Knowing the difference between red and blue
One activist at a recent Occupy Wall Street protest held a sign saying, ‘Red or blue, they screw you.’ Talk about undiscerning. Changing the country is going to take more than protests. It means knowing who is on the side of 99 percent of us and who is not.
Earlier this month, I happened to drive past an Occupy Wall Street event that had been scheduled for the same time as another event I’d attended. The OWS event, to their great credit, was four hours old and still had upwards of 50 people waving, singing, chanting and holding signs.
I loved most of the signs. Anyone who is remotely familiar with the housing bubble’s root causes knows that the lack of regulations in the home-loan industry, coupled with lack of oversight of Wall Street gambling, were the prime causes of a recession that has ruined literally tens of millions of American lives. (Read “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis if you think that the causes were Fannie, Freddie, or the Community Reinvestment Act. They weren’t).
The pain right now is real. Foreclosures, homelessness, unemployment, underemployment, adult children moving in with parents and vice versa. There’s a real crisis going on in America, and there’s no question about who is responsible for it. Most protesters hit the nail on the head.
I had to object to one sign, though.
One young activist held a sign saying, “Red or blue, they screw you.” Talk about undiscerning. There’s no doubt that the corporations and Wall Street firms who oppose regulation are masters of trying to buy off both parties, and that some Dems take the bait.
But there are real differences, and there’s no one happier than Wall Street and Republicans to see protesters lay blame equally on Democrats and Republicans for our current mess. It allows Republicans to escape accountability for their actions, and punishes Dems for having the courage to fight against Wall Street’s pressure to stay largely unregulated.
Financial-sector regulation, consumer protection and jobs
Democrats passed the strongest financial-sector regulations and consumer protections since the 30s. Guess who is trying to undo that work? Virtually every Republican in Washington, including Congressman Steve Pearce. Yet we’re supposed to treat Pearce the same as Congressmen Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich, and Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman?
YouTube Elizabeth Warren, Obama’s hand-picked architect of many of our new consumer protections and now a Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, and ask yourself if she sounds like Republican Wall Street deregulation advocate Heather Wilson.
In addition to financial-market regulation and consumer protection, the parties couldn’t be more different when it comes to solving issues like unemployment.
President Obama’s American Jobs Act was a consolidation of three major ideas that have garnered widespread bipartisan support for decades. Republicans used to love tax cuts of any kind, including cutting payroll taxes, until they were offered by President Obama. Suddenly Republicans find themselves in favor of raising taxes (mostly on the middle class and low-income families, of course).
Even stranger is the GOP opposition to infrastructure projects. Roads, bridges, airports, sewer and water systems, schools, prisons, and other essential infrastructure need to be upgraded anyhow, and badly. So why not do it now while money is cheap, people need jobs, and the cycling of money through the economy is precisely what the private sector needs to get back on its feet?
The third major part of the American Jobs Act is rehiring laid off police, firefighters, and teachers. There was a time when the Republican Party supported things like smaller class sizes, crime fighting, and public safety. No longer. Republicans scapegoat even workers who themselves are often Republican (or used to be) for a crisis whose causes had absolutely nothing to do with sewage plant workers, corrections officers, nurses, policemen, firefighters and teachers.
The American Jobs Act is a golden opportunity for a bipartisan solution that is primarily rooted in bolstering private companies and helping employees in the private sector, and Republicans are acting as if Obama had just nominated Karl Marx as the new chair of Apple.
Playing politics and protecting the wealthy
Why? Here’s what the Republican’s senior leader in Washington, Senator Mitch McConnell, said about a third of the way into Obama’s presidency: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
In fairness to the GOP, it’s not just politics. There’s a second goal that’s always in their minds: protecting the fortunes of millionaires and billionaires, no matter the circumstances.
The American Jobs Act is paid for, in large part, by restoring progressivity to our tax code. Senate Democrats propose that the only people who would see a tax increase are those making over $1 million a year (many of whom are on Wall Street). Obama has proposed merely reverting to the same top marginal rate that was paid during the Clinton years, when the rich did just fine.
When many millionaires and billionaires pay a lower percentage of income in taxes than their secretaries, that’s hardly class warfare. It’s fair play. Still, the idea that millionaires and billionaires share in even a penny’s worth of sacrifice while so much of the country suffers is anathema to the Republican Party of 2011.
Changing the country is going to take more than protests, as important as those are. It means knowing who is on the side of 99 percent of us and who is not. And knowing the difference between the two come Election Day.
Bundy is the political and legislative director for AFSCME in New Mexico. The opinions in his column are personal and do not necessarily reflect any official AFSCME position. You can learn more about him by clicking here. Contact him at email@example.com.
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