Posted by: JanF | April 14, 2011

A clear difference

Today’s post is a bright light illuminating a clear difference.

Sometimes it is hard to put into words exactly what the difference is between the two major political parties in America. Oh, it is easy to see … it is just not always easy to articulate.

The tea party movement made it a little easier because they are Republicans without any of the filters of civility. The only thing shocking about their racist overtones, undertones and innertones is their shock that we noticed it.

GOP House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) issued a manifesto that proclaimed the benefits of the rich getting richer and the poor paying for it. It was stunning how he cheerfully outlined the Republican plan as if it were actually reasonable instead of one of the more heinous attacks by the have-mores on the have-nothings in centuries. More startling was how it was viewed by many as courageous. Perhaps courageous in it’s, um, brassiness, but not courageous in the way most people think of courageous: standing up for what is right and good in the face of adversity.

That the plan received anything but shunning was one of the saddest moments in recent American political history. Because, unfortunately, when a complicated proposal is made that requires someone to “read” and “turn pages” that is often perceived as “hard work” and what sticks in people’s minds is how it is characterized, not it’s content.

The Cause, as Rep. Ryan called it, laid out a plan for the shriveling of America. It defined the puniness of the vision of the Republican party for our country.

Nothing makes a vision look punier and more mean than being put up against a vision of greatness and that is what happened Wednesday afternoon.

President Barack Obama laid out his vision yesterday. What struck me most was that it was not the vision of American greatness that is more commonly evoked in speeches that harken back to our early history: visions of a railroad laid across the nation or storming the beaches of Normandy or a man on the moon.

It was a Progressive vision and a clear statement of American values which are Progressive Values:

From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.

But there has always been another thread running throughout our history – a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries. Each of us has benefited from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.

This speech does more to illuminate the stark differences between the two parties than any stack of policy papers or talking points or political platforms.

Democrats are for us: those with an elderly grandmother who is in a nursing home and those whose nephew has Down’s Syndrome and for people whose daughter wants to go to college but who can’t afford to save for college on a just-getting-by salary.

Republicans are for the haves and have-mores, conservatives (and campaign funders), who declare that their vision of America includes hoarding wealth and hoping that the huddled masses are so busy being wage slaves that they never have time to notice that the wealthy are not paying for their share of the commons.

Here is more of that stark contrast as President Obama pulls the pretty wrapping off of the Republican budget plan Cause (the GOP Path to More Prosperity for The Already Prosperous):

A 70% cut to clean energy. A 25% cut in education. A 30% cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That’s what they’re proposing. These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren’t the kind of cuts that Republicans and Democrats on the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic.

It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.

It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck – you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

Progressives and those who advocate for Good Government, have been fighting the myth of “government is the problem not the solution” for generations, most recently by Ronald Reagan’s “The scariest words are ‘I’m from the government and I am here to help’” : a Republican talking point that resonates with something so deep that it is not even sticky anymore … it has been fully encapsulated in the American psyche.

It is going to take generations to replace that with ‘The government is there to help when bad things happen to good people’ but I propose we start working on that now in light of the president’s willingness to identify that people are more important than profits and that we have a progressive history in America.

When we have natural disasters, we don’t question that the government will be there to help out. We expect government help after tornadoes and floods and hurricanes. We work with our neighbors to rebuild our communities and our lives and we use federal money to assist us in that process.

Our country’s current financial mess is a man-made disaster. It was created by the hubris which repealed government regulations that had kept our country out of debilitating financial downturns for a half a century and by a self-proclaimed ‘fiscally responsibile political party’ (supported by no evidence) that sharply turned a budget surplus into a budget deficit.

I ask this rhetorical question: Why are we resisting having government help us rebuild after this man-made disaster?

I will unequivocally answer: We shouldn’t. Our current fiscal house needs to be put in order but after we put Americans to work and after we care for those harmed by the recklessness of Republican policies and after we give people some bootstraps to pull themselves up by.

Start now: talk it up. Government is there to help us when times are bad and “tough luck — you’re on your own” should never be the motto of a great nation.

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For those who missed it, President Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday, April 13, 2011:

Transcript

White House Fact Sheet

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Great Speeches is a series on speeches by American politicians.

(A version of this was originally posted on 04/14/2011 at BPI Campus)

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