Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bill Moyers | Democracy in America

Bob Feuer (PDA candidate in 1st district of Mass.) forwards this to us:

Bill Moyers | Democracy in America
> *Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes,
> and We May Be Running Out of Luck*
> By Bill Moyers
> Saturday 17 May 2008
> */The following is an excerpt from Bill Moyers' new book, "Moyers
> on Democracy."/*
> Democracy in America is a series of narrow escapes, and we may be
> running out of luck. The reigning presumption about the American
> experience, as the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has written, is grounded
> in the idea of progress, the conviction that the present is "better"
> than the past and the future will bring even more improvement. For all
> of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, "The system works."
> Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money,
> faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a
> different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in
> the pursuit of wealth and power -and to the claims of empire, with its
> ravenous demands and stuporous distractions. A sense of political
> impotence pervades the country - a mass resignation defined by Goodwyn
> as "believing the dogma of 'democracy' on a superficial public level
> but not believing it privately." We hold elections, knowing they are
> unlikely to bring the corporate state under popular control. There is
> considerable vigor at local levels, but it has not been translated
> into new vistas of social possibility or the political will to address
> our most intractable challenges. Hope no longer seems the operative
> dynamic of America, and without hope we lose the talent and drive to
> cooperate in the shaping of our destiny.
> The earth we share as our common gift, to be passed on in good
> condition to our children's children, is being despoiled. Private
> wealth is growing as public needs increase apace. Our Constitution is
> perilously close to being consigned to the valley of the shadow of
> death, betrayed by a powerful cabal of secrecy-obsessed
> authoritarians. Terms like "liberty" and "individual freedom" invoked
> by generations of Americans who battled to widen the 1787 promise to
> "promote the general welfare" have been perverted to create a
> government primarily dedicated to the welfare of the state and the
> political class that runs it. Yes, Virginia, there is a class war and
> ordinary people are losing it. It isn't necessary to be a Jeremiah
> crying aloud to a sinful Jerusalem that the Lord is about to afflict
> them for their sins of idolatry, or Cassandra, making a nuisance of
> herself as she wanders around King Priam's palace grounds wailing "The
> Greeks are coming." Or Socrates, the gadfly, stinging the rump of
> power with jabs of truth. Or even Paul Revere, if horses were still in
> fashion. You need only be a reporter with your eyes open to see what's
> happening to our democracy. I have been lucky enough to spend my adult
> life as a journalist, acquiring a priceless education in the ways of
> the world, actually getting paid to practice one of my craft's
> essential imperatives: connect the dots.
> The conclusion that we are in trouble is unavoidable. I report the
> assault on nature evidenced in coal mining that tears the tops off
> mountains and dumps them into rivers, sacrificing the health and lives
> of those in the river valleys to short-term profit, and I see a link
> between that process and the stock-market frenzy which scorns
> long-term investments - genuine savings - in favor of quick turnovers
> and speculative bubbles whose inevitable bursting leaves insiders with
> stuffed pockets and millions of small stockholders, pensioners, and
> employees out of work, out of luck, and out of hope.
> And then I see a connection between those disasters and the repeal
> of sixty-year-old banking and securities regulations designed during
> the Great Depression to prevent exactly that kind of human and
> economic damage. Who pushed for the removal of that firewall? An
> administration and Congress who are the political marionettes of the
> speculators, and who are well rewarded for their efforts with
> indispensable campaign contributions. Even honorable opponents of the
> practice get trapped in the web of an electoral system that
> effectively limits competition to those who can afford to spend
> millions in their run for office. Like it or not, candidates know that
> the largesse on which their political futures depend will last only as
> long as their votes are satisfactory to the sleek "bundlers" who turn
> the spigots of cash on and off.
> The property qualifications for federal office that the framers of
> the Constitution expressly chose to exclude for demonstrating an
> unseemly "veneration for wealth" are now de facto in force and higher
> than the Founding Fathers could have imagined. "Money rules Our laws
> are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty
> in rags. The parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us."
> Those words were spoken by Populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease during
> the prairie revolt that swept the Great Plains slightly more than 120
> years after the Constitution was signed. They are true today, and that
> too, spells trouble.
> Then I draw a line to the statistics that show real wages lagging
> behind prices, the compensation of corporate barons soaring to heights
> unequaled anywhere among industrialized democracies, the relentless
> cheeseparing of federal funds devoted to public schools, to retraining
> for workers whose jobs have been exported, and to programs of food
> assistance and health care for poor children, all of which snatch away
> the ladder by which Americans with scant means but willing hands and
> hearts could work and save their way upward to middle-class
> independence. And I connect those numbers to our triumphant
> reactionaries' campaigns against labor unions and higher minimum
> wages, and to their success in reframing the tax codes so as to strip
> them of their progressive character, laying the burdens of Atlas on a
> shrinking middle class awash in credit card debt as wage earners
> struggle to keep up with rising costs for health care, for college
> tuitions, for affordable housing - while huge inheritances go
> untouched, tax shelters abroad are legalized, rates on capital gains
> are slashed, and the rich get richer and with each increase in their
> wealth are able to buy themselves more influence over those who make
> and those who carry out the laws.
> Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists: "No one can
> eliminate prejudices - just recognize them." Here is my bias: extremes
> of wealth and poverty cannot be reconciled with a genuinely democratic
> politics. When the state becomes the guardian of power and privilege
> to the neglect of justice for the people as a whole, it mocks the very
> concept of government as proclaimed in the preamble to our
> Constitution; mocks Lincoln's sacred belief in "government of the
> people, by the people, and for the people"; mocks the democratic
> notion of government as "a voluntary union for the common good"
> embodied in the great wave of reform that produced the Progressive Era
> and the two Roosevelts. In contrast, the philosophy popularized in the
> last quarter century that "freedom" simply means freedom to choose
> among competing brands of consumer goods, that taxes are an unfair
> theft from the pockets of the successful to reward the incompetent,
> and that the market will meet all human needs while government itself
> becomes the enabler of privilege - the philosophy of an earlier social
> Darwinism and laissez-faire capitalism dressed in new togs - is as
> subversive as Benedict Arnold's betrayal of the Revolution he had once
> served. Again, Mary Lease: "The great evils which are cursing American
> society and undermining the foundations of the republic flow not from
> the legitimate operation of the great human government which our
> fathers gave us, but they come from tramping its plain provisions
> underfoot."
> Our democracy has prospered most when it was firmly anchored in
> the idea that "We the People" - not just a favored few - would
> identify and remedy common distempers and dilemmas and win the gamble
> our forebears undertook when they espoused the radical idea that
> people could govern themselves wisely. Whatever and whoever tries to
> supplant that with notions of a wholly privatized society of
> competitive consumers undermines a country that, as Gordon S. Wood
> puts it in his landmark book The Radicalism of the American
> Revolution, discovered its greatness "by creating a prosperous free
> society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and
> their pecuniary pursuits of happiness" - a democracy that changed the
> lives of "hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring
> people."
> I wish I could say that journalists in general are showing the
> same interest in uncovering the dangerous linkages thwarting this
> democracy. It is not for lack of honest and courageous individuals who
> would risk their careers to speak truth to power - a modest risk
> compared to those of some journalists in authoritarian countries who
> have been jailed or murdered for the identical "crime." But our
> journalists are not in control of the instruments they play. As
> conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, and
> networks, and profit rather than product becomes the focus of
> corporate effort, news organizations - particularly in television -
> are folded into entertainment divisions. The "news hole" in the print
> media shrinks to make room for advertisements, and stories needed by
> informed citizens working together are pulled in favor of the latest
> celebrity scandals because the media moguls have decided that
> uncovering the inner workings of public and private power is boring
> and will drive viewers and readers away to greener pastures of
> pabulum. Good reporters and editors confront walls of resistance in
> trying to place serious and informative reports over which they have
> long labored. Media owners who should be sounding the trumpets of
> alarm on the battlements of democracy instead blow popular ditties
> through tin horns, undercutting the basis for their existence and
> their First Amendment rights.
> --------
> /Bill Moyers is the author of many books including "Moyers on
> Democracy" (Doubleday, 2008) and the host of the PBS show, Bill Moyers
> Journal./

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