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Is the End Near for the Poorest Rich Nation on Earth?

When I was a kid in Milwaukee, there was a guy who walked up and down Wisconsin Ave., the main drag, wearing a sandwich board proclaiming, “Repent! The End Is Near.”


Of course, he meant his warning in a “come to Jesus now” sort of way. But if the fellow is still alive, I hope he’s moved east and is walking through the canyons of Lower Manhattan, warning that the financial folly of the past four decades is coming to an abrupt, potentially disastrous, end. You know things are really bad when The White House refuses to comment on a major business crisis, as happened yesterday when rumors that Lehman Bros. was tanking flew fast and furious around the world.

This morning, Lehman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but liquidation is almost a certainty. Then, Bank of America bailed out the very symbol of Wall Street, the ever-bullish on America Merrill Lynch, by acquiring it for a “bargain” price of only $50 billion; only two or three years ago, it was worth two or three times that sum. Coming on the heels of Freddie and Fannie being rescued by the Fed a few weeks ago and Bear Stearns being snatched from the edge of the abyss just before that, coupled with world oil prices falling almost as fast as the US dollar, and chaos looms.

Put bluntly, the end is near: Today marks the official beginning of the end of more than four generations of uninterrupted American prosperity.

We can thank Ronald Reagan and both George Bush’s for the country’s coming plight, and Bill Clinton for being an accessory after the fact, to the dramatically nasty changes that will befall the country over the next 18 to 24 months: A credit crisis such as the world has not seen since the 1930s, tight money forcing small and mid-sized companies out of business, large corporations cutting everywhere to survive, a massive increase in the unemployment rate, states unable to take care of ballooning welfare rolls because property tax collections are dropping as property values keep declining.

The Republican answer is predictable: Cut taxes even more for the wealthy, the people least affected by even a sharp downturn in the economy, and cut back programs to help those most affected. As recently as this week, John McCain was still touting his tax cutting bilge as the way to stave off the worst economic crisis in 80 years – that is, when he wasn’t lying about Barack Obama’s tax proposals.

The good news is that, if they’re nimble enough, Democrats have been handed a golden opportunity to return to their New Deal roots and rescue the country at the same time.

The campaign can pivot in the Democrat’s favor if they go on the Give ‘Em Hell Harry Truman offense. In 1948, Truman kept asking voters, “How many times do you have to be hit over the head with a board before you realize who’s hitting you with it?”

Just look at what Reagan-Bush-McCain-onomics and its parallel view of the world gave us:

  • Banks and financial markets became so deregulated that they were able to literally steal money legally from the pockets of investors, home owners, small businesses and people who were easily duped even as what regulators remained were powerless to act to stop them.
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  • A yawning gap between have’s and have-nots in the US, where you are either rich as Croesus, desperately poor or clinging by your fingernails to a rapidly shrinking middle class.
  • A tax code that rewards hoarding – and hiding – unearned income even as it punishes an average, two-income family for working so hard; when Warren Buffet, one of the country’s richest men, says it’s criminal that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does, you know things are terribly askew
  • Billions are borrowed every week to spend on war while people at home die as bridges collapse for lack of money to maintain them, schools deteriorate to where the United States literacy rate is an embarrassment, and nearly one-fifth of the country lacks access basic medical care because they are uninsured or underinsured.
  • A rabid belief in so-called unfettered and free markets that hands out billions in subsidies to oil companies while almost nothing by comparison is spent on commercializing economic alternatives to the very thing – oil – that is destroying the planet. If unfettered free markets are such a panacea, then why do oil giants need lush tax subsidies?

So here we sit, the poorest rich nation on earth, doing everything we can to bring about our own demise.
It’s time for the Democratic Party and the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket to begin screaming from the rooftops, “Look what they’re doing to you! To us! It’s your Bill of Rights and your wallet and your life and your children’s future that they’re stealing from you, and they want you to vote for them so they can steal even more from you!”

It is time for Democrats to speak hard truth to the country, the way FDR did in 1932 when the nation was in as tight an economic bind as it is now, and in 1948 when Truman kept talking truth to voters about the Republican-controlled Congress. It is time to talk about what made America great: A level playing field kept in check by a government that blew the whistle when one side was taking advantage of the other.


by Charley James

Charley James is an American journalist, author and essayist who lives in Toronto.

Reprinted with permission from The Progressive Curmudgeon

Earlier articles by Charley: