Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Conversationalism + 2008: On The Street Where You Live

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America - there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

This is the paragraph, in 2004, that turned me into an ardent Barack Obama supporter. It was a promise that there was an idea of America separate from party politics. And a rejection of the cutting and dicing of America. It contrasted sharply with another political candidate of the time:

Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America - middle-class America - whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America - narrow-interest America - whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president.

This is an older meme, but it gained equal traction when John Edwards deployed in 2004. Like the Obama view of America, it unites people regardless of ideology--but unlike Obama, it still creates a huge division in America. The "narrow-interest" America versus the "middle-class" America. It harkens back to How The Other Half Lives. But it's still a politics of division. A politics of the enemy. The rich, entitled (bourgeois?) versus the everyday, ethical man.

In 2008, it reared its head again not just in the visage of John Edwards (still under the Two Americas name), but under Mike Huckabee:

I'm not a Wall Street Republican, I'm a Main Street Republican.

Perhaps a testament to the lasting influence of Huckabee is that now, during this economic crisis, you literally cannot open your mouth to talk about the bailout plan without saying the phrase "It has to work for Main Street, not just for Wall Street."

Even Barack Obama has been using this phrase, which makes me sad. What happened to "These United States of America?" Certainly, it hasn't been visible in Nancy Pelosi's "leadership," which most recently consisted of blaming House Republicans for this mess. That doesn't mean that House Republicans don't share the blame--the point is that we're not even talking about the issues, the solutions, or reality.

Instead, we're trumping up this economic division. Is everyone in the financial industry evil? Maybe the CEOs and the Investment Branches. But I have several close friends who work as bank tellers. You know who suffers if Washington Mutual or Wachovia branches close? They do. I agree that there have to be strings attached, etc. etc., but if we start employing the language of a culture war, we start setting our priorities incorrectly: our priority is not to punish the financial industry, or to find blame. Our priority is to straighten out the markets.

We can start creating accountability, rewriting the legislations, straightening things out after we've guaranteed that our inaction hasn't caused a 700 point in the DOW Jones. Just to reiterate: the stock market is not just for rich speculators: people have their savings there. Banks are not just for rich speculators: people have their savings in there.

Notice: when Americans are asked how they feel about the bailout, they react strongly against it. When they are asked how they feel about a rescue package that has exactly the same terms as the bailout but isn't called a bailout, they react strongly in favor.

And what this really boils down to is: why are we using any of the language of politics right now? Why are we debating "Wall Street" and "Main Street"? In fact, why are our Congresspeople publicly debating the Bailout package? They should be in meetings, privately debating the bailout package. This is the moment for Congress to quickly and quietly get to its work.

I don't mean that it should be secret--Congresspeople should keep the American public informed as to how the package is going, and once an agreement has been reached, it should be presented to the public. All I'm saying is that trying to play the political game at the same time as the statesman game is going to hold us back.

All I can do is remind you: we have no red states, or blue states: only these United States. There isn't a Rich Person's Economy and a Poor Person's Economy: there's the World Economy. When you find it more important to debate whether the free market solves everything, or to vilify the very House Republicans whose support you need to pass this bill, not only are you watching the US market decline, but the Eastern market, the European markets. Everyone hurts.

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