The entrepreneurial spirit that made the US the world’s dominant economy can’t thrive without a strong middle class. But the middle class is being squeezed like a lemon, and soon nothing will be left but the pits.
Our national future dims every day as we fall behind other regions of the world in education, science and technology, culture, and progress towards a just society. When hard-working wage earners can just barely afford to make ends meet, we can’t save money, and we often go into debt. Then, no longer in the habit of saving, we spend what disposable income we have on iPods, video games, wildly overpriced children’s clothing, and gas-guzzling SUVs.
These habits have the curious effect of propping up the economy by pushing our trade deficit higher and higher. As long as we continue to buy their products, the Chinese and Japanese continue to finance our debt. This house of cards may come crashing down dramatically, or drift away on a breeze, but it certainly cannot stand for much longer. And when it falls, what’s left of the US middle class will be really screwed.
But we’re screwed already. Our federal taxes are used not for the infrastructure of our economy and investments in our future but on a military that’s employed in costly misadventures. Meanwhile the Bush team further reduces the tax burden on the wealthy, not even pretending to believe in any trickle-down economic theory. The benefits to the rich are pure giveaways.
The Democrats in Congress bear a share of the blame. They are as much in thrall to the robber barons as the Republicans are. Worse, the robber barons have actually become indistinguishable from the ruling politicians. The Bush family beds down with the Saudis; Cheney’s corrupt company is conveniently the only one that can handle fuel deliveries in Iraq (did anyone believe that one?); legislation is not only influenced but actually written by representatives of industry, then rubber-stamped by the supposed representatives of the people.
John McCain recognizes it: we must get big business out of the business of the people. But how? Our elected representatives depend on their business pals to get and keep their positions of power. Measures like term limits are useless, as they can always be overturned in the next term. Campaign finance reform bills are like chickens put under the care of the fox.
Liberal values – not far-left socialism, not Quaker pacifism, but the solid American liberal values that brought us, among many other benefits, the 40-hour work week, safety nets for the elderly and infirm, support for the arts (the lifeblood of a society), and, for a time, the highest standard of living in the world – retain some currency, if not with Democratic politicians, at least with Democratic voters. Liberal values hold that government has its place as an essential element in the construction of a thriving and just society. Liberal values hold that the goal of a just society is, in fact, a worthwhile one. (When was the last time you heard a Republican, even with all their railing against the judiciary, mention justice?)
Liberal values are what gave us a strong middle class in the first place. Without a return to liberal values, our country’s collapse will continue, for only united with a sense of its own value can the middle class make a comeback. If substantial segments of the middle class continue to vote Republican, they will vote themselves out of existence, and with them, the hopes of our nation.