Today we kick off a series of posts about our current selection written by P4P members.
Who Stole the American Dream? According to Hedrick Smith, the author, it’s big business owners who decided offense was their best defense against increasing regulation and taxation by the federal government. A few radical moves by Nixon in the early ‘70s provoked the backlash that created armies of lobbyists in Washington and a relentless push to unburden businesses – at the expense of workers. It would be decades before the key outcomes – income inequality, partisan gridlock, and dangerous levels of public debt – would become evident.
The timing of our discussion could not be better. Smith’s book was published four years ago, when the chronic economic and political concerns were hidden by the Great Recession. Americans are just now coming to the realization we are dealing with systemic challenges. It is encouraging that voters are looking beyond the political party establishment for solutions. I would like to think that behind the campaign circus is an awakening – that voters know more than they have been given credit for and they’re exercising the only obvious options. In that case, there is hope for voters who have basically slept through the burglary of their dream. As Smith puts it, “Americans will have to come off the sidelines and reengage in direct citizen action in order to reestablish ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’”
This syncs with our independent voter message. He – and we – have many ideas of what could or should be done, but none of them matter until and unless our fellow citizens are ready to take matters into their own hands. By focusing on specific actors and actions, Smith has made a valuable contribution toward motivating the victims to fight back. Millions of Americans can relate to the loss of jobs, home equity, and retirement benefits, and Smith builds a strong case that these were not natural “free market” consequences; rather, our economy has been plundered by capitalists who managed to turn Washington into a profit center.
Clearly, we need to get the money out of politics – not by regulating campaign contributions but by closer scrutiny of public policies. It is remarkable how long we bought the “trickle down” economic theory that what was good for business would be good for workers. It is now incumbent upon the 99 percent to determine what is good for us. But we’ve outsourced democracy to two parties that have violated our trust, so the first step is to take back control of our government by changing the way representatives are elected. Mr. Smith deserves credit for including election reforms in his 10-step plan to “reclaim the dream” (#9 Rebuild the Political Center and #10 Mobilize the Middle Class), but I would have placed them first and second.
Steve Richardson is a founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association and serves on IndependentVoting.org’s national Election Reform Committee.