7 12 2006

Our Truth in Strange Places Award this month goes to Virginia Senator-elect James Webb, for his essay in that radical rag, The Wall Street Journal. Here’s some of what he said:

The most important–and unfortunately the least debated–issue in politics today is our society’s steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America’s top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

Incestuous corporate boards regularly approve compensation packages for chief executives and others that are out of logic’s range. As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much.

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn’t happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners’ pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate ‘reorganization.’ And workers’ ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants.

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation’s most fortunate.”

These are the remarks of a long-time Republican, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, a career military man who was thought of as a “conservative” Democrat. We need more conservatives like him!

And then there’s his famous exchange with Dubya, when he declined to have his picture taken with der Furher. Then things got really interesting. Bush had been told by his handlers than Webb’s son is with the US army in Iraq, and so Bush asked him, “how’s your boy doing?” Webb’s response to this, according to witnesses, was “I’d really like to see him brought back home.” Bush replied, “I didn’t ask you that.” In other words, “Hey, you’re not playing along with the script.” Isn’t that amazing?

Webb said later that he “felt like slugging” Mr. Bush for his insensitivity. Here’s some background: while Bush was riding out Vietnam being AWOL from the Air National Guard in Alabama, Jim Webb was in Vietnam, getting medals for facing down (and shooting up) people who were going after him with hand grenades. I was not a supporter of the Vietnam War, but I have to admit that surviving situations like that takes a lot of intelligence, psychological integration, and split-second reflexes, and I respect Mr. Webb for his conduct under fire, no matter how misguided the whole war may have been.

His actions at the White House and his attitude towards its resident stem from his core beliefs. In a speech in 1990, he said, , in relation to a President’s obligation to the armed forces, ” You hold our soldiers’ lives in sacred trust. When a citizen has sworn to obey you, and follow your judgment, and walk onto a battlefield to defend the interests you define as worthy of his blood, do not abuse that awesome power through careless policy, unclear objectives, or inflexible leadership. “

Those are exactly the qualities he has criticized in Mr. Bush’s regime. I’m beginning to like this guy. I think he might vote to impeach.

Jackson Browne, “Till I Go Down



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