The 99% and The Two Americas

(Cross posted at http://www.correntwire.com

Chris Cillizza wrote a piece on October 17 in The Washington Post called “What John Edwards Can Teach Barack Obama”
Cillizza compares the message of the “Two Americas” to “We are the 99%” i.e. that there is one America for the privileged with their lobbyists and influence and another America for the rest of us. He suggests that Barack Obama take a look at this Edwards’ theme. He also admits that Obama is not a natural populist and so donning this message might indeed turn out to be an ill fitting suit making the wearer look a bit comical.

If I tell you where the idea of “Two Americas” comes from, you will see why it’s not a good fit for the current president. The Two Americas phrase itself was coined by an Edwards’ staffer Christina Reynolds. But its roots lay in a deep held belief of the senator that something had gone terribly wrong.

In 2003 I decided it was time for me to scout around and read up on the possible Democratic candidates. I stumbled on a speech by an obscure North Carolina senator and a phrase lept out at me. I had one of those “Oh my God” moments. Here was a phrase and an idea that made sense of everything that had gone wrong since the beginnings of Friedman/Reagonomics that had morphed into Rubin/Clintonomics. The phrase was “we must honor work over wealth”.

Barrett Keizer said, in his brilliant 2006 February essay for Harper’s called “Crap Shoot: Everyone Loses When Politics is a Game”:

“The player, the wise guy, prides himself on his cleverness, but he always perishes from being less clever than he thinks. He perishes because he only knows the relentless, mindless momentum of the game; he knows nothing of the sanctifying rhythms of work and rest.”

“Sanctity”. Wow, that reminds me that Jesus was blue collar. He was a carpenter. God too worked his butt off and then rested. Those are the natural rhythms of the earth; to work and then to rest and play.

Edwards was attempting to redeem the word “work” that Reagonomics had succeeded in replacing with the so-called virtue of “ownership”. Reagan pushed the idea that you weren’t really a player unless you owned shares in America and owned property. Being a “shareholder” was preferable to be called a “worker”.

But, no, the world belongs to people who love work and not to the players in the casinos with their rigged games. It’s long past time for work to take again its dominant place over wealth. “Attention must be paid”, said Linda Loman of her salesman husband Willy. Dignity, respect, justice begins when a person is rewarded for a good day’s work and is honored for it.

Freedom demands shared responsibility that can only be achieved when all work is given dignity and all brothers and sisters are respected. It doesn’t mean we all get yachts. But it does mean that we all get boats. Right now it is clear to the young people that all they’ve got is the instruction manual on “How to Swim” while the Fat Cats speed around them churning up the waves.

The occupiers around the world are finding virtue and truth in the phrase that “many hands make light work”. They are discovering the joy of working together in their assemblies and “work” groups. And they are discovering the joy of playing and jamming after some marching and sweating. They are redefining what is valuable.

Promises have been broken and Liberty has been stolen. Fearful and hollow men seek to exclude and not include. So, it’s time to “kindly” ask those who would serve up liberty without fraternity or equality to step to the back of the bus. Our time is now.

The French got it right in their cry of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity“. “Cut to the Revolution.”

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