Job One: Restoring Dignity to the American Working Class
It was becoming annoying - the obsessive attention devoted to the unfolding events in Egypt.
Granted, it is fascinating to watch a nation - a major strategic ally, no less - going through the tumultuous process of being reborn right before our very eyes. But we have pressing issues of our own to focus on.
Then a report from Richard Engel on "The Rachel Maddow Show" brought it all home. Engle said:
"I've been listening to a lot of analysts ... talking about Twitter and Facebook," Engle said. "This didn't have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook. > This had to do with people's dignity, people's pride. >People are not able to feed their families."
There it is in a nutshell - the impetus for all revolutions and lasting political reforms, the struggle for human dignity.
Engel shared a conversation he had had with a man who couldn't make his car payments and who was worried about his children's future. That lament has a familiar ring in the Great Recession and the recovery that still seems a long way from trickling down to working class and unemployed Americans. He went on to mention Egypt's exploding wealth gap and the perception that government has not done very much as prime factors in the uprising.
Closer to home on Jan. 27, The Foundation For Child Development published a study that finds that middle-class children in this country have been falling behind their more privileged peers as the gap between upper and middle class has widened by 50 percent over the past 25 years.
Over that time, middle-class kids have become increasingly reliant on "essential policies and programs that could be -unraveled, depending on key budget decisions." No matter where you live, when you work hard every day and still can't do what's best for your kids, you lose dignity.
The disparity between the top 1 percent of American earners and the rest of us is even wider today than it was just before the Great Depression. Like the deficit, this trend is unsavory, unhealthy and unsustainable.
As we watch working people's pent-up frustration over a corrupt and unresponsive government exploding in Egypt, it is worth considering just how responsive our own government is.
A survey published on Jan. 20 by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that the top two concerns by far for the American people were the economy, 87 percent, and jobs, 84 percent.
How is the newly minted House of Representatives addressing those concerns? It passed H.R. 2: Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act. If it had passed in the Senate, how many jobs would it have saved? Few, if any, according to FactCheck.Org.
The Affordable Health Care Act was an attempt by government to increase the dignity of working people. The attempt to repeal it was to line the pockets of that top 1 percent. We live in a representative democracy and what it represents is dollars.
There is no evident strategy among the leaders of the new Congress to improve the flagging prospects of middle-class Americans. Republican leadership seems to be focused on deficit reduction (sixth among Americans' top priorities) as a means to stimulate the economy.
But as stated in a blog posted on The Economist website on Tuesday, "Even if there were a plausible argument that unemployment and lethargic growth today stem from the current budget deficit, any impact -congressional leaders hope to see from their spending cuts will add up to no more than noise around the edges of their tax cuts."
Every memorable movement, every revolution in human history from the flight of the Israelites from Egypt to our own civil rights movement, has been an effort by disenfranchised or oppressed people to reclaim their dignity. That's what's overwhelming Egypt's government.
Restoring dignity to the American middle and working classes is the critical challenge before ours.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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