The Only One Missing Is The Mad Hatter: Today’s front page story in the New York Times on Tea Party activists reveals what we already suspected: that many of its leading activists are comfortably unemployed. Many key players at the local level are older people of retirement age who are supporting themselves on Social Security and Medicare: one actually retired so that she could pursue her activism full-time. This is why they are able to dedicate themselves to running off at the drop of a hat to make signs or protest the extension of health care to younger people who have failed to exercise the responsibility to stay, or be, employed at the jobs that would give them access to affordable insurance. Because they have already paid into these big government entitlement programs, senior activists explain, “they are getting what they deserve.” Hoo-hah!
But it’s still big government, right? So some people deserve services from big government and others don’t? How about the people who have paid into Medicare who are undocumented immigrants? Or the 11.5 million people who have paid into unemployment for their whole lives whose benefits and COBRA will run out on April 5 because Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) are blocking an emergency spending bill (as the US spends $720 million per day on the war.)
Well yes, it’s all big government. The maintenance of rest stops on the highway is also a function of big government, one that probably costs less than about a half day of war. In a bell weather move, the Arizona Department of Transportation — starved of money by the good people of that state — has had to close thirteen rest stops. This means that you can drive the width of the state on Highway 40 and have absolutely nowhere to go to the bathroom that is safe, private and clean. Arizonans, at last report, are incensed. So are people in the states where they are raising taxes on everything from haircuts to funerals because elected officials are too chicken to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
My advice to academics is that whatever you are teaching next year, find some way to talk about how and why governments raise revenues; and the misinformation that “small government,” low income, corporate and property taxes, and de-regulation hold the promise of utopia for the little guy because it is just not true and never has been true. By trying to kill taxes, so-called populists and their spokespeople in both parties have produced a regressive system that actually is hardest on the little guy who needs to take a whizz or bury grandma. Poor people are actually paying taxes on behalf of the rich when state revenues are collected primarily at the cash register. Curricula should also include discussions of the infrastructure maintained by government that allows us all to actually go to work; the reasons why education should be a loss-leader, not a break-even endeavor; why feeding people and keeping them healthy is good for the economy; and other material connections between the health of large institutions like banks, hospitals, universities and public transportation systems and the well-being of the littlest hard-working guy or gal. Don’t want the government to bail out the banks, but you do want to prevent your overpriced house from going into foreclosure? It’s two sides of the same problem: you can’t help the people without helping the banks, and vice versa.
Finally, United States history demonstrates quite graphically an unregulated economy is not a better economy: look at the nineteenth century, why don’t you, which was just one big boom-and-bust cycle. In fact, while you are at it, volunteer to teach a history class at a senior center, since that is where it seems you could do a lot of good.
Speaking of Taxes, There Is Also Death: The book of the week, hands down, is Final Acts: Death, Dying and the Choices We Make, edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin and Donna Perry (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010). While I must add the disclaimer that I know one of the authors Very Well, it is a beautiful collection of reflections on death and dying, with a high emphasis on the choices that one’s own death potentially entails. How to plan for death, how to receive death, how to struggle with the choices loved ones have made — or not made — about their own final decline, and how chronic illness and/or aging creates the possibility for thinking about one’s time on earth are all reflected upon in this collection. The scholars and writers represented in the collection represent the social sciences, medicine, philosophy, psychology, literature and women’s studies. Anthropologist Nancy Barnes writes about her strong-willed mother who had intended to end her life in the event of a long, fatal illness — and then was unable to do so as her dementia eroded the rational mind that had made those plans. Historians may wish to take a special look at a personal essay by Sara Evans on the decline of her parents, Claude and Mackie. You can buy Final Acts by going to the above link, or you can click here.
Then There Is Social Death: One of the best pieces I have ever read, ever, about conservatives in the closet is Joanne Wypijewski’s “Hey, Sailor” (The Nation, April 5 2010). In “Carnal Knowledge,” a column that does not appear frequently enough, Wypijewski puts the Eric Massa Ticklegate scandal in a broader cultural perspective. Here’s the thing: you might not be able to get it unless you subscribe, but so what? For only $18.00 you can get the online edition for a year, and you can actually get a free, four week trial subscription if spending $18.00 for a left wing pig in a polk is not your kind of thing. But actually? To get Katha Pollitt, Eric Alterman, Patricia Williams, Eric Foner, Richard Kim, Greg Grandin, Calvin Trillin’s political satire in verse, and all the news you need to read mainstream sources critically? It’s a bargain.
And you get access to fabulous cover art like the one featured at the top of this post.