News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's not the economy. It's the stupid.

Many of us think America has failed intellectually and morally. The political bitterness between the right and left has devolved into an acrimony that patterns itself after that of the Shiites and Sunnis in the Muslim world. Our election campaigns have inspired some people to think the mark of a good president is who can malign the most and tell the most damaging lies. The most devastating aspect of this degradation is that the American people have come to accept it as normal. Lying has become accepted behavior. Ultimately, the American people get what the majority wants. It appears to want liars.

Under the leadership of Mitt Romney, America has reached the point politically where it must reach up to touch bottom. His crass and indisputable falsehoods about Chrysler outsourcing Jeep jobs to China are so insidious that they effectively demolish all the claims we make about the virtues of our democracy. And it is only one example of the kind of malignant perfidy Romney has injected into the campaign. He is the definitive example of the corporate mentality to which so many people wish to indenture themselves.

As a journalist turned educator, I have joined many of those professions who have witnessed with dismay the subversion of those principles that propelled America into world leadership, the adherence to which is what made America truly exceptional in the way it franchised liberty, equality, and justice for all of its citizens. The process from slavery through Jim Crow to extend recognition and equal rights to people of all races, both sexes and individual sexual orientations, all creeds has been a tough and arduous fight. It has been a life and death struggle to turn the words of our founding documents into actuality. It will be as large a struggle to keep the forces of those who call themselves conservatives from revoking the headway we have made and regress the nation back to the rule of discrimination and prejudice so many have worked and fought so hard to overcome. The corporatocracy that has successfully garnered 80 percent of the nation's wealth and half of its earnings for the top 10 percent wants to expand solidify its feudal hold on the nation. Mitt Romney is its poster boy.

 The corporate world has had its way. It is the biggest factor in what has happened to our education system. In a new book, Handmaking America: A Back-to-Basics Pathway to a Revitalized American Democracy,  Bill Ivey, a former chair for the National Endowment for the Arts, has explained how that take-over occured:

Some years back, the marketplace business came into the world of education. And education asked, what do you want? And business said, we want workers. And now education has become all about training workers and all about income and all about salary and career.
Well, what I first saw a few years ago was a huge transformation in the way Americans work and live brought about by forces that are larger than our own society, globalization, the reach of technology and changing demographics.
And within that, I felt that America was at a time when we desperately needed to have the strongest possible values space. We needed to be more in touch with the best of the American idea, the best aspects of the American idea.
 [We need] the space where we talk about why we do things, not what we're going to do.

...the conservative view has failed after 35 years, and that liberals have kind of stepped to the side.

[The American agenda] needs to be about citizenship first and working second. 
...the Republican argument, we will keep you safe, we will keep Uncle Sam off your back, we will keep Washington out of your wallet, needs to be counteracted with an argument that says, you are not alone, you can live with purpose through work, family and community, America is still a beacon on a hill, we owe it to each other.
And within that, I felt that America was at a time when we desperately needed to have the strongest possible values space. We needed to be more in touch with the best of the American idea, the best aspects of the American idea.

Ivey has defined what the 2012 election is essentially all about:  whether America will regress to a feudal state in which corporations act as the ruling nobility or whether it will advance to the enfranchisement of all the people with the endowments of liberty, equality, and justice.

The corporate influence is evident in the constant refrain to run education like a business.  It has still to sink in to most people that education's biggest shortcomings are where it is run like a business, not an educational enterprise that not only gives students job skills and training but also a grounding in what it is to be a fully enfranchised citizen under the American concepts of liberty, equality, and justice.  And the opportunities for self-realization those operating principles provide.

A fundamental dogma of the conservative movement is that there is a huge segment of the American population who don't want to work but just want to take a dole paid for by taxpayers who do work.  That is the contention expressed in Romney's statement that 47 percent of Americans consider themselves victims and want the government to provide for them and Paul Ryan's statement that 30 percent of Americans are takers, not makers. This is a serious lie and insult to a huge segment of Americans.  There may be a small segment who desire a welfare state, but most people want honest jobs in which they will be treated with respect and provided fair compensation for their work.  The fact that they don't want to be treated like slaves, expendable human offal, by the likes of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan doesn't mean they don't want to work and think that the state owes them a living.  In their minds, all the state owes them is to protect their opportunities and have the means to insure that they are treated fairly and respectfully in the work place.  When a man who was a leader in shipping jobs overseas and shrinking the market for honest labor in this county says 47 percent of Americans are shirkers and victims, he brings into question whether the ballot box is any longer the place where workers can appeal for any semblance of equity.  Mitt Romney and his kind have brought democracy to its knees.  His slandering of the 47 percent is the moral equivalent of what the Jews were subjected to in the Germany of the 1930s.  His campaign has extended the working class an invitation to insurrection.  

His tactic is directly from the playbook of the world's most vicious dictators. 

It has been commented upon by the Columbian Journalism Review in terms of how it has become a challenge for the nation's press corps:  
The Romney campaign is employing a tactic that poses a crucial challenge to the press: attempting to win over late-deciding swing voters who have not been following the race with false and even previously debunked messages.
The touchstone issue in South Dakota for whether people will accept the rule of the one percent and the ten percent is in Referred Law 16.  It is a law submerged in shyster language, but its effect is to make teachers at-will employees with most South Dakota employees, subject to dismissal and disposal according to the prejudices and whims of their "superiors."  It openly discriminates against some academic disciplines by making favored ones eligible for more remuneration.  And it reduces teachers to the level of competing salesman who look to best their colleagues by selling more vacuum cleaners or used cars.

For informed voters, the outcome of that ballot issue will be point of decision about whether they wish to invest their interest and their children's live in the state any longer.  

The majority gets what it wants.  And it sends clear signals to the people it doesn't want, who will act accordingly.  

I make no predictions or recommendations.  I simply await the outcome, along with many people I know.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States