…Like I’m Eight

December 8, 2010 | By | 6 Replies More

In the movie Philadelphia, Denzel Washington plays a savvy courtroom litigator whose catch-phrase in front of a jury is “Explain it to me like I’m eight-years-old.”  It’s a great line and maybe I’m looking for that kind of clarity now.

I really don’t know what to make of this.  Obama—who won election with a very solid majority of the popular vote and a most impressive majority of the electoral—has managed to be reasonable to the point of impotence.  He’s on the verge of validating every cliche about spineless intellectuals.  The man is smart, erudite, has charisma, and can’t seem to say no to the Right.  It is possible that this is another one of those situations where we the people simply don’t know what’s going on and cannot therefore grasp the tactics or strategy.  Maybe this is cleverness at such a level that it looks clumsy and gutless.

I don’t believe that for a second, though.  (The only thing that makes any kind of sense in that vein is the idea that he is handing the GOP more and more rope with which to hang themselves.  The problem with that is any rope, in order to work in an execution, has to be tied to something substantial on one end.)

Let me be clear up front.  I am unemployed.  My benefits are nearing an end.  I’m annoyed by that but not desperate.  We did many sensible things over the last several years.  We paid off our house.  We never carried a balance on our credit cards.  Never.  We locked away surplus funds in C.D.s and money markets.  We bought a new car only because it was cheaper to do that than to keep paying out a few hundred a month to keep the old one running.  We told ourselves no a lot.  So when my job went away (I’ve talked about this before; it was a combination of technological obsolescence and the ’08 crash) we were not devastated.  We had breathing space.

Many of the unemployed do not.

(A major reason they do not is because so many of them bought into the programs sold them by the very people now bent on stripping them of anything they might have left.)

One of the far Right arguments against Entitlements runs like this: it’s your responsibility to take care of your well being, not the State’s.  That, in fact, the State stepping in in any way to alleviate circumstances brought about by personal irresponsibility (lack of savings, buying on credit, relying on a job that might not be there in ten years) fosters an environment of dependence and undermines the work ethic of the population, creating a welfare state with hundreds of thousands of dependent, lazy people.

This is nothing new.  Herbert Hoover expressed exactly these arguments in 1929 as the reasons for refusing direct aid to the catastrophically unemployed.  He was afraid that if people got used to sucking off the government teat, they would never go back to work, because, you know, people are fundamentally lazy and will not work if given half a chance.

Which kind of flies in the face of the other Great American Myth of Our Character, that of self-reliant, self-motivated, hard-working, independent people.  Both of these views cannot be true, and any halfway serious look at the history of labor in this country shows that the contradiction is entirely in the minds of the greedy or morally myopic.  People traditionally hate being dependent for handouts.  Most—the vast majority—will go off any kind of assistance as soon as they can find viable work.  People are not fundamentally lazy.  Idleness makes most people crazy.

Besides, this view also fails to take into consideration the other fact of life, which is that economically the unemployed serve a purpose.  They are a pool of threat with which management keeps labor in line.  It’s convenient, therefore, that a certain level of unemployment is inevitable.  No system is 100% efficient.  (During WWII, when if one stood in the middle of a street and declared a willingness to work, half a dozen employers would fight each other to snatch you up, we had between 3 and 4 % unemployment.)  This is not a moral failing, it is simply the reality of large, complex systems.  We have never and can never have a system in which 100% of the available work force is employed.  (For one thing, if we did, it couldn’t last long—upward pressure on wages would spiral toward infinity in such a system and it would quickly break down.)

Now, given that, it would seem to me that arguments about the moral correctness of denying assistance to the unemployed are horribly inappropriate.  If you are unemployed because no job is available, how are you to be held personally accountable for that?

Nevertheless, the pronouncements of the increasingly moralistic Right continue against anything that smacks of socialism.  We will not have universal health care—not because it would cost too much—because it’s socialism.  We will not have continued unemployment aid to those who are unemployable by virtue of American downsizing, realignment, or the march of technological progress, because it is socialism.  We will not indulge any dialogue about the redistribution of wealth, because that is…

I voted for Obama because he said he would work to change business as usual.  The Right is engaged in a very effective effort to wreck the middle class and establish themselves as some sort of aristocracy.  The people for whom the GOP works today are the ideological descendants of the Robber Barons.

What dismays me most, though, is how working people have been brainwashed into believing that voting for the Right is in their best interest.  What, do they think they’ll get a Christmas bonus for backing the Koch brothers agenda?

Assistance in this country since LBJ has been crippled by the Right.  It should never have cost so much, but it does because of all the conditions heaped upon what should have been simple programs for alleviating short-term disadvantage by politicians who wanted, apparently, to guarantee that no advantage was ever given to someone “not of their class.”  It is supposed to be anathema in this country to talk about class, we aren’t supposed to have classes.  But the fact is we do, they just happen to be porous to anyone with money.  Or without.  There is no genteel poverty in America.  Lose your money, lose your friends, your status, your reputation.  No matter what kind of person you may be, no one will help you if you go bankrupt and fall from the hallowed halls of the supremely rich.  It may may be a pretend class in many ways, but it is very real, and the only validating factor is wealth.

I do not have a problem with wealth as such.  I don’t believe in stripping someone of their millions.  The problem is not money for personal use, it is money used to manipulate markets and control social conditions.  It is not the fact that Bill Gates is worth 80 billion that I find troubling, but that MicroSoft with its three hundred or so billion is net worth is capable of dictating social conditions.  Buying politicians and funding campaigns is not the job of private enterprise, especially if the purpose of those purchases is to screw Joe and Jane Citizen out of another cost-of-living increase, health care, and the possibility of educating their children.

The Supreme Court has said that money is speech.  As far as I know, it is still illegal to bribe a public official.  Campaign financing is basically, as it is practiced today, bribery.  It would seem to me a good place to begin a class action suit to roll back Citizens United.

But I do not know what to do about the spineless Left.  Senator Sanders is up there speaking truth to power, but he is doing so as an Independent, not a Democrat.  This is a problem we have been floundering with since the end of Vietnam—what do we stand for?

Obama has apparently decided that the only viable strategy is to cave in and hope he gets reelected.  This is a pity, because during his first 18 months he did a lot of good things.  But on the big issues he has backed off consistently and refused to take a stand and say “No further” to the moneyed interests who own the GOP.  At this point, it seems obvious that he will not be reelected because his supporters will not trust him to carry their message.  For someone who so effectively worked the grass roots to become the first black president in our history, this is so utterly bewildering that I can only assume he has been bought by the power elite who are even now trying to shut WikiLeaks down so we don’t find out anything else we shouldn’t.

On the other hand, I don’t actually know why anyone is panicking over WikiLeaks.  From what I’ve seen, the people who ought to read those documents won’t, and it will change nothing, because apparently, for many Americans, it’s just too damn much trouble.

I don’t know.  Explain it to me like I’m eight-years-old.

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Corruption, Culture, Current Events, Economy, History, ignorance, Law, Politics, populism

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (6)

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    Obama has a chronic case of pachydermal appeasement syndrome. The prognosis is poor; Obama needs a spinal transplant.

    The dude is “Republican Lite” and given the choice between the real thing and “Lite,” voters will likely choose the real thing, no matter how bad he or she is.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Why has Obama so dramatically caved so many times? Despite my dismay at his string of major-league cave-ins, and his failure to make good use of the bully pulpit, I still think that when he said all of those inspiring things during his campaign he meant them.

    Then something happened.

    I don’t think it was someone waving money at him for his personal gain. Maybe it was money for the sake of the party, that could inspire his loyalty to keep Democrats in power. In light of Citizen’s United, this would be understandable. But I don’t believe it. If you believed what Obama said during his campaign, you wouldn’t believe that he collapsed merely for money, even lots of it. Rather he has caved on principles. He has violated his fiduciary duty to most of us by becoming a moderate Republican.

    I’m still worried that he has been threatened, or that his family or friends have been threatened. http://dangerousintersection.org/2009/10/11/my-recurring-nightmare/ That’s how bizarre this collapse look to me.

  3. Partly—and I can't help this, it's in my nature to assume rational cause and effect and try to explain things that way—this may be what every new president goes through. It has happened often enough now that I think there is weight to the assumption.

    They campaign, they claim they'll do this and this and this and then they get inaugurated and—

    Something happens.

    I do believe there are "briefings" only presidents get by people in the government who know what is going on. The candidate is not privy to whatever these briefings contain until they are actually the president. They are then told whatever it is and something changes.

    It could be anything from "here is the actual state of the economy" to "no, these people really do have an atomic bomb, it's not just talk." Whatever it is—and it is likely a suite of things—every president I've seen elected has changed something in comparison to campaign promises once in office and behaved…differently.

    Just sayin'

    Maybe whatever it is will eventually come out from WikiLeaks.

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    Mark said

    They campaign, they claim they’ll do this and this and this and then they get inaugurated and—

    Something happens.

    [tin foil hat]

    I think it's obvious.

    The aliens have added a mind control substance to the food at the White House!

    [/tin foil hat]

  5. Tim Hogan says:

    At his core, President Obama is a creature of moderation. High falutin' rhetoric aside, the main chances Obama has had to use a bully pulpit to champion a progressive issue, he has reteated from positions of strength to lesser positions of weakness and gone backwards from there.

    Voters supported spending for infrastructure to stimulate the economy by over 60%; infrastructure spending was only 18% of the $787 billion Stimulus Plan, some $330 billion went to tax breaks (admittedly $220 billion to the Middle Class!) with $110 billion in goodies for the corporadoes that even the Bushies had balked at!

    Voters supported a public option by over 60%; a public option wasn't in the original healthcare bill because Obama knew the GOP wouldn't go for it and didn't even try to sell it to the "Blue Dogs" of the Democratic Party. Obama's plan was the same as that put forward by the GOP against Clinton's plan in 1993, and it was entirely rejected by the GOP which still views its chief aim to be of making sure Obama is a "one term president."

    Voters supported ending the Bush era tax breaks for the ultra-rich by over 60% (not any more, now!). Obama and the House Democratic leadership punted on a pre-election vote against the millionaires and billionaires and the Republicans and didn't make this an issue in the 2010 elections and righteously got their butts kicked. Now, we have all the Bush tax breaks extended and a newer, less severe estate tax plan as part of a "compromise."

    Now, we are supposed to become enamored of Mr. Obama's new "idea" of "comprehensive tax reform!" If the continued spinelessness of President Obama creeps out here, all comprehensive tax reform will become is another Republican Christmas tree of a sop for the already-too-rich at the expense of the Middle Class.

    "Compromise" doesn't mean cave in on core principles before the other side has a position; doing that is spineless political chicanery.

    "Bi-partisanship" doesn't mean doing everything the other side wants you to do and then taking it in the chin for doing their heavy lifting; doing that is also spineless political chicanery.

    Leadership is proven by constant deeds and virtue. The constant deeds of the Obama administration are to back off before any confrontation and give up core principles without a fight. The virtues of the Obama administration are yet to be fully revealed.

    Mr. Obama needs a to articulate some defining core principle which he is willing to stand for and fight for and in which the American people can truly believe. It seems that the GOP is succeeding at making President Obama a "one term president" with the full cooperation and complicity of President Obama.

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Many years ago, I recall a news article detailing how the operations manuals for an American made fighter jet were being re-worded to a third grade reading level. This was being done to make the manuals easier to translate into the native language of a foreign nation that had bought a number of the jets for its own air force.

    A major consideration for the technical writer is targeting the audience. The same appears to be true for political speech writing.

    The assumed target age for public audience is around 8 years old. This is not assuming the average intelligence is that of a third grader, but that, after 8 years, the individual language begins to shift away from the common language to favor slang, pop culture references, and jargon.

    Often the same word word can have a completely different meaning in an individual frame of reference. (e.g. "Deadbeat" usually describes a person who doesn't pay bills, except in the credit card industry, where the term describes someone who pays the bill on time)

    Obama seems to have difficulty in comfortably addressing the nation at the level of an 8 year old.

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