Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Obama, Bitterness, Meet the Press, and the Old Politics

Obama, Bitterness, Meet the Press, and the Old Politics

By Robert Reich

April 15, 2008

I was born in Scranton , Pennsylvania , 61 years ago. My

father sold $1.98 cotton blouses to blue-collar women

and women whose husbands worked in factories. Years

later, I was secretary of labor of the United States ,

and I tried the best I could - which wasn't nearly good

enough - to help reverse one of the most troublesome

trends America has faced: The stagnation of middle-

class wages and the expansion of poverty. Male hourly

wages began to drop in the early 1970s, adjusted for

inflation. The average man in his 30s is earning less

than his father did thirty years ago. Yet America is

far richer. Where did the money go? To the top.

Are Americans who have been left behind frustrated? Of

course. And their frustrations, their anger and, yes,

sometimes their bitterness, have been used since then -

by demagogues, by nationalists and xenophobes, by

radical conservatives, by political nuts and fanatical

fruitcakes - to blame immigrants and foreign traders,

to blame blacks and the poor, to blame 'liberal

elites,' to blame anyone and anything.

Rather than counter all this, the American media have

wallowed in it. Some, like Fox News and talk radio,

have given the haters and blamers their very own

megaphones. The rest have merely 'reported on' it.

Instead of focusing on how to get Americans good jobs

again; instead of admitting too many of our schools are

failing and our kids are falling behind their

contemporaries in Europe, Japan , and even China ;

instead of showing why we need a more progressive tax

system to finance better schools and access to health

care, and green technologies that might create new

manufacturing jobs, our national discussion has been

mired in the old politics.

Listen to this morning's 'Meet the Press' if you want

an example. Tim Russert, one of the smartest guys on

television, interviewed four political consultants -

Carville and Matalin, Bob Schrum, and Michael Murphy.

Political consultants are paid huge sums to help

politicians spin words and avoid real talk. They're

part of the problem. And what do Russert and these four

consultants talk about? The potential damage to Barack

Obama from saying that lots of people in Pennsylvania

are bitter that the economy has left them behind; about

HRC's spin on Obama's words (he's an 'elitist,' she

said); and John McCain's similarly puerile attack.

Does Russert really believe he's doing the nation a

service for this parade of spin doctors talking about

potential spins and the spin-offs from the words Obama

used to state what everyone knows is true? Or is

Russert merely in the business of selling TV airtime

for a network that doesn't give a hoot about its

supposed commitment to the public interest but wants to

up its ratings by pandering to the nation's ongoing

desire for gladiator entertainment instead of real talk

about real problems.

We're heading into the worst economic crisis in a half

century or more. Many of the Americans who have been

getting nowhere for decades are in even deeper trouble.

Large numbers of people in Pennsylvania and across the

nation are losing their homes and losing their jobs,

and the situation is likely to grow worse. Consumers

are at the end of their ropes, fuel and food costs are

skyrocketing, they can't go deeper into debt, they

can't pay their bills. They aren't buying, which means

every business from the auto industry to housing to

even giant GE is hurting. Which means they'll begin

laying off more people, and as they do, we will

experience an even more dangerous downward spiral.

Bitter? You ain't seen nothing yet. And as much as

people like Russert, Carville, Matalin, Schrum, and

Murphy want to divert our attention from what's really

happening; as much as HRC and McCain seek to make

political hay out of choices of words that can be spun

cynically by the mindless spinners of the old politics;

as much as demagogues on the right and left continue to

try to channel the cumulative frustrations of Americans

into a politics of resentment - all these attempts

will, I hope, prove futile. Eighty percent of Americans

know the nation is on the wrong track. The old

politics, and the old media that feeds it, are

irrelevant now.

[Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the

Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of

California at Berkeley . He has served in three national

administrations, most recently as secretary of labor

under President Bill Clinton. He has written ten books,

including The Work of Nations, which has been

translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The

Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his

most recent book, Reason. His articles have appeared in

the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times,

Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is

co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine.]

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