“All I Want is the Right to Live, Mister”

I think voters need to step back and take a serious, measured look at what our real choices are for President this fall.   Hard working Americans who have become victims of this recession are not dead beats looking for a free lunch.  They see their plight as temporary but would feel better about it if  there was some genuine empathy from one of the candidates who could be President but appears to have no idea what it’s like to be struggling economically when times are hard.   

 

While corporate profits reach record highs, wages remain stagnant

 

The high unemployment rate that just refuses to recede back to that 4-5% rate that most economists view as the norm continues to drain savings accounts, puts families out of their homes and clearly brings into perspective that the idea of an American dream is no longer a reality for most people as it once was.  More people have slipped from middle incomes levels into the ranks of poverty as a result of the financial collapse on Wall Street back in 2008.

As a consequence, the need for state and federal aid has grown in the form of unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid benefits.  Older workers are discovering how difficult it is to find comparable work that they once held before being laid off and are often forced to collect Social Security benefits at the earlier retirement age of 62, putting an added burden on that trust fund when receipts are shrinking from fewer income earners in the job market.

This isn’t a condition any of these people sought or feel comfortable with.  It is taxing and humiliating on individuals to go through the paperwork and expend the time applying for benefits while simultaneously trying to compete with 4-5 other people looking for that one job that will put them back in the work force.  Many have put off taking such action until there is nothing else left for them to do after they’ve emptied their savings, sold their home and moved in with relatives, all while cutting back on food and health needs to sustain them.  It is a depressing state that has a deteriorating affect on their physical health, leading to greater economic woes for them and their family.

Nobody wants what Paul Ryan recently suggested about having “a safety net that turns into a hammock that lulls people into dependency in this country”.   That’s a fear smear used by the political right to mischaracterize necessary welfare programs in this country that fill the void when free markets fail.  All anyone really wants now as they did during the Great Depression was “the right to live, Mister, Give me back my job again.”  Jim Garland’s 1941 lyrics to All I Want was part of the social protest movement expressed in the music of the Almanac Singers that consisted of Garland, Wood Guthrie and Pete Seeger

We worked to build this country, Mister,

While you enjoyed a life of ease.

You’ve stolen all that we built, Mister,

Now our children starve and freeze.

 

So, I don’t want your millions, Mister,

I don’t want your diamond ring.

All I want is the right to live, Mister,

Give me back my job again.

 

Charities of every kind are over-burdened with the needs to meet this new population who just a few short years ago were themselves contributing to food banks, work programs and life support organizations that routinely meet the needs of society’s poor and disenfranchised groups.  As a society we are just not wired to become dependent on others, looking for a “free lunch”, and will go out of our way to avoid relying on the kindness of strangers.

It would be nice then if the presumed Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, would stop disparaging these people, portraying them as a “culture of dependency” and showed some empathy by ending his demeaning narrative towards those policies and programs that offer some solace in these economic hard times until the promises of the free markets correct what they essentially caused.  Without some government assistance at this time, this doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. Paul Ryan’s entry into the race as Romney’s VP will have no affect on this dynamic.  It will in fact bring it more into focus since Ryan is the poster boy for wanting to privatize Medicaid/Medicare.

 

“There is no such thing as a free-market.  A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them.”economist Ha-Joon Chang

 

In order for the “invisible hand” of the free markets to work its magic, more people will likely lose their homes, their savings and their hopes of an ideal American dream first .  Unfettered markets will rely solely on the forces of supply and demand from the private sector to revive the economy.  Without government stimulus to generate demand and speed up the recovery, those currently unemployed will have to hope that a high level of entrepreneurship springs into action quicker rather than later.  The prospects for that happening soon are not promising.

And while waiting for this to occur the victims of the great recession are finding it more difficult to rely on state and federal assistance to tide them over.  The free markets do not accommodate families struggling who are waiting for the “job creators” to provide employment opportunities.  This puts them deeper in debt and prevents them from rejoining the ranks of consumers if they are mostly reliant on private charities.

If people are not buying then demand is weak and employment either remains the same or shrinks, creating even less demand needed to turn the unemployment crisis around.  Thus the new unemployed population that developed when the banks too big to fail went under have to hope that the failed premise of trickle down economics Romney and Ryan offer will deliver this time where it hasn’t in the past.

The deck remains stacked in favor of Wall Street.  A Romney Presidency will gain them a card dealer who deals to them from the bottom of the deck.

 

President Obama has been criticized by apostles of supply side economics for his use of the Keynesian approach requiring government intervention during economic hard times.  These efforts were effective in stopping the rapid rate of job losses and even began to turn the tide shortly after being applied.  But the stimulus package passed by Congress shortly after Obama’s inauguration, without any Republican backing, was too little for an economy that had deeper issues than nearly anyone on either side predicted.

As a result, the Republicans exploited this short-sightedness and portrayed it as a failure of policy, even though they battled to insure its failure.  Angry voters who watched Washington bailout Wall Street while Main Street went under easily bought in to the straw man offered by forces eager to regain their prominence under the neo-conservative policies of the Bush/Cheney days

Acting behind the scenes to promote the anti-government, anti-tax fervor of the small libertarian contingent in this country which came to be known as the T.E.A. Party,  they repackaged trickle down economics in a thinly veiled manner that allows even greater revenue loss to prop up the social safety net that is saving millions from falling deeper into debt and poverty.   While middle-income families who still have a job are led to believe that it is the expense of maintaining this social safety net that’s causing their economic concerns, the wealthiest amongst us are getting richer from lower taxes and less regulation to keep their greed in check.

This is the select group of people who Mitt Romney comes from and Ryan supports to the detriment of the middle-income victims of failed free-market policies.  The gaffes Romney makes and continues to make about the working class in America and his feigned concern for them is becoming legendary.  Yet he retains a modicum of persuasion over those who will ultimately be adversely affected by his hoped-for victory come November because of a level of hate for Obama that can’t be rationally explained.  In the end however this may not save him because Romney still lives in a fog about his own culture of wealth as writer Jonathan Chait  has noted.

Romney has taken no steps at all to put a middle-class sheen on his background, and he’s allowed Democrats to define him by his wealth and heartlessness. He seems to have fallen into the trap of believing that the sentiments about wealth that prevail among movement conservatives reflect the beliefs of Americans as a whole.    SOURCE 

Polls are clearly showing that this may well work against the presumed GOP nominee for president.  Not only do more people like Barack Obama than they do Romney, they also don’t identify with his wealth culture.  It remains to be seen if Ryan’s inclusion into the Romney campaign will alter these poll results more in favor of the man who continues to demonstrate his failure to connect with the average American.

So why are those Independents who will eventually decide the outcome of this election still waiting to make their choice?  Obama has understandably been disappointing for not being more aggressive going after the culture of greed that caused our current state of affairs and has been too willing to compromise with people who have made it clear that compromise is itself a dirty word.  The GOP has focused on this weak aspect of his leadership to undermine the president in all things.  But the choice between Obama and a man who has no clue what it’s like to be unemployed and struggling to meet the daily needs to survive seems like a no-brainer.


 

It’s not that wealthy people are automatically out of touch with poorer working class families.  Not all of them are.  In his inaugural address John Kennedy warned that “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”  But Romney clearly showed his ignorance of poverty in America when he implied at Otterbein University in Ohio earlier this year that financial success was simply a matter of  “borrowing money if you have to from your parents”. 

Reinstating Obama means we will still at least have a sympathetic ear and a foot in the door to accomplish greater things we were led to believe would come to fruition shortly after his inauguration.  He will remain in place to block any draconian measures by a GOP-controlled House or Senate that attempt to severe necessary benefits for the most vulnerable in our society – the elderly, children and the handicapped.

For all his misgivings in his first term they still remain outdone by what he did achieve.   Obama is likely to be more receptive to the change we still need in Washington in his second and final term as President.  This may not inspire the hope for many that voted for Obama in 2008 but it remains a lifeline for working families and the indigent poor.

That door slams shut however if Romney is elected.  The alternative of a Romney/Ryan ticket promises to return the status quo view of economics that sent markets dropping like lead balloons four short years ago.   The only form of hope likely to be left then for most Americans will be that their lottery numbers hit and trickle down economics will at least contribute more to the foods banks and free health clinics.

 

“It is really not so repulsive to see the poor asking for money as it is seeing the rich asking for more money.” – G.K Chesterton

 

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11 responses to ““All I Want is the Right to Live, Mister”

  1. Excellent post, thank you.
    I have been taking a history class on the Industrial revolution and the urbanization of America, and was astounded to read about how much government support (meaning MONEY) went into the building of the factories, canals and railroads. So much for the independent entrepreneur who “created” all those businesses.

    • Yes, with a little help from their friends in government, vis a vis loans and subsidies, free marketers have done quite well in this country. Not all business has progressed with such aid but most advanced further and quicker through the benefits of tax revenue.

  2. I agree Larry. People who once were the contributors to food banks and charities are now hoping that they can get some help themselves, and there should be government help for them. That is why we have a government. Our government should not be just about serving corporate America or the rich. I would like to suggest though that there are a lot of people on the gov’t help list that just stay there because it is convenient. I know; I’ve seen a lot in action working the system. So maybe, we need to make room for those who need it now. It’s time to start throwing off the abusers of the system so that those who find themselves in legitimate need can have some help. I know that sounds harsh, but I am tired of people taking advantage on both ends.

  3. The last I say, stats that is, there is about 1% maybe 2 that could be considered abusers…..the social contract is dying and if the GOP gets its way there will be 2 classses…..rich and poor….the middle class is disappearing daily…….another great post Larry.

  4. I guess when you are rich, often through no effort on your own, you feel embarrassed and look for reasons to justify it. Or you work hard, and gain millions, and live in a manner that bespeaks crass over-indulgence while the guy on the street pushes his cart full of all his belongings. In any case, you come up with some hellacious explanations for why it’s okay that you have gold faucets and most people don’t have a shelter over their head that they can count on. Darwin gets dragged into the mix and becomes the sociological explanation of why I’m rich and you aren’t. Protestants will never let rest their assurance that hard work is some how godly. We will retune the old crap that “anyone can make it if they try in America” and go blindly off to the next bit of caviar and champagne and forget that its all crap, and others are dying while we throw out more food each week than they consume. Romney is uncomfortable around normal people. Ryan has adopted the sick philosophy that people like himself are where they are because they are simply better than the rest. I guess it’s a nice way to avoid the cold truth. People have a way of dealing with oligarchies–it ain’t pretty.

    • “Romney is uncomfortable around normal people. “

      He’s as unfamiliar with the “small people” as Bush jr. was with poor black people. A natural condition for most people born to the manor.

  5. That’s what bothers me the most about Romney. I early on had hopes that maybe he was a moderate Republican that represented a reasonable voice from the right, and we’d have a good election between two solid candidates. Now I see Romney’s moderation has been part of “doing whatever necessary to win,” and I wonder what his core values are. On a plane last May coming back from Europe I sat next to a woman who said, “I don’t see how they can call making $300,000 a year rich — look at property taxes, costs for schools, lessons, and basic needs…” She believed that. I just said “well, that’s less than 2% of the population” which took her aback (though neither of us wanted an argument so we dropped it). His world is such that the poor are the maids at the hotels, the butlers, the drivers, and others. He probably even tips well, so he figures it’s all right. PEW just released info on the shrinking middle class. But hey, Romney will assure us that it’s Obama’s fault.

    • “”I don’t see how they can call making $300,000 a year rich — look at property taxes, costs for schools, lessons, and basic needs…” She believed that.”

      Yes, when people have so much money that they are able to spend it on things that poorer people view as “wants” rather than “needs”, or as luxuries, it’s hard for those in the top 2% to understand what a family of 4 living off of $50,000 a year really endures and goes without.

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