[Editor's note: This post originally ran in 2012. We are reviving it at this time in conjunction with Bernie Sanders' call for an economy that works for everyone. We hope it sheds some light on why thinking about the economy in the right way matters when it comes to developing policy and implementing it into law. Let us know what you think in the comments below.]
The modern day GOP would like us to believe that our economy functions best when those at the top continue to receive endless tax breaks, oil subsidies, corporate jet subsidies, and other forms of corporate socialism. Our nation’s history proves otherwise. Everyone benefited when we built the interstate highway system. Likewise, when we enacted economic policies that favored higher taxes on those making over a million per year in today’s dollars, and when we initiated a Government-led program that put America back to work, everyone, including those at the very top benefitted. The result of this courageous leadership led to the introduction of social programs that were designed to rescue "we the people" from the grips of crony capitalism that brought on the great depression.
[Editor's note: This post originally ran in January 2013. We are reviving it at this time in conjunction with Bernie Sanders' call to take back our government from the billionaires and corporations that now control it. We hope it sheds some light on how long this insidious problem has haunted us and hampered progress in the United States. Let us know what you think in the comments below.]
While the nation's eye is turned to Washington as they move the fight over honoring our promise to pay the debt we have already incurred to yet another day, and with Republicans attempting to tie this obligation to gutting Survival Security programs, we are losing sight of the fact that our debt isn't really our biggest problem in this country; it is merely a symptom. Our lack of will to stand up for average Americans’ right to thriving wages with the same ferocity we fight for the one percent's ability to reap their billions is what has not only created a significant portion of our debt, but is the moral failing that will eventually destroy our economy — and perhaps even our nation — once and for all.
"Let them [who labor] beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which, if surrendered, will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they, and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them, 'til all of liberty shall be lost."
These words of warning were issued by Abraham Lincoln in his Annual Message to Congress on Dec. 3, 1861, but could just as easily have been spoken 33 years ago in cautioning against Reagan’s supply-side “voodoo” economics; a policy that would go on to concentrate all of America’s future earnings into the bank accounts of the elite one percent, rendering average Americans powerless in their struggle for economic advancement.
Or they could have been uttered 19 years ago, cautioning against electing a Republican Congress that would not allow workers an increase in minimum wages for two ten-year stretches (1981–1990 and 1997–2007), during which their advancement was, for all practical purposes, impossible.
Or perhaps 15 years ago, cautioning against electing yet another Republican-controlled Congress; one that would force the repeal of the Glass-Steagall safeguards for our savings and investments, leaving us vulnerable to the catastrophic loss of our personal wealth at the hands of Wall Street “banksters.”
At each of these times, we had an opportunity to deny political power to those who continued to “fix new disabilities and burdens upon” us or surrender our own political power to them. And each time, we chose surrender.
[Editor's note: This post originally ran in 2012. We are reviving it at this time in conjunction with Bernie Sanders' call for an end to for-profit prisons in America. We hope it sheds some light on why this practice is the antithesis of everything a free America is supposed to be. Let us know what you think in the comments below.]
Private corporations that tout that they will cut costs if given the chance to profitize local jails and prisons, fail to mention they breach all lines of ethics and morals in order to do so. One frequent cost-cutting measure is to employ fewer doctors and nurses. With a rapidly growing, aging, and diseased prison population confined to quarters usually built for fewer than half of what they house, that practice is a recipe for disaster. Xavier Scullark-Johnson is a bitter example of this.
Johnson was a 27-year-old inmate at a Minnesota correctional facility who was only three months away from release. Mr. Johnson routinely suffered from seizures and was prescribed an anti-seizure medication, Dilantin, to keep him from fatally seizing to death. One night in June 2010 Johnson began suffering a severe seizure episode and an on-call doctor ordered an ambulance team dispatched to the prison. When the ambulance arrived, the prison nurse, Denise L. Garin, refused to allow them to transport Mr. Johnson to the hospital, citing “protocol.” Nurse Garin explained this was in an effort to “cut costs.” Xavier Scullark-Johnson was pronounced dead less than two hours after the ambulance was forced to leave, on the floor of his cell, curled up in the fetal position, soaked in his own urine. But hey, for-profit medical contractor Corizon saved some money!
[Editor's note: This post originally ran in May 2012. We are reviving it at this time in conjunction with Bernie Sanders' call for a free public college education for all. We hope it sheds some light on why this not only isn't a radical idea, but is one deeply rooted in our nation's history. Let us know what you think in the comments below.]
As I prepare to send my youngest child off to a state university, recent Congressional kerfuffles over student loan interest rates have left me wondering when our nation abandoned our core values. When conservative pundits like George Will actually call student loans "entitlements" and Cal Thomas of the Baltimore Sun says student debt problems are simply a failure of the students themselves, something distinctly un-American is happening. Here's a dose of truth for those so-called conservative values types: Public education paid for by all citizens was one of the core values our Founding Fathers named as fundamental to a free, democratic society.
In April 1776, John Adams put his Thoughts on Government in writing in response to a resolution by the North Carolina Provincial Congress. He begins by making a case for the purpose of government, writing "the happiness of society is the end of all government" which naturally follows his belief that "the happiness of the individual is the end of man." Using these as guiding principles, Adams then sketches an outline of what he believes good government should be.
After outlining a legislative framework, Adams moves on to specifics. After a well-armed militia, Adams wrote, "Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant."
To a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant. Imagine waking up to a 21st century in the United States with that core value. Imagine.
John Adams wasn't alone in this belief. Thomas Jefferson was so committed to his belief that self-government was doomed to fail without an educated electorate that in his 1806 State of the Union address, he called for federally funded public education, saying "An amendment to our constitution must here come in the aid of public education. The influence over government must be shared among all people." When he could not garner support for a constitutional amendment, he set about to create a framework for his vision for public education, which ultimately failed to pass the Congress. IIn the end, Jefferson settled for the establishment of the University of Virginia as a legacy to his undying belief in public education.
In all the research and reading I have done on this subject, I've been unable to find one Founding Father who devalued public education or argued against education of the general public. There was disagreement around who should control public education. The same conflict we see today between federalists and state's rights advocates hindered the question of whether public education should be a state matter or a federal matter, which ultimately led to the defeat of Jefferson's initiatives. Yes, tension existed as to whether states, municipalities or the federal government should control public education, but no one opposed the idea of providing one at public expense.
“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
In honor of the anniversary of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King's birth, we are dusting off and updating this post to remind everyone why we can never give up fighting to win the war against the working poor in this country.
With corporate profits soaring to all-time highs, and wages at all-time lows, talking about why this matters is critical to righting our economy. And how we talk about it will determine if our words will resonate or fall on deaf ears.
Conservatives place a high priority on the values of discipline and self-reliance. For this reason, they are quicker to defend the wealthy CEO over the working poor. The wealthy CEO “worked hard” and therefore deserves his vast riches no matter the relative size or the effect on society. If the poor working-class man had worked as hard as the wealthy CEO, surely he would be a wealthy CEO himself ... or so they believe.
These are not values that Progressives will ever be able to change; they are hard-wired into the psyche of the Conservative thinker and are as matter-of-fact to the person holding those values as the Progressive values of community and shared sacrifice.
Because Conservatives hold these values so strongly, they have designed their political policies such that big corporations and the wealthy CEOs who run them are richly rewarded and the working poor are not. The fact that this causes “inequality” is of no importance to them because they believe that’s just how life is.
But the problem here isn’t that these Conservative values are wrong, because they really aren't — discipline and self-reliance are good things to have. The problem is that the disciplined hard-worker and the government-reliant undeserving are not who the right says they are. If we ever hope to get a Conservative thinker — which many independent, or “persuadable” voters are — to see that, the way we talk about who the real hard-workers are, is going to have to fit within to those Conservative values.
The good news is, we can do that!
The media have been buzzing with stories — many of them wildly exaggerated — of people facing higher premiums as a result of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But there’s a story about rates you may not have heard: According to Jonathan Gruber, a leading health care wonk at MIT, all private insurance premiums in the 25 red states that are refusing to expand their Medicaid programs will be 15 percent higher as a direct result of that decision.
But those numbers don’t capture the human cost. The reality is that conservatives are complaining about insurance policies being cancelled and the ACA’s error-plagued exchanges at the same time as they actively work to keep millions of poor Americans from gaining coverage under the law’s Medicaid expansion.
The victims of The Patient Protection Act’s implementation problems being hit the hardest, by far, are those whose incomes fall between the federal poverty line and the eligibility cutoffs in those 25 states rejecting Medicaid expansion. Not only will they be left uncovered, they won’t even be eligible for the generous subsidies that people earning slightly more than they do can use to buy insurance. It’s brutally unfair. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 4.8 million poor adults may fall into that coverage gap — about twice the number of people expected to pay more for their insurance when their substandard policies are cancelled.
And it gets worse. In 40 states, adults without children are ineligible for Medicaid regardless of their income level. In 30 states, the parents of children who qualify for Medicaid may not be eligible themselves. All of these people would be covered under Medicaid’s expansion, but they’re being left high and dry in the 25 states who have rejected expansion. And while the problems plaguing healthcare.gov result from mismanagement and a contracting boondoggle, those red state lawmakers who refuse to expand Medicaid are inflicting this harm intentionally, based solely on their [alleged] ideology.
In other words, they’re actively working to maintain America’s shamefully high rate of uninsured. And that comes with deadly consequences. Because, in this country, we do ‘let 'em die’ – we let the poor and the uninsured die from treatable illnesses every day.
Winning Words on Health care Reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:
In this edition of The Winning Words Project, we focus on how to reframe and control the conversation around the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which is now the law of the land. It's not about government, taxes, penalties or a website — it's about patients. Focus on people. Here's how to take Republican talking points away from them by pivoting to the Patient Protection part of the PPACA.
In 2009, when polls consistently showed the majority of Americans wanted reform in our health care model, Republicans feared President Obama's reforms to health care would pass Congress with support of the majority of the country. In an effort to prevent the president from achieving any success during his term, they turned to their go-to word-master, Frank Lunz.
Luntz, known for his "Say This, Not That" and "Never say/Instead say"-style handbooks, which are distributed throughout the Republican party, saw from his focus groups that it would be impossible to fight against the many improvements that people saw as much-needed benefits in the then-pending Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
So his advice to communication strategists within the Republican party was to tell Republicans to lie—to loudly and repeatedly shout about an imaginary "government takeover."
Flash forward to today. The constitutionality of the Patient Protection Act has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, yet Republicans are still stuck in repeal mode, lying about the law, and pretending that the website is the law, when the website is just the website, not the law itself.
Dave Weigel of Slate noted last year that Republicans have reprised Lunz's dishonest script from 2009.
Growing our economy has become a key focal point in political discussions in recent years, and has important public policy implications moving forward. In the name of "economic growth" and the pursuit of "pro-growth" policies, we have implemented a series of austerity measures that have been devastating to the public at large, while protecting and further enriching the wealthy class in America.
- An Economy for Everyone ensures we all benefit, not just the affluent
The term "economic growth" is a right wing frame designed to convince us that we should focus our attention on the overall economy, thereby taking our focus away from growing our own families' income. It's designed to mislead us into believing that we all benefit when things like GDP grows, or the stock market goes up. We've been conditioned to cheer those kinds of "economic indicators," even though their measure has little to no benefit to the average working family.
GDP per capita is not a measurement of the standard of living in an economy; however, it is often used as such an indicator, on the rationale that all citizens would benefit from their country's increased economic production. Similarly, GDP per capita is not a measure of personal income. GDP may increase while real incomes for the majority decline. ~ Wikipedia
Once we've been convinced of the need to grow our economy, the next step is to convince us that the best way to achieve this is to give wealthy people more tax breaks. But the wordsmiths know you will object to giving rich people breaks, so they re-framed it as "tax relief" to make you feel that the privileged folks are the ones who are suffering and need relief. Since the government can't operate without income, the actual burden ends up falling significantly harder on us. In the end, we pay more in taxes, so the wealthy can pay less!
A recent study by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) does a great job at exposing both right wing frames: "economic growth," and "tax relief." The CRS study specifically analyzed 65 years worth of data between top tax rates and economic growth. Although the top tax rates wealthy people pay have never been lower than during this time period, the study found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth.
Another fascinating discovery was that a correlation was found between reducing the top tax rates and increased concentrations of wealth for this privileged class. In other words, voting for "tax relief" in the past has led to a transfer of wealth over the past 65 years from millions of hard-working Americans to a few affluent families. It’s clear from these findings that providing "tax relief" in the name of pursuing "economic growth" is actually harming our economy by unnecessarily privileging the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
Is this the new Republican Party, fearlessly transforming itself after failing to roust the Muslim Marxist Mau Mau Marauder and losing seats in both houses of Congress? Is this the GOP’s painful soul-searching in the face of its accelerating demographic march into national irrelevancy?
Is this all they got?
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Michael Takiff is the author of "A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him," published by Yale University Press. His writing has appeared on the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as in The Nation and Salon. We are grateful that he has generously allowed us to publish his work here, as well. Find other articles by Michael at The Winning Words Project here.
The severity of our nation's divisions is most visible in how they have manifest in the gaping distance between the wealthy elite whose income is derived from capital investment, and the average worker whose income is derived from the investment of their labor.
The speech President Obama will give tonight about the State of the Union is being billed as devoted to the Economy and a "Rising, Thriving Middle Class." Given this focus, it seems apt to look back at the State of the Union Address given by then-President Lincoln in December 1861.