Let Them Eat Bitterness (August 12, 2010)


I live in a nice building in a not always so nice neighborhood. Two nights ago, an intoxicated member of the “99 Weekers” club took it upon himself to smash the exterior intercom unit of my residence with a baseball bat. “99 Weekers” is a cute name for a tragic situation facing growing numbers of Americans, who have exhausted the maximum unemployment insurance benefits available to them, 99 weeks, without the end result of finding new and meaningful employment.

These individuals don’t want a handout, they want a job, but with increasingly anemic private sector growth, face the prospect of finding themselves permanent members of the new underclass. Without income and with dwindling marketable skills, the disenfranchisement of these former members of the middle is slowly turning to misplaced anger, directed not at the government or corporations, who are ultimately responsible for the nation’s tailspin. Instead we are witnessing the beginning of a modern day class war, waged between the frustrated and desperate “have nots” and the perceived “haves.”

Let me be clear: I am not a “have.” I experienced a childhood of abject poverty marked by abuses and neglect of the most harrowing kind. Be that as it may, I get that my comparatively fancy rental can offer an easy target to a drunken individual who has spent another fruitless day looking for work. On his way home to face an expectant family, knowing he must check his ever diminishing manhood at the door once again, I can understand the urge to displace on an inanimate object. Intercoms can be repaired and I hope that this hasty act provided some form of comfort.

In discussing this incident with a co-worker, the subject of the palpably rising anger of ordinary Americans came up. My office mate astutely observed that we appear to be on the verge of a modern day French Revolution. Only viewed through the cracked prism of America’s toxic partisan politics “holy war,” we are miscasting the players with dangerous consequences.

For example, Michelle Obama is being pigeonholed by the right as the 2010 understudy to Marie Antoinette. The chum being tossed to the public by members of the Republican party, are the images of Michelle’s lavish private vacation to Spain that made the viral rounds last week. Mrs. Obama is a private citizen and does it come as a surprise to anyone that the first family has money enough? Before moving into the White House, both of the Obamas had thriving legal careers and a beautiful home in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. If the First Lady can afford some time away from the relentless stress of being Barack’s wife, why should we draw erroneous conclusion that she is somehow ignorant of the suffering of normal Americans? This is a logical fallacy being peddled by those who would love it if we could be distracted enough to take our eyes off the real problem: legislative paralysis enabled by corporate kowtowing.

The real Marie Antoinettes in our story are people like former Nixon speechwriter and TV personality Ben Stein, who was quoted recently as saying “The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities…I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work.”

Out of touch much Mr. Stein?

Or how about GOP Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who called a $20 billion victims’ fund negotiated by the Obama administration for those who have been put out of work in the Gulf, and funded by BP, “extortion.”

No wonder our most currently beloved pop cultural hero is former Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater, who assumed his rightful place in the media zeitgeist this week by engaging in the most flamboyantly fabulous resignation of all time. After being hit in the head with a piece of overhead luggage one time too many, Mr. Slater decided he couldn’t wait for the plane to taxi to the gate before telling passengers and co-workers where to stick it. Instead he grabbed the microphone and a beer, saying his piece before deploying the emergency slide – sailing out of the plane and into the hearts of millions of Americans – who applauded Slater’s actions with enthusiasm that only be described as wish fulfillment.

However what really crystallized the idea that we may in fact be headed toward a massive, violent populist uprising was a recent article I read by David Stockman, President Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. Yes, the following words came from a disgusted member of old guard, “true” and fiscally conservative Republicanism:

“The day of national reckoning has arrived…we will see a class rebellion, a new revolution, a war against greed and the wealthy….It’s a pity that the modern Republican party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach – balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline – is needed more than ever.”

In other words, my building’s intercom box is only the beginning…


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