Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Great Divide

State of the Union 2011Did you watch Tuesday night’s State of the Union address? You all know me well enough by now to know that I was excited about it for a couple of days, and was glued to the TV while it was going on. I even took a few notes.

My impression of it was that although it wasn’t one of President Obama’s more inspiring speeches (like the one he gave at the Arizona memorial recently), it set a good tone. It was short on specifics, but touched on what we need to do in order to move forward. And it mentioned that we move forward together, or not at all, which is exactly right. It was generally optimistic, asserting that Americans have what it takes to come back from the brink of disaster, if we all work together. Even if it means making some tough decisions. (Of course, to me, tax cuts for the rich isn’t a tough decision...more like a no-brainer.)

In the past couple of days, I’ve been reading a lot of analyses of the President’s speech, and late last night I read a short article in Time (an issue from a couple of weeks ago) that sort of crystallized my thoughts. One thing that struck me was the President’s call for investment in infrastructure and education. Much has been made of the word “investment,” with the righties saying that it’s just more spending. Well, sure...but there is an important difference between reckless spending and investment in our future.

It seems to me that this might very well be the fundamental difference between the right and the left, even beyond their differences when it comes to social issues. I don’t think anyone will argue that we need to spend our money wisely, but to completely stop funding for so many of the projects and issues and institutions that make us unique and wonderful (as well as keeping us healthy) seems like the height of folly to me. Whether it’s the National Park System or NPR, literacy programs or free clinics, highway projects or scientific research (yes, including fruit flies!), these are things that enrich, educate, and edify us. ALL of us, as a country.

One of the things that I liked about Barack Obama from the moment I read The Audacity of Hope was that he seemed to have vision. He seemed to be able to look at the big picture and the long view, and understand how interconnected all of these things are. To realize that we are part of a global economy now, and what happens on the other side of the world can affect us here. He is still taking that view, and I agree with it. Although everyone needs to suck it up and make some sacrifices, there are still certain things that we need to maintain and improve upon if we want to compete globally. We are rapidly losing that contest, and we ignore these things (or don’t fund them) at our own peril.

A couple of examples. In our highly mobile culture, we need to have decent highways upon which to drive, and safe bridges. Our interstate system dates to the 1950s, and these things must be maintained. It’s how your food gets to your supermarket, it’s how goods and products get to the store so that YOU, the consumer, can spend your hard-earned cash at places like hardware stores, where you buy things to improve your own home so that your quality of life is better! See how it’s all connected? Some repairs have to be made; if you’ve got a leak in your roof and just let it go, the problem is going to become much worse and cost much more to fix. A simple roof repair vs. structural repair due to water damage, possible environmental cleanup due to mold, replacement of damaged household goods, and so on. I think we need to understand that we need to fix our country’s leaky roof. An added bonus is that such projects will create jobs. (Think the WPA.) More about jobs in a moment.

One very leaky roof right now is our education problem, and people, we really do have a problem. We are falling behind many others, especially when it comes to science education. (I’ll attribute part of that to the idiotic notion that creationism is in any way science and should be taught along REAL science, but that’s a post for another day.) The decent-paying jobs of the future—indeed, the jobs of the present—are going to come in the scientific field.

Stude5During the 2008 Presidential campaign, John McCain made a campaign stop in Michigan and talked about the auto industry and those jobs. He said something to the effect of Michigan has lost a lot of manufacturing jobs, and here’s a hard truth, folks...a lot of them aren’t coming back. Although I didn’t support McCain, I gave him credit for telling it like it is. There will always be manufacturing jobs, but not to the extent that our post-WWII manufacturing boom guaranteed. There was a recent story in my local paper about all the manufacturing jobs that South Bend is losing; comments on the story blamed the local government for the job losses. I believe it is not a local phenomenon, and what is happening on a local scale is reflected across the entire country. We MUST begin to put more of a focus on education beyond high school. We need to change our mindset, encourage kids to study, and to place a value on knowledge—and especially a value on our teachers. The days when you could follow in your father’s footsteps at the Studebaker factory have gone the way of...well, the Studebaker.

The article I mentioned was titled “Where the Jobs Aren’t” (Zachary Karabell) and raised the possibility that our current rate of unemployment is not cyclical as in years past (a reaction to a crisis or recession) and is now structural. Advances in technology and increasing globalization have resulted in higher productivity, which then results in fewer workers necessary. There is no going back from that. The jobs we need to expand upon are those in research and development, jobs in which we work to solve problems like oil dependence, and health care jobs to care for our aging populace. All of these require advanced degrees.

It’s all connected. The Time article states “...the U.S. can manage high unemployment if it focuses on building a new economy with cutting-edge infrastructure and education that rivals that found anywhere else in the world.” As Rand Paul and his fellow teabaggers propose cuts in the Department of Education, the NIH, and the FDA, I despair for the future of our country. This is exactly what we need to ensure that we continue to fund, and yes...invest in.


  1. I think that with the divide in classes becoming wider that people are getting desparate as they are in fear of being left behind as well as cheated by 'others'. Sometimes I wonder if today's society did not remble the society of Europe prior to the Dark Ages settling in, where fear replaced logic and people saw hope in the fundamentalism of religious dogma instead of their own free will.

    For the inane people to have emerged as social figures worthy of wide coverage... Sarah Palin, Glen Beck and MICHELE BACHMANN... shows how the demagougery of intellectualism and the greed of spawned in the 80's has served to create walls between people who actually have more in common with each other than their percived differences.

    A lot of the inability to understand and identify with others has to be in part to the cosolodation of media. You have fewer voices speaking and they all speak on the same topics with slight variations on a central theme. The abscence of dissent creates a vaccum where only what someone wants heard is echoed.

    I cannot understand how tax cuts for the very rich is good for the welfare of the country. If that was the primary issue in voter's mind as they went to the polls, knowing how few people truly benefit from these breaks, how in good conscious could they vote for a representative who believe they should be extended?

    And when it comes to identifying with the so-called leadership... Sarah Palin hasn't been a 'Mamma Grizzly' since she was elected governor of Alaska!! Her control over her coverage is Stalin-esque as she is one of the biggest hypocrites around. But not the biggest... the recent stink around justice Thomas and his cracker wife is another that comes to mind.

    Maybe that is what it takes to be a conservative these days... the ability to convince others that they should not be given the opportunity that benefited many of those who are in leadership positions. Amazing, at least it is to me.

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  3. 2 things come to mind that people have to realize- 1st, government, by definition, determines how our nation spends it's money. The question is not whether republicans and democrats think we should spend money- obviously, we will. Their primary difference is "what will we spend our money on?" Politicians who aren't spending money aren't doing their job. The ones who do their job well will spend appropriate amounts on things that are important to their constituents. I think Obama did a great job of clarifying how he thinks we need to spend our money to satisfy the constituency that elected him. The republicans would be well served to take a similar tack rather than to keep saying "stop spending". It's not about not spending; it's about redirecting our nations budget to fund responsible growth, rather than repeating history by wasting money to satisfy special interest groups and poorly managed industries.
    Additionally- and I've said it before- we are an entire revolution beyond the jobs lost in the manufacturing industry- that was just the final phases of the industrial revolution, held over for a second show due to a temporary rebound in consumption caused by the end of WW2. We are now firmly in the grips of the computer revolution, where technology has enabled companies to replace skyscrapers full of people working 9 to 5 with a handful of housewives telecommuting from home- or worse yet- overseas.
    Americans are going to have to change their "entitled" ways before it's going to get better. Momma G used to say "the world doesn't owe you a living- you have to earn it", and now, with this global economy, she's more right than ever!!

  4. I'd gladly lower my productivity for the greater good!

  5. Well said Beth. Your comments and analysis are spot on!!

  6. Hi Beth,
    In my more cynical moments lately I've started wondering whether some of the recent Republican positions on certain issues -- especially those which fly in the face of the bipartisan budget committee -- are actually designed to delay economic recovery. Not to destroy the country, of course, but just to delay the turnaround (or the perception of it) long enough to win back the White House.

  7. Good post Beth. Obama's speech was an alarm clock ringing, some people heard it and some didn't, as usual. There is a depression griping a lot of the peoplein the country. Things are not the way they were, that's true, and you can't get them to be, but that should not be a reason to give up, and that is exactly what withdrawing money from our cultural and scientific activities is doing. It is the purpose of business, industry, education, researcg to create wealth, not hide it under the mattress.

  8. I am not sure whether the climate will permit the tough decisions to be made. It seems our society only responds to crisis.

  9. The "investment" part of the speech was a part I really liked Beth. If we don't deal with our severe infrastructure and education problems, I think it is safe to conclude that the nation has been duped and abandoned. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that. I still haven't figured out whether the privileged elite are planning to go someplace else or whether they plan to stay here. Knowing that would tell us a lot about what will happen to our country in the future.

  10. I have to ask this: Did it seem to anyone else (or was it just me) that Boehner and Biden looked like Tragedy and Comedy? I swear Boehner looked like Melpomene, like he was going to cry at any minute (and, of course DID), and Biden looked so happy through the whole thing that he could have been Thalia. I was rather transfixed by them through the entire speech.


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