I enjoyed reading Michael Tomasky’s article “Against Despair” [Issue #17]. I volunteered extensively for Barack Obama in 2008, in Chico, California, where I live, and I have been patient with him since. I have frequently counseled my fellow progressives to refrain from heaping excessive, unnecessary criticism on President Obama. After all, Obama inherited a huge mess from George W. Bush and has accomplished much in his time in office. And as Tomasky points out, after Social Security was adopted, it took more than 20 years to cover as many people as it now does.
FDR, JFK, and LBJ didn’t get all of their programs passed in the beginning of their presidencies. Yet they did do something. The Civilian Conservation Corps was passed by Congress in 1933, and it immediately put three million people to work. This was followed by the Works Progress Administration in 1935. Tomasky is correct to say that conditions were much worse during the 1930s than they are today–but we are still in the worst shape we’ve been in since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate, after all, doesn’t include those who’ve given up looking for work–something many people have done. While the stimulus package did create jobs that otherwise would not have existed, Obama has still not done enough. Part of this is not of his own making; under FDR, JFK, and LBJ, it didn’t take a supermajority of senators to pass every single piece of important legislation. As we know, the Senate Republicans are filibustering legislation that would put people to work, provide aid to struggling local and state governments, and extend unemployment benefits to the jobless. But I don’t believe that the aforementioned progressive presidents ever would have tolerated this behavior. President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the Senate Democratic majority have the power to abolish the filibuster and they have failed to use that power.
The Obama White House has stated that were it not for the stimulus package, we would already be in a depression. They should take pride in that. But if Congress doesn’t pass another stimulus quickly, millions of local and state government workers across the country will lose their jobs, and we will likely be in a depression. I’ve been patient with Obama. But my patience–and the country’s–will run out if he fails to act soon.
Ethan Porter’s essay “V-Day in the Culture Wars” [Issue #17] views the world through the lens of a contemporary young American who has been successfully socialized by a generation of conservative ideology. Porter’s mainstream view of our society has been propagated by the conservative elite and defines a reality that proves beneficial to the status quo. Porter should not be held accountable for this naïve understanding because it is we, his elders, who have allowed this biased socialization process. Porter, though, should be complimented for mentioning the class war, which should be thought of as part of the culture war.
Contrary to what Porter argues, the culture war is still very much alive for those who suffer and believe in a true democracy. The wealthy and powerful elite of the right still dominates our political system and culture. Females still do not receive equal pay for equal work. Pot is still illegal. Gays and lesbians are still ostracized. And the prison system is expanding and being filled by poor black males for petty crimes while the wealthy white males who’ve destroyed this country receive only a slap on the wrist for their highly destructive, self-centered, capitalistic, and undemocratic crimes.
Porter is mistaken when he speaks of individualism being a principle of first priority for the left. Individualism comes from conservative-style liberalism and feeds into various forms of capitalism. Many of us on the left do not hold individualism as a high value because we see it as destructive to a society based on democratic values. The common good or social good carries more weight with us. Individualism too strongly supports the consumerism of capitalism, the pursuit of wealth and power, and distracts from the public good.
Porter writes, “Egalitarianism is now standard practice.” What about right-wing radio, or Fox News, or our demonization of immigrants? What about corporate control of media, and their firing of employees who express a non-status quo view–for example, Phil Donahue and Bill Moyers?
Porter writes that “[t]he values of the left-wing counterculture…have become the values of the culture, period.” Only the values that benefit capitalism, the wealthy, and the status quo have been accepted. The rich are richer and the poor poorer. The United States is still a war-based society controlled by a powerful elite. It is obvious that Porter has been socialized by the mainstream and supports the status quo.
As for Howard Zinn being “one-sided,” there is more truth in one article of Zinn’s writing than most of the history books used in Texas schools. Again, Porter’s view represents social control by the dominant elite.
Gary E. Neu
Ethan Porter responds:
I am not sure to whom I should address my response: the author of this letter, or the “socialization” and “conditioning” that led him to write it. My piece never claimed that all of our problems had been solved. It merely argued that, if you catch your breath and step back for a minute, you would see that most of the arrows are pointing in our direction. We have, in fact, written egalitarianism into our laws–for a country with our history, that’s a noted improvement. Women outnumber men at our institutions of higher learning. And if you think gays and lesbians are in trouble now, it’s quite obvious that their place in American life has been considerably enhanced. This isn’t to say that we’ve built a liberal utopia. Far from it. It is to say, however, that concerted political action can, over a number of years, breed stunning and significant successes.