Commentary on current events, politics, government, and popular culture from John Sheirer, author of the book, Make Common Sense Common Again.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Are We Better Off?

I have a Republican colleague who keeps asking anyone he bumps into at work, "Hey, are you better off than you were four years ago?" Before they can answer, he jumps in for himself: "I'm not. Obama's done nothing for me. My salary is down, I can barely fill my gas tank, and I still have to work for a living while half the country goofs off and lives off of my taxes."

Republicans have resurrected this leftover Reagan campaign "are-you-better-off" mantra, trying to use it to lay the blame for any current national woes on President Obama. The whole strategy is a boatload of crap.

First of all, my Republican friend and I work at the same place, so I know that he got a salary increase. So did I. I'm not sure why he feels compelled to lie, but dishonesty has become a basic strategy of Republican campaigning. Those people he claims are "living off his taxes" (the 47% of Americans who paid no federal income tax in 2009, the people Mitt Romney erroneously labeled as "irresponsible") are actually the elderly, the working poor, students, combat veterans, and the disabled--hardly a collection of "goof-offs."

In fact, my Republican friend and I both work at a state-funded institution, so we actually get paid with other people's tax money. For me, working for the public is a blessing and motivation to do the best job I can in service to my fellow human beings. For my Republican friend, the reality that taxes fund his salary is just an inconvenient fact he never acknowledges. In addition, stimulus funds kept the pressure off the state budget, which probably helped save our jobs. 

My friend likes to point out that gas prices have doubled since Obama took office, but he omits the crucial detail that the price per gallon dropped by half during the economic crash at the end of the Bush administration. Gas prices average out about the same as they did before the crash, and they rise and fall based on factors outside the control of any president (except when it comes to starting wars in the Middle East or setting the stage for a major financial crisis, as Bush did), so blaming Obama is just dishonest.

But the key words in my friend's Obama-bashing question and response are "you," "I," and "me." Republicans seem to be more self-centered these days than ever. Sure, politics is personal, but why has it become all about isolated personal greed and blaming everyone else for Republicans? We live in the United States of America, not the Individualized Singularities of America. We are all in this together.

Isn't "Are we better off?" a far more appropriate question? How is the nation as a whole doing? Things aren't perfect, of course, and many people are still suffering from the economic downturn brought on by the financial crisis. But President Obama was still just running for president in 2008 when the economy hit the skids. American history didn't begin when Barack Obama took the oath of office in January 2009 as my Republican friend wants everyone to believe. When we sort through the right-wing propaganda nonsense of blaming Obama for everything and look at reality, we can clearly see that the country has turned the corner in the past few years.

The president's stimulus plan saved millions of jobs and gave tax relief to the middle class and small businesses. The nation didn't fall into another Great Depression thanks to Obama's economic policies. The American automobile industry is alive. Reforms of Wall Street, credit cards, and college financial aid have helped middle-class pocketbooks and wallets. Health care reform will literally save thousands of lives and billions of dollars a year. The Supreme Court has two new members who aren't ideological extremists.

One misguided war that never should have started has ended, and the other is winding down. We didn't get into a third misguided war with Iran. Obama's leadership has regained much of the international respect that Bush squandered and Romney threatens to decimate. There hasn't been a repeat of the massive terrorist attack that began the Bush administration or the financial crisis that ended it. Bin Laden is no longer a threat to America, and Al Qaeda has been decimated.

The stock market has doubled and corporate profits have completely recovered. And the only reasons conditions haven't gotten even better are that corporations are hoarding rather than hiring, Republicans in Congress are obstructing the president's job-creating legislation at an unprecedented rate, and state-level Republicans have slashed public sector jobs.

All of these points are verifiable facts that are pretty easy to find using that evil liberal tool known as research. My Republican friend thinks "research" involves skimming conspiracy websites, listening to right-wing talk radio, and, of course, watching Fox News. If a Republican president did all the things that Obama has in his first term, Fox News would campaign to put him on Mt. Rushmore.

Besides, I thought Republicans were the party of "personal responsibility." No offense, but if my friend honestly believes he's worse off than he was four years ago, shouldn't he look in the mirror instead of whining about President Obama?


A shorter version of this piece was published in my hometown newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If You're an American, There's a Good Chance that Mitt Romney Doesn't Care About You

Mitt Romney says that the 47% of Americans who didn't pay federal income tax last year "believe they are victims" and that he'll "never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." He says, "My job is not to worry about those people."

Romney apparently doesn't know or care that a majority of these folks pay payroll tax at a higher rate than his own 13% overall rate revealed in the single year of tax returns he has released. They also pay state sales taxes at the same rate as everyone else. Plus most of these people are elderly or the working poor--or even military members receiving nontaxable combat pay--not exactly irresponsible people with victimhood issues as Romney claims.

While Romney dismisses these folks as Obama voters, he's wrong. The facts show that they are predominately from red states, the base for Republican voters. Romney himself may have paid no federal income tax for some years because, like many of the ultra-wealthy, his money comes primarily from investments, not earned income. Of course, we can't know for sure if Romney is part of the 47% that he dismisses because he refuses to do what every other nominee for president has done in recent years: release more than one year of his full tax returns. Perhaps Romney needs a lecture about victimhood and personal responsibility more than the people he vilifies.

Basically, Romney has shown even more clearly what has been evident all along. He is a hypocrite who may love America, but he has deep contempt for a large percentage of actual Americans.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Windsor Drinking Liberally

Reading from Tales of a Real American Liberal for the great people at the Windsor, Connecticut chapter of Drinking Liberally on Tuesday, September 4.