Originally Posted at MY LEFT WING on Monday, October 27, 2008
Whenever I hear the old joke, “He was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple,” I cringe a little, because I immediately think of the inverse — of the millions of people who are born with two strikes against them.
Lately I cringe when I hear the ludicrous charge being leveled against Barack Obama: that he intends to apply socialist policies in the United States. The charge is ludicrous because he does not intend such a thing — not because socialism is ludicrous. To the contrary.
Here is another thing that makes me cringe:
“In America, if you have the brains and the talent and are willing to work as hard as it takes, you can make it to the top.”
Well, yes; the operative word in that oft-repeated maxim is “can.” But you can have a top-class brain and a top-class talent and work yourself to the bone and still go to the grave with nothing in this country… if you happen to have been born with two strikes against you.
That is to say: You can have the brains and the talent and all the drive imaginable, and end up at a dead end because you got pregnant at 16 when abortion was illegal or unavailable… and find yourself in your mid-thirties a cashier at Sears, bone-tired with three kids at night, answering all the “Jeopardy” questions, wondering how the hell you ended up single and miserable and resenting these kids you love.
You can be brilliant and gifted and work yourself silly to save money to transfer from community college to the Ivy League school that accepted you — but because you were unlucky enough to be born into a bad neighbourhood you will never get to that hallowed school and instead be shot dead, collateral damage in a turf war drive-by shooting, itself the sociological result of the grinding poverty produced by decades of racial and societal design.
Worse: Born with two strikes, you wind up before the pitch, you take a huge swing — you miss, and you end up, at 17, in prison. And you spend the rest of your life going through a societally designed revolving door in that prison. You may have made that “first strike,” but the odds were against you from the beginning. You never had a chance. And you’re not alone. Watch MSNBC’s “Lock Up: Raw” sometimes. Look at the faces on that show. Ever notice anything? Check out American prison statistics against American census numbers. The ratio of the American population as a whole to African-Americans in prison is grotesque. This is not accidental. Nor are African-Americans hard-wired to commit crimes. And people who dismiss slavery as having happened “200 years ago” and African-Americans and “liberal guilt” as “blaming everything on something that happened 200 years ago” had better check up on their MUCH more recent history.
See, brains and talent and hard work don’t mean a thing when you aren’t to the manour born in America; not unless you step into at least a tiny little bit of luck to go with it. And that shouldn’t have to be the American Way.
And that’s why the reflexively negative response to socialism angers me so much. Just what is so wrong with a level playing field? For that, after all, is what socialism is. A recent interviewer actually quoted Karl Marx’s maxim derisively to Joe Biden: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (as if it were the sum total of Marx’s philosophy). It is, however, a good beginning — and that is, actually, what America desperately needs.
A level playing field, indeed. Imagine an America in which everyone begins life on home base, with no balls and no strikes. Or, to use a clearer analogy — on a level field, rather than some on a mountaintop and some in a ditch. Simple, really: Healthcare for all, food and shelter, education and basic employment — all basic necessities guaranteed for all. For every other element one might wish, one would simply have to… work hard. To compete in a truly free market, unemcumbered by hunger, by the disabilities of race, family circumstances, “who you know.” One’s merits would truly be the yardstick by which accomplishments, achievements and advancements would be measured. THAT… is socialism.
Now, WHO could feel threatened by THAT? I’ll tell you who: The TRUE elitists in this VERY unlevel playing field on which we all stumble and on which we’ve been playing, blindfolded, listening to propaganda over their corporate-funded loudspeakers for generations. Propaganda that’s told us that “Socialism equals Communism equals Russia equals Stalin equals BAD! When Americans hear the phrase “socialised Medicine,” for instance, for decades we’ve picture Russian breadlines, as surely as Pavlov’s dogs (a Russian scientist — isn’t THAT an irony) drooled when they heard bells ringing. Oh, yes, the moneyed elitist classes of America for generations have done spent their brainwashing dollars well: We, the People, have been cutting off our collective nose to spite our face and cheering jubilantly as we did it.
But a funny thing happened on the way to pay the health insurance bills: We bought computers. Little by little, the proletariat began to learn, picking up bits of information along with “barley legal porn.” (It didn’t hurt that the older folk began to die off. Sorry, grandpa.) The spectre of Stalin’s Communist Russia, truly hideous as it was, began to fade; Communism isn’t as easy to use as a completely dishonest conflationary scare tactic with the utterly, totally different Socialism when it’s more of a paragraph in a history book than an actual memory.
And lately, we have several decades’ worth of examples of wildly successful Socialist nations to refute arguments against Socialist philosophy and economics. Not hideous beasts of governments run amok; rather, governments providing basic necessities and services with fabulous efficiency, NOT meddling in their citizens’ private lives… and then getting out of the way. And the citizens’ approval ratings of their governments? Through the roof. Their Happiness index? Quality of life? Life expectancy? Through the roof. And ours? Let’s just say we’re competing with the likes of Bolivia.
So… Maybe Americans are getting… less stupid. Because for one thing, they’re not buying the “Barack is a Socialist” garbage. And for another, they seem to recognise Socialism when they see it (See: $700 billion bailout for the financial system and using taxpayer money to do it)… and they seem, by all known polling systems, to think it would be a REALLY good idea to start doing some MORE of it — where it counts: say, healthcare, education, green infrastructure…
SO WAKE THE FUCK UP, Washington and Corporate Elites. The Sleeping Giant is stirring. And I have… More Cowbell.