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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK day and unity: What digby said, and then some

by folkbum

I literally had the same couple of paragraphs from Dr. King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" cued up to post and comment on today, but she beat me to it:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
This is key to remember, as Obama re-stocks his key staff with other Third-Way Democrats and Clinton-era moderates. Bully for Obama--really, bully for the Congress--for nailing some key progressive legislation this last term, from the end of DADT to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the food safety bill. But the tendency for Democrats to give in and compromise an adopt the right's rhetoric--to be the moderate Dr. King so rightly recognized as the worse enemy--is dangerous.

And digby also beats me to making the connection to the challenges public employees face. Do not forget that Dr. King was in Memphis on April 3, 1968, to support striking public workers, only to be shot dead the next morning. Reasonable Democrats everywhere--even stalwart Andy Cuomo in New York--are giving in to the right's rhetoric on the only remaining middle-class jobs outside of the clutches of Our Corporate Overlords, public employees. Rather than seeing the public sector as the last refuge of any American who wants a stable, adequately compensated job that can support a family, the left is getting set to cave and turn us all over to the oligarchs, the rich who are so desperate to avoid paying their fair share in taxes that they have turned the average citizen, not to mention the average Democratic legislator, against the people who educate their children, collect their garbage, and put out their housefires.

If this sounds over the top, it is not. Remember that no matter what the white moderates they tell you, there is an obvious and easy way to pay for the public services we all need and use: taxes. Per-capita personal income taxes are lower than they have been in generations. You have to go back almost to the day Dr. King died to get to an era when they were lower. And income tax, of course, is paid primarily by those with more income. As those taxes have declined, reliance on regressive taxes like property and sales taxes has increased. The rest of us, the ones not so rich as to be soaked by an income tax, are having a hard time keeping up with this change.

Since Dr. King's death, the real-dollar household income of the bottom 80% of us has declined. For 81% to 90%, it's been (barely) stable. For the top 10%, though, the top 1% especially, it has soared. All of the wealth created by deregulation and creative accounting in the financial services has been hoovered up from below: The top 10% of earners sucked up nearly a trillion dollars of wealth that would have gone to the middle classes if the growth trends of Dr. King's day had remained in place.

Instead, the rich got very rich. Everyone else lost ground. And rest assured, this is not because some bond trader in New York is more valuable to society than the retired teachers of Whereversville USA whose pension fund burst with the bubble. That bond trader got a bailout but the teachers are going to lose their pensions because austerity is the new American Dream.

I won't presume to speak for Dr. King, nor claim that if he were alive today he would support x or y policy. But remember what he said in that speech in support of the striking public workers in 1968:
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we've got to stay together. We've got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
The right and the wealthy have successfully turned this country upon itself; they have led a class war and they have nearly won. When you look at the retired teachers of Whereversville USA, and see them as the enemy and not those who have actually waged war upon you and your middle-class lifestyle, you surrender the fight, and let them keep winning.

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