The Fourth and our future

This holiday, a look at our increasingly dysfunctional country

Jul 3, 2012 at 12:00 am

The other day, thinking about the state of the country, and the state of our own state, a ghastly image came into my mind from William Manchester's book, The Death of a President, about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

In an especially riveting scene, the stricken president is in the hospital's trauma room, all the best machinery hooked up, the best doctors heroically massaging his chest, doing an emergency tracheotomy, pumping new blood into his veins.

"Everything Parkland had was going for Kennedy now ... [but] it wasn't working," the author related. Nothing could be done; JFK was beyond hope. That was, for those of us who were young then and are old enough to remember now, our defining traumatic news event.

A half-century later, I had been starting to wonder if it was, in fact, finally too late for our system. None of the so-called Founding Fathers, by the way, expected that what they created would have lasted this long. James Madison once said he thought the Constitution might endure for a little more than a century, but most of the rest expected more revolutions to come, probably in a few decades.

Yet what they left us proved marvelously elastic. But, there are clear signs that neither America nor Michigan is what it used to be. For years, we've been becoming more selfish on every level, less responsible, less rational and less willing to invest in the future.

Here in Michigan, virtually nobody made a peep when the state cut off welfare payments to tens of thousands of poor children. Nobody seemed to care very much when aid to education was slashed last year, or when they cut aid promised to cities, or the lawmakers broke their promise on the Michigan Promise Scholarships.

More and more, we are a society of complacent people, increasingly grossly obese, content to let future generations go down the drain as long as we can keep borrowing from China to keep up our consumption, while we whine about having to pay for it.

Raise taxes on those who can afford it to give kids a chance at a good education? "That's socialism!" we bleat, not having the faintest idea what the word means. 

Term limits mean our legislators don't really have to be responsible for anything — and so they aren't. Most of them make our current governor, pretty much a social Darwinist in his own right, look like a stunning visionary. His party controls the Legislature, and for two years he has tried to get the lawmakers to raise gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to keep our roads and bridges from falling apart.

They refuse to do it, though if they don't, more than half our roads will be in terrible shape within eight years. Decent roads are absolutely essential to our future.

But the morons mostly are terrified of losing their scummy little temporary elected jobs to some even nastier demagogue, if they do the right thing for the people they were elected to represent.

The last straw came two weeks ago. The state has less general fund money now than it did two decades ago, thanks to the recession and the refusal of lawmakers to raise revenue. But in what seems to be a cheap election-year ploy, the Michigan House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to slash income taxes further!

The author of this turkey was a freshman Republican named Nancy Jenkins from rural Lenawee County, whose intellect is such that she once held down the job of public relations assistant at the Christian Family Center in Adrian. Her plan will cripple state government by an extra $800 million a year. Asked how we could possibly afford it, Nancy blathered, "This bill is based on expected revenue and will not lead to program cuts."

That may be a lie, or it may be what psychiatrists who work with disturbed children call "magical thinking." What disturbed me is that this civilization-destroying bill passed, 97-13.

Democrats who know better mostly supported it too, since they are all up for election, and felt they also needed to pander to the voters. Yes, those are our leaders.

Now, in their defense, our Legislature may have sold out the citizens, but they have loyally supported their real constituency:

Matty Moroun. 

They've taken his money and prevented a bridge crucially necessary to our future from even coming up for a vote. Fortunately, Snyder found a way around them to get the bridge done.

But our system is terribly broken.

Nationally, things seem almost as bad.

Four years ago, something astonishing happened: we elected, for the first time, a president of African-American ancestry. Yet ever since, he has been vilified by the nastiest and least rational smear campaign I have ever seen. Networks have actually devoted air time to examining whether the baby of two poor college students born in Hawaii in 1961 — an event duly recorded in the newspapers the next day — was actually born on the other side of the globe in Kenya.

That baby grew up to be President Barack Obama, who two years ago sacrificed control of Congress in a successful effort to accomplish what Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and every other president utterly failed to do:

He got a national health care plan enacted. From the moment it was passed, what the right sneers at as "Obamacare" has been continually misrepresented and lied about.

Vast scare tactics were used by the GOP's fanatic Tea Party faction, largely a group of failures who think that by doing the dirty work of the super-rich, they will make America great.

Within a few months, the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to decide if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was constitutional. Everything I knew about this Supreme Court had me expecting the worst. Ideologically, most of them were the same gang who intervened to steal the 2000 presidential election.

But what happened last week made me gasp. John Roberts, the ideologically right-wing chief justice, voted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was constitutional!

National health care was saved — for now. Yes, it isn't perfect. Yes, there should be a single-payer option, etc. etc. etc. But it is better than what we have ever had before. There are those who think Roberts did this for his own sinister reasons.

Doesn't matter. There is now a clear issue on which this election should be fought. If Mitt Romney wins and the Republicans take both houses of Congress, they will, beyond any doubt, destroy our hope of universal health care.

That's an issue worth fighting for.

So is our beautiful state of Michigan. Two hundred and thirty-six years ago, a bunch of farmers took on the British Empire and eventually won their independence.

Why can't Michigan's 10 million residents take on the creeps and the special interests and the know-nothings, and make this state what it used to be — a place that took care of its people and built roads and educated its kids? Will it be a hard fight? Damn right.

Do we have any clear leaders we can trust? Not really, not yet.

So we'll have to do it ourselves. Which is what the Founding Fathers said, when they were just regular folks, once upon a time.

And if we think our future is worth fighting for, the Fourth of July seems like a pretty good time to start.


Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Write to [email protected].