Overview – America and its culture

America

The Declaration of Independence was the first founding document in the history of the world to specifically mention happiness….For hundreds of years, we’ve stood by the idea that through hard work and perseverance, and given the right opportunities, anyone can be happy in America and achieve the American Dream. But today, the American Dream is on life support, and happiness is more elusive than ever before…being happy is nearly impossible if someone is unemployed…now, 10.9 million Americans don’t have a job…From job-killing trade policies and devastating austerity measures, to the government’s refusal to be the employer of last resort, America has lost millions of jobs, and happiness has become an unattainable dream for far too many. There’s no way we can be a happy nation again without getting those jobs back, and making sure that all Americans have an equal shot at a good job. It’s time to close the book on Reaganomics, toss austerity aside, keep good jobs in America, and make our government the employer of last resort by creating the modern equivalent of the WPA and the CCC. Only then will Americans really have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” When Happiness Died in America…  By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program, December16,  2013

America’s Greatest Shame: Child Poverty Rises and Food Stamps Cut While Billionaires Boom  

America at the tipping point

The Global Competitiveness Report 2012–2013,”  by the World Economic Forum, is the latest annual ranking of 144 countries, on a wide range of factors related to global economic competitiveness…Gross Domestic Product is the only factor where the U.S. ranks as #1…Health Care has the U.S. ranking #34 on “Life Expectancy,” and #41 on “Infant Mortality.” Education in the U.S. is also mediocre…The U.S, overall, is very far from being #1 – not really in contention, at all, for the top spot. The rankings suggest instead that this nation is sinking toward the Third World… America Is Far from #1 by Eric Zuesse

American Dream or Nightmare

… to what extent do an individual’s life chances depend on the income and edu­ca­tion of his or her parents? Nowadays, these numbers show that the American dream is a myth…The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom…It might not be so bad if there were even a grain of truth to trickle-down economics – the quaint notion that every­one benefits from enriching those at the top… growing inequality is not inevitable…But, most importantly, America’s inequality is undermining its values and identity…America can no longer regard itself as the land of opportunity that it once was. But it does not have to be this way: it is not too late for the American dream to be restored. The Price of Inequality and the Myth of Opportunity by Joseph Stiglitz 

Culture

The nation’s population will look dramatically different by mid-century, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse and a good deal older as it increases from about 302 million to 439 million by 2050, according to projections released today by the U.S. Census Bureau…Minorities, about one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become a majority by 2042 and be 54 percent of U.S. residents by 2050. U.S. to Grow Grayer, More Diverse, Minorities Will Be Majority by 2042, Census Bureau

Culture war

Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars…the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama…It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals …people tend to be more defensive about social issues, and less likely to be open to counter-arguments or new information… How the Right Has Turned Everything Into a Culture War — And Why That’s Terrible for Our Democracy By Joshua Holland, AlterNet, February 28, 2012 -

We the People, and the New American Civil War by Robert Reich, Common Dreams, November 6, 2012

Race

…it took America — this place where the old divisions would need to be put aside so as to subjugate indigenous persons and maintain chattel enslavement of Africans in the name of “the white race” — to really bring racism, as we know it to fruition…If the elite could make the poor Europeans believe they were members of the same “white” team as the rich Europeans, then the prospects for class-based rebellion would be dampened…My goal…is to confront us with the reality that, ultimately, racial equity is in the interest of all of us; that the nostalgic remembrance of the past is not only problematic in that it tethers us to a narrative that overlooks the fundamental evil of those “good old days” for millions, but also because it commits us to the kind of nation that is not sustainable for anyone in the long run.…Tim Wise on White Resentment in a Multiracial Society  - interview by Mark Karlin

America’s Ku Klux Klan Mentality By Lawrence Davidson, Consortium News, September 8, 2012 

The Persistence of Racial Resentment

Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America By Sara Robinson

Fear of a Black President 

How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane

Racism and Cruelty Drive GOP Health Care Agenda

 Sex

…The real problem we face is racism, bigotry and willful ignorance in the face of our changing demographics, spiritual beliefs and the challenge that postmodern thought poses to people stuck in Bronze Age thinking…America’s White Male Problem By Frank Schaeffer  

Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control — And Why We’ll Still Be Fighting About it 100 Years From Now

Divide and conquer

Wedge issues are a powerful distraction — and allow the right wing to accomplish their goals while the public is preoccupied with some trumped up emotional issue… wedge issues are emotional in appeal. They bypass the cognitive function of the brain and go right to a subconscious emotional response… Why are “Wedge Issues” Essential to Republican Rule?

Throughout history, political elites have manipulated social groups to achieve and maintain power.… in the last two generations Republicans have masterfully used wedge politics– pitting us against them — to gain and keep power and to implement policies that a clear majority of the populace dislikes… Us vs Them: A Simple Recipe to Prevent Strong Society from Forming By James Rohrer, AlterNet.org, July 27, 2012

 

Still United: Ninety per cent of Americans still believe in hard work and the American Dream

By Associated Press, 11 May 2013

Excerpt

  • Polls in the U.S. suggest Americans still think a lot alike
  • Seven in 10 say the poor have become too dependent on government assistance
  • More want government action to make health care affordable and accessible
  • Many believe the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer 
  • Nine out of 10 call themselves very patriotic, believe in God and value higher education

Can we agree on this? Americans still think alike much of the time even if our politicians don’t…here’s the oft-overlooked truth: Even some issues that are highly contentious in the partisan capital have solid public support across the country…If those slivers of consensus were the starting point in debates, political compromise might just be possible.

Instead, drama and conflict are what feed this country’s party-driven politics, the news media, the bloggers and tweeters, even the pollsters who measure opinion. The 24-hour, left vs. right cacophony coming out of Washington tends to drown out any notes of national harmony.

Maybe the great division in politics these days lies between Washington and the rest of the nation.

 

…Democrat Barack Obama is on track to become the most polarizing president in nearly seven decades of Gallup records. His predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, held the distinction previously, signaling a trend…

Full text

  • Polls in the U.S. suggest Americans still think a lot alike
  • Seven in 10 say the poor have become too dependent on government assistance
  • More want government action to make health care affordable and accessible
  • Many believe the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer 
  • Nine out of 10 call themselves very patriotic, believe in God and value higher education

Can we agree on this? Americans still think alike much of the time even if our politicians don’t.

To get heads nodding, just say something worrisome about the economy or dismissive of Washington.

Almost all Americans consider themselves very patriotic, believe in God, value higher education and admire those who get rich through hard work.

Not much argument there.

But here’s the oft-overlooked truth: Even some issues that are highly contentious in the partisan capital have solid public support across the country.

National polls show that 7 of 10 people want to raise the minimum wage. Similar numbers want term limits for Congress, support building the Keystone XL pipeline to bring oil from Canada and back using government money to make preschool available to every child.

There are toeholds of agreement on big, divisive issues such as immigration, abortion and guns. If those slivers of consensus were the starting point in debates, political compromise might just be possible.

Instead, drama and conflict are what feed this country’s party-driven politics, the news media, the bloggers and tweeters, even the pollsters who measure opinion. The 24-hour, left vs. right cacophony coming out of Washington tends to drown out any notes of national harmony.

Maybe the great division in politics these days lies between Washington and the rest of the nation.

Bonny Paulson thinks so.

A retired flight attendant in Huntly, Va., she rents a Shenandoah Valley log cabin to travelers. Paulson gets an earful of people grumbling about politicians, but she doesn’t hear much disagreement about the issues.

‘Washington is more polarized than the rest of the nation,’ she says.

Judy Hokse, visiting Washington with a group of volunteers serving meals to the homeless, says ordinary people are more entrenched in their political views than they were when she was a teenager in the 1970s. But the political standoff in Washington, she said, ‘is just way out there.

‘In our neck of the woods there are different opinions,’ says Hokse, of Saugatuck, Michigan., ‘but we can talk about them.’

The notion of a divided country even divides the academics.

Some political scientists bemoan a disappearing ideological center, reflected in the polarization consuming politics. Others dismiss the idea of a balkanized nation of Republican- or Democratic-leaning states. They see instead a laid-back land of mostly moderate, pragmatic voters remote from their highly partisan leaders.

Certainly there’s plenty for people to argue about.

Last year’s presidential race fanned long-standing debates over the size of government, the social safety net and taxes. Some states have begun recognizing gay marriage; many have imposed constitutional bans. Some are tightening gun laws, while others are looking to loosen them.

 

Democrat Barack Obama is on track to become the most polarizing president in nearly seven decades of Gallup records. His predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, held the distinction previously, signaling a trend.

Gallup says that 7 out of 10 people say Americans are greatly divided when it comes to the most important values. Yet with a few exceptions such as issues of race and gender and views of government, opinions haven’t changed much in a quarter-century of Pew polls tracking political values.

‘That’s a really critical point that often gets overlooked,’ said Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. ‘It’s easy to assume when we see more partisan polarization that somehow American values are shifting. In most dimensions the way Americans overall look at things is very consistent over time.’

While U.S. opinion overall stuck to the middle of the road, the politically engaged became better at sorting themselves into like-minded camps. Voters changed views or changed parties, and increasing numbers left the parties to become independents. Rockefeller Republicans and Reagan Democrats disappeared.

The remaining party faithful are more ideologically distilled.

Two decades ago, Republican support for stricter environmental rules was at 86 percent, almost as high as for Democrats. Last year only 47 percent of Republicans wanted tougher environmental rules, Pew found. Democratic support remained high.

On family values, it was Democrats who changed.

Over 25 years, the numbers of Democrats saying they had “old-fashioned values” about family and marriage declined from 86 percent to 60 percent, while Republicans held steady.

Despite the party shifts, stricter environmental rules and old-fashioned values are still endorsed by 7 out of 10 people.

Likewise, the abortion debate divides the political parties and fervent activists. Yet most people stand somewhere in the middle.

They overwhelmingly say abortion should be legal under some circumstances, especially in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. At the same time, large majorities support some restrictions, such as a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors.

Gun control and illegal immigration? U.S. opinion is torn, with angry voices on all sides.

Yet some ideas are getting support from 4 out of 5 people polled: extending federal background checks to all gun buyers, tightening security at the nation’s borders, and providing a path to citizenship for some workers who are in the country illegally, if they meet requirements such as paying back taxes.

So there’s common ground.

But even where people agree on big ideas, some of those ideas may conflict with each other.

Republicans aren’t the only ones who say business is the nation’s backbone. Nearly three-fourths of Americans agree. But just as many worry that there’s too much power in the hands of a few big companies — a Democratic-sounding sentiment. Seven in 10 say the poor have become too dependent on government assistance, but even more want government action to make health care affordable and accessible.

Details matter.

A resounding majority believes that in the United States ‘the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.” But there’s no consensus on what, if anything, to do about that.

The nation is enduringly optimistic about Americans’ ability to solve problems, but it’s pessimistic about the people who make the rules in government and politics. Majorities believe elected officials are out of touch and harming the nation, and most say they prefer leaders who are willing to compromise, a rarity in Washington now.

There’s bipartisan disdain for lawmakers. The divided Congress gets 15 percent approval from Republicans and 13 percent among Democrats, according to Gallup.

‘If you listen to the people here in town they’re all fed up,’ said Debbie Grauel, owner of an independent office supply store in Deale, Md. “Everybody’s for term limits for everybody.’

What else can bring a sprawling, diverse, free-spirited nation of 316 million close to agreement? It’s hard to say. Polls rarely measure the mom-and-apple-pie stuff.

‘If there’s something that’s really a consensus, you are not going to find surveys asking about it,” said Tom Smith, director of the giant General Social Survey since 1980. Pollsters tend to drop those questions for something new.

Of course, consensus of opinion doesn’t guarantee action. Nine out of 10 people tell Pew it’s their duty to always vote, but fewer than 6 in 10 of those who were eligible voted in the 2012 presidential election.

Nor does harmony equal tranquility.

Times of crisis create a rallying effect, epitomized by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush’s presidential approval rating jumped to 90 percent, the highest in Gallup’s history. Approval of Congress reached 84 percent.

In ordinary times, unity of opinion might be the wrong goal.

‘If everybody agreed, there would be no debate,’ said Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport. ‘There’s an argument to be made that from debate and disagreement come truth.’
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Obama’s mainstream pitch

By Kenneth S. Baer, Washington Post, January 23, 2010

Kenneth S. Baer is a managing director of the Harbour Group and the author of “Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton.” He is a former associate director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration.

If you missed Barack Obama’s inaugural address on Monday, you might have thought that it was George McGovern who took the oath of office.

“Unabashedly progressive,” said ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl; “President Obama goes on the offense for liberalism,” Politico proclaimed. A day later, Republicans jumped on board. “His unabashedly far-left-of-center inaugural speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party in ages past,” thundered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum said the speech “rejected and repudiated the ideas that have dominated American political discourse since the Carter presidency. It rejected not only Reagan, but Clinton.” Former Nixon and Reagan aide David Gergen concluded: “Gone were the third way of Bill Clinton and the centrism of Jimmy Carter. He emerged as an unapologetic, unabashed liberal — just what the left has long wanted him to be and exactly what the right has feared.”

Yet Obama’s address was firmly in the mainstream — of both the country and the Democratic Party, which has absorbed the lessons of its post-1968 defeats and synthesized into its core the New Democratic values of the Clinton era. The speech sounded so robustly liberal not because the president or his party has changed but because the Republican Party has, moving far outside the norms of American political thought.

Defending the idea of a social safety net to guard against the vagaries of life is hardly radical. President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law extensions of Social Security; President Ronald Reagan worked with House Speaker Tip O’Neill to save Social Security in 1983; President George W. Bush created the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

But in a world in which Republicans have endorsed a budget that would eviscerate Medicaid and turn it into a block grant and that would change Medicare into a voucher program whose value would quickly be overtaken by inflation, protecting the integrity of these programs suddenly sounds bold. Note that Obama did not say these programs were immune from reform. And while an inaugural address is hardly the place to rattle off numbers, Obama could have added that last year he put forward $350 billion in health entitlement savings on top of the $716 billion in Medicare savings he signed into law in his first term, cuts that Republicans tried to use as a cudgel against Democrats last year.

Did Obama call for a new entitlement to deal with our economic woes? No.

In fact, keeping with the New Democratic approach, Obama rejected the old-time religion of equality of outcome and framed his vision as one of equality of opportunity: “We must . . . empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.” Obama put forward neither a new government agency nor a guarantee of success. “Hard work and personal responsibility,” Obama reminded us, “are constants in our character.” Rather than relaunch the War on Poverty, Obama’s economic focus was the middle class and those striving to get there.

These differences may sound subtle, but they were an important shift in the Democratic Party’s public philosophy. In the 1990s, this change was controversial (recall the fight over welfare reform), but now it is easy to miss because opportunity and responsibility are so deeply embedded in the party’s DNA.

Defending a safety net and calling for opportunity for all is nothing new, though Obama’s call for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans is. Yet this, along with the calls for equal pay for women, welcoming immigrants and action on climate change, is radical only if viewed through the oversize tortoise-shell glasses of the 1980s.

The country has changed. In a turnabout from the past, these social issues cut against the GOP — not the Democratic Party. In the 1980s, a New Democrat would counsel against even mentioning these issues. Today, one of the most effective advocates for gay marriage is the preeminent New Democratic institution Third Way.

Perspective is everything in assessing Obama’s second inaugural address. One cannot ignore how the Republican Party’s move to the right has shifted the parameters of political debate. On economic policy, the president is in line with the bipartisan, postwar consensus on the safety net and with the New Democratic view on government’s role in the economy. On social issues, he is firmly in the mainstream and hardly a McGovernik.

But don’t believe me. Listen to Newt Gingrich: “I didn’t think it was very liberal,” he told Politico. “There were one or two sentences obviously conservatives would object to, but 95 percent of the speech I thought was classically American, emphasizing hard work, emphasizing self-reliance, emphasizing doing things together. I thought it was a good speech.”

So did I.

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