Columnists :: Kilian Melloy
After posting my thoughts on the Democratic National Convention at Facebook last week, I sat back to see what fireworks would fly.
Much of my extended family and many of my friends are Republican-leaning, and they don’t like Obama one bit. I was curious to see what their objections would be to what the speakers at the DNC had to say, and more curious to see how they would (or could) justify the policies that Romney and Ryan back--policies that will reward and enrich the elite at the expense of the average citizen.
I didn’t have to wait long. "I see every day the health care crap and the money given away by democrats [sic] from my pocket book," one old acquaintance, who votes as an independent, wrote. "I am tired of people with a crink in there [sic] back... being on disability and smoking weed all day and buying opiates off the street to shoot up..."
A cousin jumped in at this point. "Romney is the only choice if you don’t want Obama," she wrote. "It’s going to be a really hard job to pull this country up again and wild promises won’t get it done."
Her words rang in my head for days. "A really hard job to pull this country up again." "Wild promises."
I get it--believe me, I get it. As a nation, and as individuals, we’ve spent ourselves into the ground. Consumer debt is a huge and dangerous problem, and our on government has taken on an unprecedented and highly irresponsible level of debt.
But I can’t get over the fact that it was a GOP president who emptied our treasury on an unnecessary war in Iraq while Wall Street went hog wild at the trough, severely under-regulated and with little supervision. Taxpayers got stuck with the bills, and worse, the war we should have been fighting--in Afghanistan, against terrorists--fell to a distant second or third place in our national priorities.
As for wild promises... well, Romney and Ryan have made some truly wild promises, promises that terrify me. They have promised to seek a Constitutional Amendment that would legally destroy my family and tens of thousands of families like mine nation-wide, by outlawing marriage equality. Their fiscal plans are equally broad and destructive; if implemented, they’d unleash Wall Street for another go at our still-fragile economy, and this time there’d be no stopping the plunge into the financial abyss. We have no more margin for either error nor larceny: The great global recession was a mere foretaste to what Romney and Ryan will do to us in the name of feeding the middle class, like so much salty red meat, to their business pals.
Not that Romney and Ryan let on to the details of their plans at the Republican National Convention. Their fuzzy message edited out the ugly parts about rescinding rights and persecuting women and sexual minorities; nor did they cop to the fiscal follies they have guaranteed elsewhere would be their modus operandi. But the numbers are out there, and at the DNC, former president Bill Clinton took the podium and annihilated the Republicans’ economic agenda, talking point by talking point, by simply reciting some of the relevant numbers.
When Clinton was running for his first term, he had a simple slogan: "It’s the economy" was the watchword, and he stuck to the point. In his speech for Obama the other night, Clinton returned to that theme. He had facts and figures ready to go--two crucial ingredients that had been missing from the RNC’s pudding the week before.
First off: "Since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House for 28 years; the Democrats, 24. In those 52 years, our private [sector] economy has produced 66 million private sector jobs. So, what’s the job score? Republicans, 24 million [jobs]; Democrats 42 [million jobs]."
Clinton took those numbers from abstract to concrete. "It turns out that advancing opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because poverty, discrimination, and ignorance restrict growth."
Clinton went on to refer to some other calculations the GOP have made: Increase military spending, far above what military leaders actually need or want; cut taxes for the super-rich; balance the books by gutting programs that stabilize the economic and social picture by supporting the middle class. Oh, and toss out all the regulations that have put in place to reign in Wall Street so they can’t crash the economy once more and then hold our nation hostage as they issue bailout demands.
The last time we tried that, of course, we got into two hugely expensive wars, saw a record surplus evaporate, watched the middle class shrink and the average family lose all the equity they’d build up since the 1990s... In short, those were the George W. Bush years, an era of paying for imperial fantasies with imaginary capital and bankrupting the families who live in the real world in the process.
"As another president once said," Clinton told the crowd, " ’There they go again.’ " And how: Clinton went on to remind his audience about how Congressional Republicans blocked a bill in 2011 that would have created one million new jobs. It was a cynical move that mirrored, in deed, the words that prominent Republicans uttered early in Obama’s term, sentiments that plainly spoke to a GOP desire to cripple America’s economic prospects as a way to usher Obama out of office after a single term.
That should raise your hackles, right along with a host of red flags. Having a strong middle class, rather than funneling money to the top and hoping for a trickle-down effect, is what floats all boats. Having a strong middle class and a system of financial rewards that adequately pays the people who do the work, instead of rapaciously rewarding the people who own the capital, makes it possible for wealth to be created instead of simply kicked up a one-way street to the coffers of the rich. Holding America fiscally hostage to political ambition is not the deed of true leaders, but it is the fulfillment of wild, cruel, and malicious promises made by those hungry for power and, because of that reckless hunger, undeserving of it.
The alternative to true, responsible leadership is what the GOP has consistently delivered over the last twelve years, and they’ve done it well enough to harm this nation and dampen its once-great vitality. "Winner take all" is the name of the GOP’s game, and it doesn’t work for two reasons: One, it’s a zero-sum game that creates no new wealth, but simply reallocates it, relentlessly, to those who already have more than enough. Two, those who have the money write the rules... and they cheat, building into the rules advantages for themselves and crippling obstacles for everyone else. Finding ever more convoluted and brazen ways simply to hand everything over to a tiny elite while common folks have a harder and harder time scraping by has not promoted a vibrant economy. What we need are not wild promises to keep on doing what doesn’t work; what we need is a clear-cut action plan to make things better. That takes clear-cut, relevant numbers. The Republicans don’t want to go there. Once you see the numbers, you know exactly why.
Is government the enemy? Republicans like to pretend that it is. But government is a resource, and like any resource it can be used wisely or it can be squandered. We can disagree as to which party has done a better job of stewardship with government, but once again the numbers do not lie: Under the last Republican president, government got bigger than ever. Under a president Romney, it would get more intrusive than ever.
Like everything else these days, it all boils down to ideology. Facts and figures, sadly, have little to do with the exercise of political power in the real world. The dividing line is this: What is the purpose of government? To protect the nation as a whole--or to protect the interests of a powerful elite at the expense of everyone else?
While facts and figures get little respect and little play in the political arena, however, they do offer a clearer picture of what is really going on. Politicians lie (hello, Paul "I didn’t take stimulus money" Ryan). Some politicians even flip and flop and with the gasping, thrashing desperation of fish out of water (Mr. Romney, I’d like to introduce you to a guy named John Kerry; you two have so much in common I’m sure you’ll get on famously). But numbers tell it like it is. I find it easier to trust the guy who’s not afraid of the numbers than the guy who dances his way around them like he has something to fear from their cold and revealing light.
Bill Clinton was not afraid to get up and cite the numbers. Republicans, on the other hand, want us to shut up, shell out, and not worry about the details. That’s another way of saying they want us to quit worrying about our own prospects and content ourselves working for the benefit of their corporate overlords (themselves concerned only with the numbers of their bottom line). Republicans, in their inhumanly exploitative calculations, are not at all interested in the common good, because they don’t factor human dignity, human happiness, human rights, or the basic promise of equality into their equations. But if you do the math for yourself, as Clinton asked, you might be surprised at how things add up.
One more thing the DNC did: It inspired those who had lost interest or succumbed to despair. "For a while I had gotten cynical and thought, ’Does it even matter?’ " my husband told me. "If the DNC did anything, it proved to me it’s really does matter."
Yes, it does. Far more than the, like, forty cents from every paycheck that you pay for the weed-smoking slackers who game the system. (Far, far more of your tax dollars go to pay for the farrago of defense contractors and other forms of corporate welfare.)
Here’s something else that matters: As my cousin went on to write on Facebook, "The Congress is just going to [have to] get off its plush little butt and work TOGETHER, a concept they don’t seem to understand."
On that, the little guys on both left and right can agree. Some day, I hope, the voices of those of us who live here on earth will rise united to the ears of those who reside in the clouds, and penetrate their fuzzy thinking. It really could happen: The most important numbers, after all, are us, all of us. If we ever stop pulling against one another, we might even accomplish great things once again.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.