Paul Ryan claims to care about poor people. During a speech at a conservative conference, he said Democrats support school lunch programs so children can have “full bellies and empty souls.” Disgusting. How can anyone talk about poor children in such a callous way? I understand that Ryan and his fellow conservatives believe that the state should not provide a safety net. While I disagree with that belief, it is not the same thing as claiming that state programs empty our souls. The last time I checked good Pope Francis was teaching Jesus’ message to care for the poor. Ryan must understand the message to be that Jesus wants us to cut food programs for children – in the name of saving their souls.
Paul Krugman discusses this story in a much more intelligent way. I’m too livid to try to be rational about this. Over 20% of the children in America live in poverty. Most of the nutrition they receive comes when they are at school. Save their souls – and transfer the money to billionaires and corporations. That’s true morality.
[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that looks beyond jobs and careers.]
The Week Ahead
This very well could be the week the U.S. government defaults on its debt. If that happens, experts say the world economy will be harmed. So why don’t Republicans in the Congress do what their predecessors have done, which is to increase the debt limit? Politics. The GOP and its Tea Party wing have become so desperate in their hatred of President Obama that they are willing to do anything to ensure that his presidency is a failure. I am not being partisan in saying this. Why did the same members of Congress – Boehner, Cantor, Ryan – raise the debt ceiling under President Bush and allow two wars and the new Medicare program to be put off the books if they cared so much about the debt and spending? The simple answer is that Republican leaders in the House only care about politics, and they see default as a path to power. They believe the public will come to blame the President for the consequences of a default, which could include an instant jump in interest rates and a quick trip back into recession.
I’m not a great fan of President Obama. He’s been too soft in all of his dealings with the Republicans. He negotiates by starting with the compromise and then giving away even more. In some way, the GOP’s action could be based on this behavior: They’re sure he will give in again. So far, the president has been steadfast in refusing to compromise, asking to be treated as other presidents have been in the past. The problem is that the current group of Republicans is unlike any politicians we have seen in their ability to invent a reality to fit their rhetoric. They are also very flexible in shifting from demand to demand, moving from healthcare to spending and now a mix of spending and social issues. Many Democrats are gloating that this is the end of the GOP. I’m not so sanguine. If their action drives a weak economy into a tailspin, neither party will benefit, at least initially. Then when the problem isn’t solved fast enough to fit a media news cycle, all blame will be shifted to Obama and the Democrats. Even if the GOP caused the problem, the Democrats didn’t fix it. This seems to be a very high stakes game of chicken. I fear there will be a very ugly crash, and it will begin later this week.
[Sabbath is this blog’s Sunday feature. It usually doesn’t focus on politics, but this week I’ll make an exception.]
Labor Day Blues
It’s been a tough year for workers. Wisconsin retained its anti-union governor, and Caterpillar pushed its employees to accept a contract that gave few, if any benefits. If the GOP takes power in November, it’s likely that workers’ rights will be even further restricted.
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teacher, has a different point of view. Even though teacher jobs are challenged by lay offs and non-union charter schools, Weingarten remains hopeful. Writing in Huffington Post, she declares that unions still can improve the lives of the middle class. She recognizes the threat, but believes that union and non-union workers will make the right choices in November.
The most important thing Weingarten assets, however, seems to put her in alignment with her political opponents, but to a very different end: “The best solutions come from you. It is your ideas that will strengthen our schools, hospitals and communities. Just as with the generations before us, it is your work and commitment that will propel economic and educational opportunity and social justice.” This model of individualism underscores the importance of working to help others.
Paul Ryan represents the other model of individualism, the philosophy of self-interest. Writing in the Nation, John Nichols analyzes Ryan’s ability to claim he is doing what is best for the workers in his district while he votes for measures that enable outsourcing of jobs. When a large GM plant closed in Janesville, Ryan choose to focus on reforming Medicare and Social Security rather than bringing jobs to his district. Nichols recounts a recent incident in which a voter asked Ryan about jobs going to China. The vice presidential candidate ignored the man’s question and asked him if he wanted some candy or a schedule for the Green Bay Packers. Clearly, Ryan found the question funny or irrelevant.
Sadly, too many Americans have bought into the idea that government and unions do nothing well. They put their faith in the “free” market, which we have seen again and again is a fixed game (NAFTA, LIBOR). Ryan and other Republicans have used the example of the Janesville plant to condemn President Obama’s record on jobs. They conveniently forget two points. First, Obama had the courage to save the auto industry through loans that are being paid back. This action prevented the lost of millions of jobs. Second, Obama and the Democrats have proposed several measures over the last two years to spur job growth and retain jobs in the public sector. The GOP, led in no small part by Ryan, has rejected them all. Were all of them good ideas. Probably not. But were they all bad, or were they simply not good politics for the Republicans who want to portray Obama as a failure?
Polls show the presidential race to be very close, which means many Americans agree with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They want an America where workers will have fewer rights and less security. That’s what makes me so blue. It’s not one party’s political stance. It’s the inability of so many people to see what is in their best interest. Even if Obama wins a second term, I don’t see what will change as long as so many Americans follow the gospel of self-interest. I fear that there will be many more blue Labor Days to come.