Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wake-up call

As I wait for the election results--the last thing I saw onscreen was Sarah Silverman's act of labial genius on Conan O'Brien--I am thinking about a few things. Here's what I want to say:

The first thing, just to get it out of the way, is that I did not lift a finger in this election. But for the preceding blog post, which commented on going door-to-door for votes as though I was at the head of an army, and a few donations to the Dems and Obama, I didn't do a goddamn thing. So feel free to take anything I write with a chunk of salt.

The second thing, if you can handle all that sodium, is that I think this election, for those of us who support President Barack Obama, is about winning the right to go to sleep, get a few winks, and wake up in the morning and go right back to work. BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT GOING TO STOP FIGHTING US. By THEY, I mean people who think that laissez-faire economics works, and who oppose equal rights for gays and the right to choose for women. But I'm not going to lie to you here: I'm really thinking about economics tonight, or, how we view making money in this country.

Rick Perry, when he was running for president, said that Americans should want to get rich. John McCain, when he was getting buddy-buddy with Joe the Plumber in the 2008 election, looked into the camera during the second or third debate and said, setting up a hypothetical situation, "Joe, you're rich. Congratulations," while smiling. I'm going to guess that any conservatives reading this post will check out at this citation, but so be it: about 10 years ago, a French teacher of mine said that there isn't an equivalent of the phrase "making money" in his language. But making money, we know, is supposed to be a praiseworthy activity in the U.S.A.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with making a profit from your work. And I don't think that a political system that pretends that making money is an unacceptable human activity has a chance of being humane. But, as we embark, maybe, on the second term of a beleaguered president, as we continue in a present in which we are in great debt, and in which our everyday practices, our lifestyles, insure that we will accrue debt, and in which natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy may become more frequent, we need to band together so badly; we need to work together so well; we need to value building and sustaining community more than making money.

I'm not saying we frown on private wealth creation. I'm just saying that we can't pretend, as Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren (haven't lifted a finger; just asked my parents back in Boston if they think she'll beat Scott Brown) have articulated, that private wealth creation exists in a vacuum in which our very lives, our very futures, aren't at stake. And I'm also not saying we shoot for some kind of utopia in which every factory is carbon neutral, in which every product is recyclable or biodegradable, although wouldn't that be something. I'm saying that we do the best we can, and that we evaluate our actions in light of our supreme value: building and sustaining community.

Because shit, the shit going on in the Rockaways and Staten Island and Red Hook and all down the Jersey Shore is horrible. People are freezing, they need homes, they need jobs. I know that some Republicans, pro-choice and pro-gay rights, really do believe that their economic policies are better for job creation, and, in an imperfect world, getting people jobs is worth more than all of the progressive goals of responsible Democrats put together. But their party's policies ignore the deterioration of the environment. They ignore the need to educate young people so that they are inclined to engage the peoples of other nations, not clash with them. They ignore the fact that without an active federal government, African-Americans may never have gained civil rights.

And they're wrong about economics, too. An underregulated free market isn't just bad for our planet and our minds, but it's ultimately bad for job creation. From what I'm learning, laissez-faire economics tends to lead to financial collapse. And with the planet acting the way it is, and with natural resources dwindling the way they are, WE CAN'T AFFORD TO COLLAPSE ANYMORE. Although we probably will, because we don't learn very quickly.

Eduardo Porter, who writes for the New York Times, authored an excellent piece on what a sustainable economic policy might look like. Wanna know what it looks like? Higher taxes for everyone. Middle class, upper class, and perhaps even the working class. Yes, it's more European, and yes, it's hard to swallow if you like spending disposable income--if you like disposable income, period. But whether you sympathize with Porter or not, his articles are worth reading for the notion that we've got to do some paradigm-shifting if we're going to create a livable future for all of us.

Republicans? Tea-Party fans? We're losing our planet here. We're losing our union. What we want does look different from what you want, but what we want is people working together for a better common future. And for people--all people--to work together, they need good educations, a good shot at entering the middle class, good health care, and full respect of their freedom and dignity by their government. So that's why we vote for Obama. That's why we fight for marriage equality, which I can't say I recognized as important as recently as 10 years ago but I sure do now, reproductive rights and equal pay for women, investments in education, and higher taxes on the wealthy, who will still have a lot even if they're paying more. Hey, if you listen to Porter, we're all going to need to be paying more in the future. I sure hope it doesn't take any more disasters for us to get there.