Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Robert Reich - sane and optimistic

I like this guy. Robert Reich is not just eminently sane, he's also optimistic - and that's a hard trick to pull off these days, don't you think? But he doesn't just demonstrate how bad things are, he shows that we've gone through bad times before,... and changed course.

That's the real strength of America, that it doesn't take a violent revolution to effect change. It's not just economics, either, but social issues, too - which are arguably much harder to change.

It took a long time - much too long - but think of the enormous changes in civil rights we've accomplished in this country. In my lifetime, we went from state-mandated segregation and anti-miscegenation laws to a black president and non-white Miss America pageant winners (think about it).

And that was accomplished largely peacefully. Just think of what an incredible accomplishment that was, that it didn't take a violent revolution to effect such an enormous change. And today, gay rights are moving forward at an absolutely astonishing speed - astonishing to anyone who understands how difficult it can be to get people to change their mind.

When it comes to economics, we've been on the wrong path for decades. Republicans used the political power the Dixiecrats gave them, when their 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists succeeded in taking the entire South from the Democrats, to do what they really wanted to do - which wasn't to bring back segregation, but to give tax cuts to the wealthy and otherwise turn our economy hard to the right.

But as Reich points out, we've been there before. We changed course before - peacefully, at the ballot box - and we can do it again.

Of course, it won't be easy. No change is easy. And the five right-wing Republicans on our Supreme Court have made it even harder with their Citizens United decision (and similar decisions which have made the Chamber of Commerce the overwhelming winner in Supreme Court decisions in recent years).

Just last week, I blogged about one secret money group - not even the largest in America - which gave a quarter of a billion dollars to influence elections last year, all anonymously. These are the 1% - often using corporate money, also in secret - buying politicians. It's dark money, it's corrupt,... but it's legal, thanks to the GOP.

And even Democrats need money - lots and lots of money - to get elected these days. Do you wonder why Democratic politicians are so timid at turning our economy around? If they anger the wealthy, they're toast.

So what do I hear from progressives? They claim that "both parties are the same," and use that as an excuse to sit on the couch bitching instead of voting. Or they throw their vote away on some third party candidate, like Ralph Nader voters did in Florida in 2000. (America would not have been perfect with Al Gore as president, instead of George W. Bush, but rational people don't expect perfection. Frankly, better would have been wonderful, compared to what we got!)

As Robert Reich and Jon Stewart both point out, many people demand perfection, they demand permanent fixes, they demand... a complete fantasy world. Reality isn't like that. Reality is a constant struggle. Reality is things getting better and things getting worse. The best you can hope for is that we're moving in the right direction, and even then, it's likely to be temporary.

But we do progress. Think of the long struggle of African Americans - generation after generation of slavery, of segregation, of the worst kinds of bigotry. It's not over yet, either. But there's certainly been progress. You can't deny that. Progress is hard, progress is slow, and progress isn't guaranteed. But we've done it before, and we can do it again.

But be careful of right-wing propaganda. As Reich says in that second clip, "If you convince people - particularly the people who would otherwise be activist - that there's no hope, that they ought to be cynical because everything is just... crap, well, then you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if people give up on politics, they're giving up on democracy."

Reich is both rational and optimistic, and I love that. I watch him on YouTube sometimes (here, for example), and he's always sane, he's always rational, he always makes sense. But for me, what's been happening in America is depressing. Robert Reich knows a lot more about this than I do, yet he's still optimistic. That's encouraging, don't you think?

Of course, if you want to be depressed, there's plenty of reason for it:

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OK, full disclosure: I retired early, so I live on my investments. I'm not rich, but the stock market boom has been great for me. The tax benefits have been great for me, too - much better than when I was working for a living.

But I don't think that's right. And, certainly, the vast majority of people benefiting from this don't need the help. The 1% have always done just fine. They really don't need the Republicans pushing even more money their way.

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