideals of our country while also accepting the challenges of this evolving world while bravely moving into the future. The Constitution is a founding framework that must be used to guide us as a nation and should be amended when necessary. Period.

2.)
Reject Cap and Trade
This concern is completely irrational, unless, I’m confused and those on the New Right are concerned that the Cap and Trade bill doesn’t do enough? But I think this has more to do with our dependence on “cheap oil.”

It is essential -as we continue to see from this summer's BP Oil Disaster- to regulate corporate pollution and begin cutting-back (and removing altogether) our emissions. The reason why rejecting cap and trade is not an option is the environment. Secondly, the proposals for cap and trade policies will make economic incentives for corporations who follow these policies, those who continue to break the rules, will be fined. Good. Make no mistake, global warming is not a “theory.” Global warming is a fact. Unfortunately, those on the New Right, continue to spread disinformation and do so at the peril of our children's future.

3.) Demand a Balanced Budget
Agreed. Let us “balance” the budget. Fortunately, President Obama has already reduced taxes for 95% of Americans. Thus, I’m confused as to why the “Tebaggers” are so adamant about insisting the President has "taken their money." Agreed, he has proposed taxing the wealthiest top 5% of Americans. Good. Tax away and let's "balance” the budget.

4.) Enact Fundamental Tax Reform
This "single-rate tax system" sounds a lot like a "flat tax" to me and is something that is not only unfair but will not work in a nation with such a diverse and imbalanced range of wealth over poverty. Fortunately, President Obama's
tax plan will decrease taxes for Americans making less than $250,000 a year and increase it for anyone above this. Again, the budget will be on its way to becoming more “balanced.”

5.)
Restore Fiscal Responsibility & Constitutionally Limited Government
Blah… blah… blah… This contract is so repetitive.

6.) End Runaway Government Spending
Sure, let’s redirect the massive amounts of money spent on defense and take back all that money given to the failed banks in the “bailout.”

7.)
Defund, Repeal, & Replace Government-run Health Care
Again this is just more of the same “privatize it all” and "let the corporations rule" mentality.

As everyone should know, we (unfortunately) don't have a single-payer "government-run health care" system; in fact, under the recent
Health Care Reform Bill, Americans can continue to keep the Health Care they have through their own health care providers. Of course, there is a whole host of rumors and misinformation circulating about "death panels" and "taxpayers paying for the health care coverage of 'illegal' immigrants." This is all foolish.

8.)
Pass an 'All-of-the-Above' Energy Policy
This is just a way for the oil companies to push for more "
drill baby drill" bullshit. Nope. The only way for America to "reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources" and create competitive jobs is by implementing and creating green and sustainable energy alternatives. There is no "going back" and the jobs that are "lost" because of ending our oil addiction will be well worth the many more we gain with clean energy and remaking our wasteful and outmoded infrastructure. We need to promote the next generation of energy efficient automobiles, now.

9.)
Stop the Pork
Local projects are often essential to the well-being of a working America. Thus, these should continue to be presented and approved by Congress on a case-by-case basis. Agreed, there is wasteful spending throughout Washington on projects often carried-out in the interests of certain K Street lobbying firms. Thus, there should and must be oversight; however, to "put a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced" would be completely destructive to the well-being of long overdue infrastructure upgrades and welfare programs.

10.)
Stop the Tax Hikes
Again, President Obama has cut taxes for 95% of working Americans. Enough said. However, this concern to "stop the tax hikes" is regarding "the income, capital gains, and death taxes, currently scheduled to begin in 2011." Now, I'm not as knowledgeable as I plan to be this election season on all of these tax terms; however, I suspect most "average Americans" are in the same "turbo-taxed" boat as I am.

After doing a little research, I discovered the "income, capital gains, and death taxes" are all items most Americans will never see or need to be concerned with. In fact, such "tax hikes" are only in place for the super rich. Thus, most people will never need to be so concerned with avoiding a capital gains tax, because they'll never be liable to pay it.

I suppose in a way, I do agree with the Teabaggers on this one. After all, if someone has "earned", invested, and saved their money, then they shouldn't need to be taxed again later on the investment’s assets. However, like I said, I'm not as well-versed (as I plan to be) on this subject. However, I do agree that in the sake of "fairness" the criminals at the top need to be taxed. As Fiorello La Guardia once so unapologetically roared on the floor of Congress, "I am simply going to say it, soak the rich!"

Signed,
The working American poor

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