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We Are What We Eat

How often have we ordered up a few pizzas and a couple of six packs to sat around, focusing our political positions while expanding our waistlines?


Last week, President Obama ate crow as his picks to manage health system restoration and to gain some control over government efficiency fell away under assault for their use of Republican tax practices, and worse, for telling the truth about their behavior.

Breaking with Cheney/Bush policy, President Obama stepped up and took responsibility for the mistakes in screening the people he had selected. He acknowledged that his administration’s lack of attention to some details left his nominees open to Republican attacks which were based in a desire to attack the administration more than to stand up for any principle.

The well-coordinated, corporate-funded Republican attack machine honed in on real instances of misconduct, and exploited them to distract attention from their true goal of undermining any attempt by the new administration to reverse the damage of the preceding one. It’s significant to note that none of the Republican attacks on Obama claimed that the nominees weren’t the best people for the job, or that the nominees’ “problems” had anything to do with the jobs for which they were nominated. The goal was simply to attack, to undermine and to impede any effort at recovery from the past eight years.

Culling the Least Healthy Poor Folks
The legislative leader for the Republican effort is Mitch McConnell, Senator from Kentucky. McConnell’s career has been one of studied obeisance to corporate interests. He has slavered for the Kentucky tobacco growers’ lobby, constantly opposing legislation to protect children from tobacco sales. When it was recently announced that Kentucky leads the nation in per capita cancer deaths related to tobacco use, McConnell felt no shame. This was simply a sign of the triumph of free market capitalism.

Tobacco deaths are disproportionately among the poor. McConnell thinks that there are too many of the poor and they have too much discretionary income. To him, these new statistics show that industry is both profiting and doing a public service by culling the least healthy of the over-population of poor folks. It is to promote this sort of corporate policy that McConnell and other Republicans serve in the Senate.

The Republicans fighting to obstruct any progress are not acting from any principles. They are doing what their business bosses tell them to do. Phil Gingrey, a Republican congressman from Georgia, exemplifies this conduct. First he acted on old-fashioned Republican principles and spoke out, criticizing a statement by Republican Chief Policy Spokesman, Rush Limbaugh. Within hours, this congressman was reined in by business leaders. No only was he forced to recant his criticism. They also required him to apologize to Limbaugh for having had the effrontery to tell the truth.

McConnell and Gingrey act as they do because their corporate owners order them to. Their corporate owners can order them because they control the candidates’ financial existence. McConnell, Gingrey, and their Republican brethren systematically work against the economic interests of their constituents. They could not campaign and win if they had to rely on contributions from the minimum-wage workers and underpaid illegal immigrants who fill the factories, butcher yards, and peanut-salmonella plants operated by the corporations who tell them what to say and how to vote.

And how can the corporations afford these Republican politicians? With the profits from all that pizza and beer we buy for our meetings to plan progressive campaigns. As students party in college dorms and fraternities, or order in for study sessions, they line the pockets of corporations. As activists devote long hours to plan events, we order in and further line corporate pockets. Students, activists, church groups, and families planning a pizza-and-movie night at home can choose whether to spend their money on the profits of companies which will use their profits for good or ill.

Stepping Up on Beer & Pizza
Remember what Obama did. He took responsibility for inadequate checking before selecting his candidates for important offices. Unlike Bush, he didn’t try to pass the blame or ignore the problem. He stepped up. Now, as we watch and wait for the new administration to start turning our economy around, to start rebuilding our nation, to start renewing the world’s faith in us, will we step up? Are we willing to make even small adjustments in our habits and pleasures to contribute to the efforts of the new administration, or will we pass the buck and “let Obama do it”?

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Consider the pizza and beer a little further. The second and third largest pizza chains in the U.S. are Dominos and Papa John’s. Each was started by a right-wing extremist. Each founder became a billionaire from his pizza operations and each has pumped millions of dollars into the campaigns of right-wing corporate tools. Dominos' founder, Tom Monaghan, sold out his interest to devote his life to misogynist business campaigns, like the effort to get corporate tool John Roberts and avowed racist Samuel Alito appointed to the Supreme Court.

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But Papa John’s is still 20% owned by extremist John Schnatter. Schnatter lives in Kentucky and is one of Mitch McConnell’s most zealous partisans. Every $10 you spend at Papa John’s gives Schnatter another $2 to fund his opposition to any government stimulus package. Another $2 to buy influence. $2 to oppose sex education, women’s health care, closing Guantanamo, reforming the banking system, rebuilding our infrastructure and every other progressive plan President Obama and his administration put forward.

Every neighborhood in America that has a Papa John’s franchise also has independent, mom & pop pizza places. Even if the owners of the local, independent pizza shop are right-wing zealots, money spent with them does not contribute to the Schnatter’s billions and his organized efforts to oppose any change from the Cheney/Bush days of no-bid, no-supervision, no-inspection government.

Harvey Milk Showed Us How to Do It
And think about the beer example. The movie “Milk,” currently up for Oscar consideration, reminds us how activists can change the course of a political fight. Harvey Milk worked to get his gay community bar customers to support the union-organizing efforts of Coors brewery workers. He confronted the factory workers’ robust, manly, and homophobic self-image. He helped gay beer drinkers and homophobic beer factory workers see that they had common interest in improving workers’ conditions.

Harvey Milk was willing to walk into meetings of angry, homophobic union workers for the chance (not the certainty, only the chance) to start a dialog and open some doors. President Obama was willing to go to Capitol Hill and meet with the Republican Caucus for the chance (only the chance) to deal honestly with men who pretended to care.

Harvey Milk’s risk-taking paid off in improved conditions at Coors, and in broader understanding of gay issues. President Obama’s risk taking is still playing out, but his gamble has revealed the Republicans as fundamentally hypocritical on their stated positions, a revelation that will, hopefully, have long term benefits for us all.

Are progressives and others who want change, who want Obama to deliver what he promised, willing to make even slight changes in their own lives to reach the change goals? Are we willing to abandon Papa John’s when we want pizza? Are we willing to spend a few minutes on Wikipedia or Google or elsewhere to learn about the companies behind our favorite tooth paste, shampoo, office supplies, or soft drinks?

Tom Hall

We are what we eat. Are we willing to put our food money where our political principles are?

Tom Hall