Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bagging the American Dream

As I examine the shouting match of Tea-Bagger arguments, complaints, and assertions across he internet and Twitter, it occurs to me that America has unwittingly perfected the teaching of ignorance more effectively than the teaching of knowledge.

It is frightening that large populations of the American public are so willingly persuaded by the political and religious carnival barkers whose only lectern is a talk show on radio or television. If we are to believe that nationalized test scores reflect the skills of American children to read and write (and I don't) then we would have to admit that Sesame Street and children's programming was wholesale failure when it comes to helping children with the three 'R's.

A letter responding to an opinion piece in the New York Times written by Timothy Egan called Working Class Zero caught my attention. Mary Romeo responded to Timothy's confusion as to why so many Americans advocate things that adversely affect them.
Neither of my parents graduated from high school. My father went to work at 12 to support help support his mothers and sisters after his father died — he worked on a milk truck and sold chewing gum at the subway stations in East Harlem — and, during the depression, my teenage mother was for a short time the sole support of her parents and three younger siblings. All four of my grandparents had been immigrants, and all four died before age 60.

In the nineteen fifties, my uncles became union members. My mother, an office worker, benefited from ILGWU contracts at the department store at which she was employed. All had good hourly wages, benefits and retirement pensions and, as a result, my sister, cousins and I grew up in decent surroundings and attended college, and our parents had comfortable, if not affluent retirements. I have graduate and professional degrees from an ivy league college. We all became middle class.

Despite their lack of education, my parents and their siblings never engaged in the ignorant, delusional and hate-filled behavior that I have witnessed among right-wing working class protestors over the past few months. They were not civil rights activists — theirs was the wrong generation for that — but they were not racists, either. African-Americans worked side by side with them in the transit, sanitation, police, carpenters, longshoremen’s and other unions, and my family respected that work and those fellow Americans by whom it was performed. Nor were my parents, aunts and uncles deluded as to their best interests. They also knew, as my mother often told me, that “The Republicans were for the rich people; we’re poor, and we vote Democrat.” They knew those who were on their side, and those who were not.

I have witnessed the ecnomic decline of people like my parents with horror and dismay. Even more troubling has been the descent of such working Americans into an ignorance that my parents never knew — a decline abetted and encouraged by the Republican Party. There appear to be no progressive organizations in our era that can harness the anger and despair of the working class so as to help rather than harm these good people. Instead, we have crazy talk show hosts, corrupt politician, and the cynical corporate interests that finance them.

Were it not for unions and other progressive movements, my parents’ generation would have never climbed out of the numbing poverty that killed my grandparents, and my own generation would not be enjoying those middle-class benefits that we now have. Who will rescue the working-class this time around? President Obama is trying, but the forces of reaction and greed bar his way, and there is no organizational structure — no working class movement — to help the poor save themselves.

It is a heart-breaking, frustrating situation. Last Saturday, I watched working-class America march itself into perdition.

— Mary Romeo
My parents too never graduated high school. My mother an atheist with only an elementary school education. My father a Catholic who as a teen joined the Marines to fight in WWII and worked in a factory all his life. Yet no one in my family was ever brain-washed into believing the kinds of nonsensical fictions that pass for facts that can be debated.

It is as if a psychiatric ward of severely brain damaged individuals were set loose upon society and we are too polite to suggest treatment. And not only do we fail to treat them, we invite them into our town halls so that they can guide our civics!

The media has become a powerful teaching tool for this population. What's troubling is why the same medium is so ineffective with teaching kids reading, math, and critical thinking skills.

A Rachel Maddow interview with Frank Schaeffer offers some clues;

2 comments:

Abe said...

Frank,
Your use of the term "Tea Baggers" is bigoted and offensive. Those participating in the Tea Party movement include the religious and non-religious, rich, poor, and middle class, Republicans, Democrats and independents PhD chemists and high school dropouts. In short, we are completely regular Americans, many of whom are becoming politically active for the first times in our lives. We are certainly not "a psychiatric ward of severely brain damaged individuals," and such assertions are beneath you.

The letter writer you quote, like many of Obama's acolytes, is in the process of doing for charges of "racism" what Joe McCarthy did for anti-Communism. The vast majority of those on the right are not racists. We don't see everything through the prism of race, like those on the left seem to do.

This has nothing to do with anyone's race. It has to do with the shredding of the Constitution and its establishment of a government of limited powers. It has to do with massive, fundamental changes in the nature of the government's relation to the people, being rushed through Congress in 1000 page bills that few have read and no one understands. It's about unprecedented increases in government spending and borrowing that will destroy the dollar and burden our descendants for generations. It's about massively increasing the government's reach into all parts of society. It's about federal takeover of the financial system and other major industries. It's about the complete dishonesty of those pushing these changes about what is actually being done.

It is not irrational for Americans of all socio-economic backgrounds to oppose these changes. Nor is it against our interests to do so.

The Caretaker said...

I welcome feedback but reject the criticism.

I find the Tea-baggers a contemptible attempt by right-wing extremists to subvert the political fabric of American life. If they expect to be taken seriously in this blog they need to categorically reject the theatrics and overt techniques of intimidation they employ in the town meeting space.

In other words they need to boot out people who think that carrying a gun to an exercise in civil discourse is a good idea. It is entirely unacceptable in America. You can call me a bigot for insisting on civility and I'll proudly wear that badge.

Your description of the typical tea-bagger may as well be a description of the Ku Klux Klan. It is unimportant that the participants are smart or stupid, professional or working class. These tea-baggers are hate-based and that too is unacceptable. To be taken seriously in this blog, they must divest themselves of the demonization of Obama, the Democrats, and their ideas.

Civil discussion begins with an exchange of ideas. The tea-baggers have had almost fifty years of near absolute control of this country and were thrown out because they have nearly utterly destroyed it. So those ideas have an empirical basis upon which to be judged. It is more than overdue, for other ideas to come center stage. The bigots are those threatening the lives and welfare of elected officials and advocates of those different ideas, not me.

The vast majority of those on the extreme right don't have to be racists, they are politically demented in their views and need to be called out on that.

Their game, whatever you want to call it, is both profoundly unfair and based not on a fair evaluation of options but on a desire to poison the conversation. To hell with them and their supporters.

And your concern for the Constitution is laudable. Send me your criticism's of Bush's fundamental changes to the nature of the relationship of government to the people. Then I will take your indignation much more seriously. This is a case of the crock calling the kettle -cough- black.

And it is irrational to oppose the opposition based on talk show nonsense and fabrication. And it is irrational to instill fear as the primary ingredient in calculating virtue. And it is irrational NOT to distance oneself from the self-evident idiocy of the sociopaths among you.

It is your responsibility to clean your house of garbage. But as long as it's there I'll continue to complain about the smell.

Fair?