Who is “We the People,” what is “The Government?

At this writing, the outcome of the 2010 elections are not known. So it is an appropriate time to contemplate some broader issues: What does “We the People” actually mean? What do we want and what should we expect from “The Government”?

The answer is: there is no one answer. The answer is fluid and personal.

And that’s why there are elections. You will never get 100 percent of “The People” to agree on anything (in fact, 75 percent would be an extraordinarily high acceptance), so someone has to make a decision, and that’s why we elect representatives. Presumably, they are supposed to be responsible to their constituents, but make their best judgment because they are closer to the issue and have more facts at their command. That’s the way it is supposed to be, but this election, with Citizens United unleashing billions of dollars in special interest funding, it is questionable and now our confidence in the government is all the more shaky, depending upon whether or not we voted for the representative.

Over and over again – going back to the health care reform debate and the stimulus funding – I keep hearing Republican Leader Mitch McConnell say “the American People don’t want this” or “the American People want that” and I know that he is not speaking for me. Does that mean I am not included “the American People”?

The Republicans say they are exorcised about government spending and the ballooning national debt – but only since Democrats have been the majority. They were perfectly fine with unfunded bills for war and tax cuts that drove down federal revenues even as the recession was cutting into income tax revenues overall, leaving less to reinforce the safety net.

They say “cut entitlements” and claim that this is what the American people want. But even Tea Partyers seem to want the government to keep their hands off their Medicare and Social Security (you can take from someone else, though).

I am an American People and I say we cut military spending – especially the graft and corruption that goes to private contractors like Halliburton.

I say we cut off spending to corrupt governments, including giving Pakistan billions more when this “ally” has proved two-faced.

I say I want health care reform – I want single payer or some other mechanism for universal access to basic health services – but if all I could get this time around is Obamacare, I accept that.

Why aren’t my desires included in “what the American people want” at least the way McConnell and Boehner keep using the expression.

That is what brought together 200,000 people on the National Mall for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

The vast swath of people in the center are sick of being discounted and invisible.

The crowd was incredibly reflective of the broadest spectrum of America – there was teasing that it was mostly white, but then again, so is America. But it seemed there was good representation of the great diversity of this country.

What was amazing is that their discourse was so different from the steady mantra and drumbeat on 24-hour cable “news”.

In fact, if there was any single theme that dominated the hand-drawn signs, it was against Fox News (“I get my comedy from Fox; I get my news from Jon Stewart”) and Glenn Beck (BECK: Biased Entertainers Can Kill”).

One woman carried the sign “Republican married to a Democrat, and we still love each other.”

Some of the other signs: “Extreme Moderate” “Jew Against Invoking Hitler to Score Points” “Compromise is Sexy; Lack of Reason is Act of Treason”.

It was interesting but the rally was distinctly not political – there weren’t the swipes against this politician or that candidate, this policy or that, not even an appeal to come out and vote on Election Day. The rally was about the lack of discourse.

“This is not rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of the heartland, … or to suggest that times are not difficult and we have nothing to fear,” Jon Stewart said in the only really serious point in the three-hour rally. “They are and we do….But we live in hard times, not end times, and we can have animus and not be enemies.

“But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two, broke. The 24-hour politico pundit perpetual panic conflictinator,” he said, “did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.

“The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen, or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire,” Stewart said.

“We keep hearing how we don’t work together…. We work together every damn day… the only place we don’t is here [in Washington] or on cable TV… But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV; where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done….”

What compelled people to come as far away as Oregon, Wisconsin, Florida?

It was their chance – the “silent” majority” – to be heard and to know there are others who feel the same.

And yet, first thing I saw Monday morning on CNN, was the leader of the Tea Party Express being interviewed, saying that “You can’t put on television without seeing someone from the Tea Party,” and “American Morning” anchor John Roberts replies, “Yeah. It’s amazing. 18 months ago, who heard of the Tea Party?” That’s precisely the point.

The Tea Party is a media creation.

Thinking back to the Bush/Cheney days – do you remember how fear was exploited? And how we were supposed to put aside our different views of the role and responsibility of government in order to stand together, to be patriotic? We were told to put aside habeus corpus, the right of free speech, to accept government eavesdropping on journalists and citizens without a court order, and torture.

Remember how a bin Ladin tape would be released just before an Election to remind people how they should vote their fears?

Just days before the Election, an actual (not an imagined) bomb plot was foiled – in fact, it is one of several that this administration has foiled. But the Obama Administration did not trump up fear or attempt to wring “patriotism” out of it.

Obama really thought that the his election would result in people coming together to solve the multiple crises – imploding economy, terrorism, two wars, global warming. Perhaps he even believed that because the country had rallied behind Bush that the country would have rallied behind him when faced with such dire challenges. But as we know, that didn’t happen.

What should the government spend money on? Which government should spend it? Should Great Neck be responsible for footing the entire $60 million bill for a new sewage treatment plant? Should there be no sewage treatment plant at all?

Should there be no more libraries or public schools? Should we wait for water mains to break and bridges to collapse?

The “Take Our Country Back” people (Democrats were using the same phrase during the Bush/Cheney regime) say they want to go back to the good ol’ days of Eisenhower, when communities were like Pleasantville and families like “Ozzie & Harriet.” During those days, the top tax bracket paid a 91% rate. Eisenhower funded a new coast-to-coast highway system. Well, how is that different from a new electric grid now?

We see the different perspectives on view with the Republican leadership now in New Jersey (and similar thinking in Nassau County).

In New Jersey, the newest Republican darling, Governor Chris Christie, has cancelled the $8.7 billion Hudson River tunnel project – rejecting some $6 billion in federal funding – which would double the capacity for commuters between New Jersey and New York City, take 40,000 cars off the road. It would have been the largest public works project in the country, and put thousands of people to work.

Christie claimed he was concerned about the possible cost-overruns, basically fabricating numbers out of his head.

In fact, he wants to keep the $2.7 billion the state would have had to put up because the state’s highway fund is practically depleted.

As we drove back from Washington DC this weekend, up almost the entire length of New Jersey, it occurred to me that what he is really doing is subsidizing cars and Big Oil.

In fact, Christie could have easily financed New Jersey’s share by raising the gas tax in New Jersey, which is one of the lowest in the country. His claim, of course is that he does not want to raise taxes during these economic hard times. But he isn’t doing families any favors – more demand for gasoline means higher prices at the pump, and no real “competition” from public transportation. Higher carbon footprint means more health and pollution problems that families and governments have to subsidize, and more road repair and construction.

It is interesting that this project has been in the works for decades – and in the matter of days, the N.J. Gubernator can undo it, most likely for his personal political future, rather than the people of New Jersey.

It seems that federal action on global warming – which you would think is a federal responsibility – is dead. A man on C-Span said that perhaps there should be more focus on cultivating individual behavior through the capitalist, private enterprise system.

So, employers give subsidies to employees to pay for parking, he said, why shouldn’t the government require that if they give a parking subsidy, they also give a subsidy to mass transit? Otherwise, you have a market preference away from public transportation, why is that fair?. Similarly, car insurance is based on risk, he said; well, the more miles you drive the greater risk you have for an accident, so why shouldn’t insurance rates reflect miles traveled? That would be another market incentive for people to opt for public transportation.

Similarly, in Nassau County, County Executive Ed Mangano is expressing a political philosophy by pushing forward with his grand scheme to privatize the Long Island Bus. There isn’t a single example of public transportation system which is profitable, so essentially it would be giving license for a company to raise fares pretty much as high as they like – as is the case with health insurance, medical care, cable television, and on and on.

I am wondering what “We the People” means in the Nassau County Legislature – I listened for hours as one after another decried Mangano’s budget and the impact of the cuts, including shutting down the 6th Precinct. Their entreaties were ignored. So who is “the people?”

Karen Rubin

Pulse of Pennsylvania

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