Establishing Economic and Political Democracy
Our society has become increasingly stratified between the privileged wealthy and those who find themselves with both diminishing economic wellbeing and powerlessness in dealing with their circumstances in life. Political power has come to be wielded by those bent on increasing the vast economic gulf which has always existed in this country, while simultaneously seeking to silence the voices of the underprivileged to a greater degree than is seen as just by most. An economic system which glorifies greed over the welfare of a society’s people does us a grave disservice.
Events that have been playing out most recently on a national level have become even more stark at the state level. Passing laws restricting both voting and reproductive health care rights have been pronounced most vividly in states currently dominated by conservative Republicans at both the legislative and gubernatorial levels. This has reached the point where the figurative wars on women, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as the economically disadvantaged, have combined to enable a shrinking minority to attain and maintain a shocking degree of control over the political and economic lives of the rest of us. Those representing us in DC and various statehouses have become increasingly adept at entrenching their own power while representing the interests of wealthy campaign donors and corporations while disregarding those of most people living in their districts.
The different ways in which states are implementing the Affordable Care Act perhaps best exemplifies a problem that will severely endanger the health of many who live in states where these conservative forces are in charge. By refusing to participate in the Medicaid expansion or the health care exchanges designed to make health insurance affordable for many people not currently covered, these states are basically telling millions of people they will still not receive state help in meeting their health insurance needs. The goal of achieving affordable health care for all is leaving them in the dust, while others in more progressive states are beginning to see the full benefits of the law.
Similarly, states that have enacted laws forcing the closure of women’s health clinics serving those with low incomes are reducing the ability of many of those most in need of such services to receive them. These laws, along with new voter ID requirements that make it most difficult for women, minorities and the poor to even vote, constitute a concerted effort by a diminishing percentage of the populace to consolidate their control over the government and dictate the terms under which the rest of us must live. Closing abortion clinics by making it impossible for many of them to continue to operate does not prevent those with enough money from going elsewhere, within a large state like Texas or even to another state to get one. Such options are cost-prohibitive for many, making such laws “Unaffordable” Care Acts. Requiring new ID’s can also be seen as a poll tax, even if the ID’s are given free of charge, because other documents must be presented in order to obtain them. These other documents often cost money to obtain, if they are even available, again reducing the ability of under-represented groups to express their preferences at the polls.
Singling out Texas is very instructive, because that state has recently gone out of its way to pass some of the most outrageous legislation in this regard. Both the highly restrictive voter ID and anti-abortion legislation are aimed at silencing women and minorities politically. That states are allowed by our constitution, at least as interpreted by our courts, to pass and enforce such legislation is appalling. If amendments to the Constitution need to be made so that people living in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, etc. are treated the same as those living in more progressive states with regard to basic human rights, so be it. Pass amendments treating worker rights, health care, voting rights, and other ways in which people are discriminated against unfairly as basic human rights. People are people and deserve to be treated as equals under the law, not as deserving of lesser treatment to better suit the bottom lines of corporations or outdated moral views. The state one resides in should not be a factor here.
People deserve to have an inalienable right to receive adequate health care, food, lodging, and to vote for all levels of government under which they are living. It took a long time, but we got rid of the slavery that existed at the nation’s founding, and eventually we even decided to allow the majority of the people of this nation who are women to vote. Some states currently seem to me to be approaching a situation where they do not even belong to the same country I was born into. Mine is one of them. Same sex marriages should be recognized everywhere in this country, not just the growing number of states that allow them to be performed. Voting in national elections, including those which decide the composition of Congress, should meet national standards. Laws prohibiting someone from voting should not differ radically from state to state. Now is not the time to recreate the ante-bellum South or Jim Crow. Nor is it time for aging white men to impose their will on the rest of America.
The biggest problem I have with the ACA is the fact that it still bends over backwards to keep the entrenched middlemen – the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies – profitable. I don’t know anyone who wants health insurance – we want health care. Imagine if Social Security and Medicare, for instance, were to be administered differently from state to state, or even worse – turned over to private corporations as has been done with pensions turning into 401Ks.. Those programs would degenerate in much the same way that labor laws and voting laws have in recent years, as more and more states have sought to placate for-profit corporations by eroding protections set in place previously to prevent unfair exploitation of workers by corporations seeking nothing more than unfettered access to higher profits. As corporate behavior becomes more deregulated, the deterioration of living standards and living conditions for most of us not in the economic elite escalates. Note the most recent recession, where obstructionists in Congress are succeeding in preventing recovery for all but the corporate and Wall Street elites. Robbing the poor to further enrich the wealthy does not serve the greater good for society as a whole.
Recent trends by retail and other corporations to take away holidays from those at the bottom of the economic ladder fit nicely in this. The class war has resulted in stagnant wages (falling for those on minimum wage or near it). longer hours, fewer and more costly benefits, particularly in those industries where labor unions and worker protections have been attacked most fiercely. Paid sick leave, vacation and parental leave available to workers in other countries are absent here. There are far more people in this country who should be upset at the state of labor laws in this country than one sees reflected in the legislative debates at the state and federal government levels concerning worker rights, acceptable pay levels and the conduct of those they work for. An extraterrestrial alien would doubtless conclude rightly that the government is representing the moneyed interests and corporations and giving the rank and file workers the shaft. Even our courts can’t find it in their hearts and minds to stop placing corporate desires above the most fundamental human rights. Corporations are not people. Only possessing unspeakable wealth or power in the defense of such a notion of corporate personhood can delude some among us into stating that they should be treated as such.
I fear the long-term effects of these trends. If something is not done to correct the inequities in our political, judicial and economic systems, more people will find themselves at the mercy of a government and economic system that neither cares about their hopes, dreams (or even needs) and refuses to acknowledge that they deserve a voice in steering the course of their own lives and those of future generations. Both parties are failing us and making it harder for those who know how to make life better for the many rather than preserving or worsening the status quo to do so. We need to start reversing these trends and make this a just society that values every individual as a person – not as a means of furthering their personal avarice. We can’t afford to sit around and hope for better results in future election cycles. Too many are desperate and hurting now.
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