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The US Government has Lost its Reason for Being
Originally published in This Can't Be Happening on 5 February 2010
In today’s America, those in power have completely disavowed one of the key goals--if not the key goal--of democratic government, which was to “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”
There were two points in President Obama’s State of the Union address that provoked resounding and universal applause in the chamber from the assembled senators and representatives of both parties. One point was when the president said he wanted to start his job-creation program “in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.” The other point was when he said, “While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.”
The lusty cheering and applause were not based upon some belief on the part of the assembled legislators that this was about alleviating the pain and suffering of the one-in-five Americans who is out of work, or who is struggling to support a family on the income from some pathetic part-time job paying minimum wage. It was apparent that this was a cheer for the idea of giving more money to the capitalist class. Period.
In today’s America, those in power have completely disavowed one of the key goals--if not the key goal--of democratic government, as envisioned by the nation's Enlightenment Era Founders, which was, as the Constitution they authored put it so admirably in its opening sentence, to “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”
There is nothing in that Preamble about promoting the welfare of the business classes. The only justifiable reason for doing so then would have to be in order to promote the general welfare. And yet decades of policies aimed at promoting the welfare of the corporate elite and to a lesser extent promoting the welfare of the business classes in general (what used to be called the “trickle-down theory”), have demonstrably not only not promoted the general welfare; they have worsened the general welfare.
photo courtesy Center for Public Integrity
By every measure, the tax policies, welfare policies, trade policies, labor law policies, and Wall Street deregulation policies of the government, whether in Democratic or Republican hands, have led to a declining standard of living, a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich, and a gradual increase in the underlying level of unemployment (the “acceptable” base level of unemployment which establishment economists consider to be “full” employment), not to mention to the extraordinary current level of unemployment.
“Trickle-down,” it turns out, really means “piss on.”
President Obama’s talk about jobs is bogus. Jobs are leaching away from the US at a prodigious rate, like water pouring through the holes of a sieve, thanks to trade policies that encourage companies to shut down US operations, move production abroad, and then sell the once locally-made goods back to increasingly impoverished Americans. Any new jobs created are lower wage, and prone to interruption, given that they are in services, and aren’t linked to any major capital investment.
Proposed programs like a $5000 tax credit for hiring a worker or revoking tax breaks for companies that shift production overseas are a joke, simply a rhetorical sop to the listening audience not meant to be taken seriously. (No employer will make a new hire just to snag a $5000 cut in taxes, and in any event, a credit is only useful to a company that is making profits and paying taxes, and such firms have no need of assistance to get them hiring. It’s the companies that are in trouble that would need encouragement to hire, and they aren’t paying any taxes.)
What is clear from the wild applause to these two lines in the State of the Union address is that government at this point is not about improving the general welfare at all (if it ever was). It is self-evidently about enriching the rich.
And at that point such a government has lost its reason for being.
This explains why the health “reform” bill has been such a farce. It was never about improving the health care of average Americans (something that could have been easily, quickly and efficiently accomplished by simply expanding Medicare to cover everyone). It was always about ensuring the enrichment of the various players in the health care industry, who already own `17.5 percent of the entire US economy.
It explains why we aren’t getting any kind of re-regulation of the predatory financial industry. The goal of de-regulation was never to make life better for average Americans. It was to enrich the financiers, and it did that very well. And no de-regulation is going to happen, because the goal of Washington politicians is to continue to enrich those financiers.
It explains why we’re at war in Afghanistan. There is no conceivable threat posed by this poorest of nations located, landlocked, in a part of the globe that is maximally remote from the US. Yet we are being committed to an endless war there, costing a nominal $100 billion a year (times two or three when you add in the financing of the debt, and the costs of care for the injured troops over their lifetimes), because that war enriches the munitions industry, and also provides justification for an annual $800 billion military budget--a staggering sum that sucks the very life out of any program aimed at “improving the general welfare.”
The whole government enterprise at this point is an ugly affront to the Preamble of the Constitution.
We will all be better served if and when the whole thing is brought down.
The way I see it, we’ve pretty much lost our government, and just voting in new politicians isn’t going to fix anything (we just demonstrated that!). Our best hope then is a popular groundswell for a new Constitutional Convention. Let’s roll the dice and try over, now that we’ve seen how our government can be stolen.
I agree it’s a scary idea. Who knows what we Americans are really like? Maybe we are a nation of selfish imperialists and racists and such a convention would lead to a restoration of slavery or apartheid, a mass deportation of minorities, incarceration of gays and lesbians, and open endorsement of empire and a police state. But I like to think that we Americans are actually as good as our mythology tells us we are, and that a constitutional convention could lead to a new government that would really be of the people, by the people and for the people.
About the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on February 8, 2010.