When I was growing up, I was proud to be American. I ate national pride with my breakfast cereal. I still love the country of my birth, but now I’m embarrassed by a lot of what I hear and see. Too much of what’s happening these days eats away at the values I embrace.
My mother believed government has an important role to play in making sure the country works for everyone, not just the rich. I didn’t fall far from my mother’s apple tree. So I’m puzzled by the willingness of Republicans and Tea Party members to hand over their middle-class dreams to a corporate elite.
Minnesota Senator Al Franken gives me hope. The Democratic Congressman was elected in 2008 by a mere 312 votes. At a time when Republican bullying tactics and corporate lobbying are trashing the lives of the majority of Americans and lining wealthy pockets, Franken is courageously campaigning on behalf of progressive values.
His June 18, 2011, speech to Netroots Nation made me cheer. He takes the Republican Party to task for forcing Congress to waste time on issues that should not need debating. He reminds them that democratic values include a strong social safety net, infrastructure and innovation, education, health care, workers’ rights—the very things Republicans are working hard to dismantle.
“What conservatives miss when they talk about the good old days,” he says, “was that they were good for a reason.” The three decades between 1947 and 1977 were a time of growth that benefited everyone. While income for the top fifth grew by 99%, income for those in the bottom fifth increased 116%. The economy was growing. Jobs were available. Government programs allowed those needing a helping hand to move up into the middle class.
That picture has changed dramatically. Franken says, “Progressives are, in a way, the new conservatives. We want to conserve what we fought so hard to build. The right wingers, who call themselves conservatives, are the ones who want radical change in the way our government works and the way our country works.”
He goes on to say, “The Right wants America to be a nation of social Darwinism, in which the powerful are protected by government, and the rest of us are on our own.” And, “When Republicans talk about destroying these things, they are talking about turning their backs on the America that we have built. They’re talking about ripping apart the fabric of our society. They’re talking about the transformation of our country, about undermining our traditions so radically they might as well be tearing stars off the flag.
“And we should say so.”
Franken speaks my language. I applaud his courage and clarity. The two videos below are good examples. In the first he talks to a progressive audience, who embrace what he is saying. In the second he opposes tax cuts for millionaires.
In my adopted country of Canada, a Conservative majority is making similar inroads into values held by a majority of voters. It’s time for all of us who believe progressive values are humane values to speak out.