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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/18/08

A Suspension of Our National Soul

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Message Donna Smith
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  WASHINGTON, DC – What have we become?  Not so very long ago, we looked with compassion on those who needed us and looked with disdain on those who abused power at the expense of the rest of us.  But things have changed so very much in recent years.  Our quest for stuff and our greed have overtaken our better selves, and even the election of a new and much-improved administration isn’t enough to clear the wreckage away from our frenzy of our self-will run riot.

E pluribus Unum – out of many, one – used to speak to us about our collective spirit.  We like to be fiercely individual but we also always stood together as one against anyone or anything that would harm any one of us.  That is until recent years when we turned our energies toward selfish attainment of wealth and became largely complacent about the plight of others around us. We learned to hate our better selves and to discard truths our foremothers and forefathers struggled and even died for.

If I look at my own middle class up-bringing, I know I was taught to work harder and longer and smarter than anyone around me – and if I did that then I would surely attain success.  No need for unions most of the time, I was told, if you work hard enough the boss-man or the boss –woman will value that and reward that and you’ll advance.  Well, not exactly.  I have found over the course of my working life that working harder and longer doesn’t always make much difference.  Abusive bosses abuse unless they have compelling reasons not to… like a loss of their own status or power or income. 

If I examine the current financial collapse, I don’t see any of the abusive bosses or leaders reaching out to protect their workers – quite the contrary.  Just as in the case of the U.S. autoworkers, many of the powerful need a scapegoat and organized workers are easy targets.  U.S. Senators who deliver public tongue lashings of the auto industry CEOs reach much deeper and more directly to cut workers off at the knees and blame them for the trauma in the industry.  The CEOs gave up corporate jets.  The workers are being forced to give up healthcare and housing and groceries and retirement benefits.   It’s really lousy political theater.

And who are many Americans standing with?  The workers?  No.  Many are standing with the CEOs in some sort of soul-suspending belief that they are somehow more like the boss-man and woman than like the factory worker. 

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Not only have we bitten off our own heads, we’ve set aside our souls just on the hope of great wealth.  We’ve let those with big bank balances and big real estate holdings convince us that they also have big brains to fix the big mess and better judgment somehow than the everyday neighbors who must balance much more pressure on much less in resources.  It takes special steadiness and skill to run a household for years living paycheck-to-paycheck while keeping the family healthy and happy – that’s what lots of middle class moms and dads do. Yet we defer to folks who couldn’t even tell us how much a gallon of milk costs?  The CEO and the Senators do not necessarily know better than we do. We’ve not only grown greedy and selfish and often lazy but also a whole lot dumber. 

When Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky set out to bust up the United Auto Workers – or at least deal them quite a blow -- many Americans joined in a sort of gleeful chorus of blame for the workers.  Shameful.   See what the California Nurses Association thought about McConnell’s tactics:

Where were we when the healthcare we all need was being priced out of sight for most of us while our carmakers still had to cover huge health benefit expenses they could never have adequately estimated?  We just let the spiraling healthcare costs grow and grow, drove our SUVs (did the big three automakers force us to buy them?), and dreamed of huge houses in the suburbs and impressed one another with all our big toys and expensive baubles. 

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And when the bottom fell out, we followed the big boys and girls to our own slaughter.  We were bought and sold and fooled.  Americans used to be a whole lot smarter.  We used to believe in one another and in a good life resulting from hard work and honest living.  Now we just believe in whatever makes us look bigger and badder than anyone else – and when it serves us we act as if we care.

I know what I was taught by a father who fought in WWII and a mother who suffered through polio and worked herself silly to provide me more than she ever had in the Depression era life she spent on a farm in Iowa.    And I was taught better than what I see playing out today.

Sen. Mitch McConnell will not spend this Christmas wanting for anything, We, the taxpayers, have made sure of that.  How dare he show such self-righteous indignation about worker’s wages.  But now he must be positively delighted that Chrysler will furlough 46,000 workers – teach those auto workers a Christmastime lesson they’ll never forget, eh Mr. McConnell.  That’ll cook their Christmas gooses. 

Here’s what he said about the auto industry: “We simply cannot ask the American taxpayer to subsidize failure.” Huh?  OK.  Step down, then, Sen. McConnell.  By any measure you like, McConnell’s Senate has failed the American people.  They have not made us safer in our own homes or more secure.  Yet, we have subsidized them like there’s no tomorrow.  And he knows it.

What’s his concession?  When does his family worry about meeting the mortgage payment or getting healthcare or buying gas to get to work?  Never.  Never.  Ever.

Yet, we entrust this man with the view that would cripple millions of people and leave them cold and worried and wanting.  Shame on us if we do not speak up.  Peace on earth begins in our own backyards and, yes, even in the halls of Congress and in our union halls.  This man who felt so passionate about bailing out his friends on Wall Street should not pretend he now has any clarity of purpose where the rest of America lives and works.  He’s tainted.  If it quacks like a duck…

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Donna Smith appeared in Michael Moore's 2007 film, "SiCKO," and spent five years working for National Nurses United/California Nurses Association in Chicago and Washington, D.C., as their single-payer political organizer/educator.  She is now the executive director of Health Care for All Colorado and lives in Denver with her husband of 38 years, Larry

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