[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.
The door of advancement has largely been closed for the vast majority of Americans because we've allowed ourselves to become pawns, worshiping at the feet of the almighty corporation. And we have elected people into office whose interests never aligned with those of the common man our Founding Fathers fought to protect, but with the wealthy corporate owners and lobbyists who keep them in power.
These political actors conjured divisive boogey men and women — inner city black men and non-existent "welfare queens" — painting us as non-deserving in order to turn us against each other so we would actually fight for corporations' rights over our own. They elevated jurists whom they knew would use the courts to restrict our liberties so the moneyed interests would prevail in the workplace, and workers would continue to lose rights that took generations to earn. And, ultimately, they seated a Supreme Court so skewed against the common man that they gave personhood status to inanimate entities, imbuing corporations with the same rights as human beings.
We find ourselves at a similar crossroads today. We have elected a House of Representatives hell-bent on destroying working- and middle-class America for the sake of the wealthy and their billions in potential campaign contributions. They invoke our Founding Fathers, never bothering to quote them directly, knowing full well the mention of those men inspires the belief that the Founders would be on their side, but that the details of the Founders' intentions would prove otherwise.
It was Benjamin Franklin who extolled that "all the property that is necessary to a man, for the conservation of the individual and the propagation of the species, is his natural right, which none can justly deprive him of. But all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public, who, by their laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the welfare of the public shall demand such disposition. He that does not like civil society on these terms, let him retire and live among savages. He can have no right to the benefits of society, who will not pay his club towards the support of it."
It was John Adams who defined our new government as one “instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men. Therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”
And it was Alexander Hamilton, in quoting a then-famous author, who warned that unless we “contrive a system of government” that presumes men’s private interests will always supersede those of society as a whole, and therefore “[fix] … checks and controls of the constitution” to “make [men] co-operate to public good, notwithstanding [their] insatiable avarice and ambition … we shall in vain boast of the advantages of any constitution, and shall find, in the end, that we have no security for our liberties, and possessions except the good-will of our rulers — that is, we should have no security at all.”
Hamilton’s warning came in 1775, just slightly more than 100 years before Lincoln’s eerily similar words. Yet here we are, 151 years after Lincoln's Congressional address, still trying in vain to get people to understand this simple concept: We must protect the liberties of the common man over the avarice of the wealthy few or we lose our own power and security.
Corporations now write our laws, skewing them to their favor. Corporations now secretly fund the elections of people who will legislate in their favor and against the interests of the common man. If we do not come together as a People, against the powerful interests that have taken over our government, we will feel the repercussions of our loss of economic freedom more and more.
Forty years of stagnant wages have driven tens of millions of workers into poverty. We complain about the ever-increasing cost to feed, clothe, house, and medically care for the poor with taxpayer dollars, and elect people to Congress who promise to cut these vital survival programs under the guise of reducing our debt. But there is a disconnect there. These are the same elected representatives who write legislation that allow the biggest corporations to so severely underpay their workers that they have nowhere else to turn for basic sustenance but the goodwill of their fellow man through the government.
Left with nothing but this vicious cycle, we are becoming exactly like our neighbors to the south, Mexico, a country with a wealthy upper class and a poverty class, but no middle class, whose citizens are risking everything to escape across their northern border in search of better lives for their families. Left on this path, soon we will be escaping across ours.
This isn’t fear-mongering fantasy; it’s already well on its way to being Life in America.
So for the sake of all our liberty and security, stand with those who fight for The People's rights: the union strikers who risk their jobs so you can keep your weekends sacrosanct for family and your family's health well-guarded with appropriate insurance; the Progressive candidates for office who uphold our Founding Fathers' ideals, not just pay them lip service, but fight for fair pay for workers from the profits generated through their labor; and current Democratic and Progressive office-holders who are standing with The People over corporate interests.
This time, heed Lincoln's advice: Don't surrender your power to corporate interests.
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