Reversing History

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This is a commentary by Craig Barnes. Click here to access it as a podcast.

As the flood of money flows into our political campaigns for governor, much of it from out of state, New Mexicans are caught up not just in a contest for the soul of the state but in a contest for the soul of the country. Many of those who are sending money and playing here are not primarily interested in New Mexico. They are interested in turning back US history and that means reversing all the gains that have been made in the past century on behalf of the elderly, the poor, miners and workers, women and disabled, children and small business, and yes, even for the environment. The whole of that progress is the stated target of some people with a great deal of money who are flooding dollars into campaigns all over the country.

Glenn Beck and Karl Rove and Swift-Boat financier Bob Perry who is sending hundreds of thousands to Susana Martinez, are not just trying to prevent New Mexico from, for example, participating in the new health care exchange that will bring competition for the first time into health insurance coverage. Their goal is not nearly so limited.  These men, Beck and Rove, and women like presidential contender Sarah Palin, and senate contender Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, are not about now. They are explicitly—they say so outloud—about reversing all the gains of the 1930s New Deal and even before. They want to forget the passion and suffering that brought about a century of liberal reform.

Plutocrats and oligarchs say that America is about freedom and not government and that freedom means that we should not have to pay taxes and the government should leave us all alone. These are code words to allow the rich to get richer while the middle class and the poor get poorer.  The one percent at the top who own 40% of American wealth do not acknowledge that the foundation of their freedom is a society that guarantees education, health and safety, courts and national defense, roads and bridges and all these cost money and taxes are the only way to get that money. If the rich don’t pay for these they must be subsidized by the bottom 80% of the population that owns less than 10% of all the wealth. That’s OK for them but it’s not so good for the middle class.
 
When Bob Perry from Houston Texas contributed millions to spread half truths and slogans of scandal against John Kerry in 2004, or now sends hundreds of thousands of dollars to Susana Martinez, Mr. Perry is hoping to stop programs of compassion and community responsibility that have buoyed our middle class for nearly 100 years and which, not coincidentally, have cost the rich their dominant role in governing America.  Make no mistake:  This flood of advertising that is coming from Texas and elsewhere is about power and who had it in the gilded age before 1914 and who wants it back.
 
It was toward the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s regime when the robber barons began to lose their unbridled right to work children in the mines and sweat shops, or to force 16-18 hour days out of hapless laborers. That’s when the barons lost their fight against income taxes and labor unions and the women’s franchise and as a result American government has been edging ever more toward a working democracy rather than a gilded plutocracy.  For those 75 years the barons were losing.
 
But since 1980 they have been scratching back and today they see their chance to regain power completely.  That is why Bob Perry from Houston, and the libertarian Koch Brothers are spending millions in this election.  They are financing the Tea Party and riding a wave of Supreme Court decisions that equate money with speech and since the barons have the most money they also have the most speech and they are using that advantage to advertise and urge us back to the gilded age.  But if there is some part of Social Security or Medicare or Mine Safety or Children’s Health Insurance or federal road construction with which one agrees then a person might want to view all this advertising with great caution.
 
Craig Barnes
Santa Fe
October 26, 2010
 

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