I remember our American Government unit in Social Studies class. This was fifth grade, taught by my only male elementary school teacher. Mr. Grimsley looked like a ex-Marine. My dad was a Marine, and there's something about them, you know? Anyway, Mr. G taught about American government in the way that only a military man could, I suppose. Even during the Vietnam era, he spoke about America and the founding fathers and the genius of the Constitution in a way that probably helped to cement a couple of things about me. The first was, I wanted to be a lawyer--to participate in that great system and help the good guys win. As a fat bookish kid with thick glasses, that was probably as close as I could come to envisioning myself as a superhero. The second was, I started from the position that America was "right." We were free, and the people got to run the country. Even though there was lots of strife--about the Vietnam war, and the then-new idea of legal abortion, and "womens' lib,:" and all of that, we were a great nation that stood for something good. Human dignity and strength. Justice. The power of the people to make things better, or at least try something different.
Later, of course, there were things that led me to question just how much that stuff worked in practice. I found out about the riots in LA, about Kent State, about the Japanese internment camps, about the Pinkertons and the labor movement, about the poll taxes and Jim Crow laws, and Dred Scott, and many other examples of times when our democratic republic seemed to fall down on the job a bit in the human dignity and justice departments. But still, I believed.
I stood for the national anthem, and almost always got a tear in my eyes. I registered to vote and did vote--regularly--having always read the advance sample ballot before I went to the polls. I was almost always politically independent, because I never liked a letter behind my name to tell people they thought they knew what I thought about an issue.
And now I'm much older. I've seen a lot more. I've been a grunt, and a lawyer, and a business owner, and a retailer, and a mom and wife. I still think that the idea of America is great. But but in practice, I've got to wonder who's running this place, because it ain't looking much like a reflection of the will of the people. For example, here's a few things that are pretty clear about what the people want to happen.
We Know We Need to Raise Taxes, Especially on the Wealthy
In March, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 81% of those surveyed would support a tax on millionaires that would be used for deficit reduction, and 68% supported eliminating the Bush tax cuts on those who make over $250,000. An April CBS/New York Times poll showed that 72% of people favored raising taxes on the wealthy in order to reduce the deficit. A May Bloomberg poll showed 64% believe it isn’t possible to lower the deficit without raising taxes. In a Pew poll, 67% said more of high earners income should be subject to being taxed for Social Security; 66% support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000; and 62% support closing corporate tax loopholes. In the June 9 ABC News poll 61% of Americans believe higher taxes will be necessary to reduce the deficit.
We Believe We Must Care for Those Who Can't Care for Themselves
A study of 20 years of polls by such polling services as the National Election Studies, The General Social Survey and Gallup showed that more than 2/3 of Americans agree that government must "care for those who can't care for themselves."
We Think Everyone Should Have Healthcare
A 2007 CBS/New York Times Survey found that 64% of Americans believe the government should guarantee health insurance for all. In the same poll, 57% said that providing health insurance for everyone was more important that lowering costs. And, we've agreed that should be the case even when that means paying more in taxes (2003 Pew poll-67%, 2009 CBS/NYT-57%, 2003 Kaiser-72%).
We Don't Want Nukes
An April, 2010 poll shows 54 percent in favor of reducing the number of U.S. nuclear weapons and 49 percent favor the U.S. stopping development or testing new nuclear weapons, versus 47 percent who oppose it.
We Don't Want the Wars
In weekly CNN polling from June, 2006, through January, 2011, a majority disfavored the US war in Iraq. Every week. In fact, the highest percentage who did approve of the Iraq war was an anemic 40% in September, 2006. And neary 6 in 10 people believe in hindsight that the Iraq war was a mistake (August 2011 CBS/NYT--59%; August 2009 Gallup-58%).
And the war in Afghanistan doesn't fare much better. Weekly CNN polling showed majority support from December, 2009 through April, 2010, but since then, the number supporting the war has dropped steadily, with only 35% favoring the war by August, 2011.
We Didn't Want The Big Banks Handled with Kid Gloves
In 2008 and 2009, substantial majorities opposed the plan to hand over nearly a billion dollars to the banks who crashed the world economy. A 2009 CNN poll showed that 61 percent of Americans disapproved of disbursing the so-called TARP funds allotted under President Bush. A CNN/Opinion Research poll in March 2010 showed 53% favored “regulation that would increase federal regulation over banks, Wall Street investors, and other financial institutions.” And a February 2010 Pew poll showed 59% said they wanted “the government to more strictly regulate the way major financial companies do business.”
Gosh, it sounds like we're pretty practical, nice folks. We want to take care of people. We want to pay our bills. We don't want to reward the people who crashed our country into a fiscal wall. We'd like to stop shooting at and blowing up people. Give me hope for America, after all.
But here we are. We have voted for people who should reflect these opinions, at least to a degree. We heard campaign promises from the President about ending the wars, about universal healthcare, about not gutting the social safety net, and about being responsible about paying for our bills with taxes, especially on those who can afford it. We've whipsawed election returns back and forth from Rs to Ds to Ts and back again, and they keep yakking on TV about "what the American People want" but they keep doing something else.
Of course, they point fingers at each other about who is causing the problems, but I for one have watched this happen while both Ds and Rs are in control. We tell them over and over what we want. 2004. 2006. 2008. 2010. And they hear us, because when they are campaigning they spew it back like verbal vomit, saying they are going to do this and that and the other thing. And what happens? The wars continue, through several elections, as Congress changes hands three times, and trillions of dollars get paid to Halliburton and Blackwater/Xe and Raytheon, and Dyncorp and who knows who else. The healthcare bill becomes an enormous giveaway to the private insurance and pharmaceutical companies, while leaving holes in who's covered you could drive a truck through. The TARP funds go to the banks under both Bush and Obama, and the banks make record profits and turn around and give billions of dollars of bonuses to the brain trust that drove our economy off the cliff. And then, we hear that the fiscal sky is falling and so we must cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and Education and Housing funding--we can't spend money to take care of people who can't care for themselves--we spent it all, and then some, on the rich people, the military that we don't want, and the big Wall Street banks.
All this leads me to conclude that our government isn't listening to us. I wonder who it is they are listening to? I always tell my kids--when you want to know how stuff works, follow the money.