The New Moderate’s Annual Vigilance List — 2012 Edition
What do moderates have to worry about? Plenty. If you’re a moderate, trouble comes at you from both directions. I’ve been updating this list each June to reflect our current jitters. It’s my personal list, of course, but I hope it’s an instructive one that reflects your own concerns. The list has grown from its original 15 items to 19 this year. And now, for the first time, I’ve actually suggested remedies for each of the issues. See if you agree or think I’m dreaming.
1. Perpetual recession. (Last year: #1; formerly “The Great Recession”). Our current recession is like nothing else in recent memory: an ongoing economic slump without government or private-sector remedies and, increasingly, without hope of a cure. Private-sector hiring has inched upward this past year, but corporations are still exporting jobs with impunity and Americans are sinking deeper into debt. The stock market is stagnant, real estate is kaput and there’s nowhere else to grow our assets these days. We’ve already endured a Japanese-style “lost decade” (and then some) since the Crash of 2000. At this point we might just be witnessing the American future: prosperity for the few, unending financial woes for everyone else. And let’s not even think about Europe. Trend: In a holding pattern, and all the more alarming the longer it lingers. Remedy: More hiring of Americans by corporations currently sitting on piles of cash… NOW, not later. Barring that… short-term federal work programs à la the New Deal (sorry, libertarians) that would put money in Americans’ pockets and contribute to consumer confidence, which in turn would funnel revenue into American companies and (we hope) inspire them to boost hiring. (Call it the trickle-up effect.)
2. Plutocracy. (Last year: #4) Let’s face it: the United States is a nominally democratic republic currently ruled by a small, self-entitled, self-perpetuating elite based in Wall Street and K Street (home to Washington’s lobbyist community). The Supreme Court’s inexcusable Citizens United decision (sorry, money is NOT a form of speech!) gave powerful corporations and plutocrats carte blanche to elect their favorite politicians, and that influence has revealed itself in spectacular fashion during the 2012 presidential campaign. Super PACs? They have no place in electoral politics. Trend: Approaching a stranglehold. Remedy: Prompt action in the form of a new Constitutional amendment to drive money out of American politics once and for all. If that fails, concerned Americans need to call for a new Constitutional Convention. (Yes, it’s legal). Think of it as Revolution Lite.
3. Conservative obstructionism and refusal to compromise. (New this year.) Last summer’s hair-raising debt crisis persuaded me that America’s conservative Republicans are essentially political sociopaths: they’d rather send the country to perdition than compromise their rigid free-market fundamentalism or (God forbid) raise taxes on the rich. The rise of the unelected Grover Norquist as Republican godfather also gave me the willies: why are so many Republicans terrified of defying this man’s ban on raising taxes? Simple: he has the power to drive them out of office. All Republican candidates must kowtow to the conservative base if they want to win their primaries, and good old Ike wouldn’t recognize today’s GOP. Trend: Increasingly disturbing and sinister; these people are like religious cultists. The possibility of today’s zombie Republicans controlling the House, Senate and presidency should send a chill through all thinking moderates. Remedy: A long shot — marginalize ultraconservative Republicans by forming a moderate third party that would attract both Republicans and Democrats who can no longer identify with the extremists in their respective parties. With broad-based support, it could become the new majority party.
4. Potential class warfare. (Last year: #12) The old American class hierarchy with its nearly invisible boundaries is splitting, like some great ice sheet, into upper and lower castes as mid-status jobs trickle away. Downward mobility is already becoming a way of life for most of us, thanks to corporate non-hiring and the mass destruction of middle-class wealth by reckless Wall Street bankers. Last year’s Occupy Wall Street movement may have been a ragtag affair, but it finally called attention to the sharp resentments bubbling under the facade of our purportedly democratic society. Trend: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Remedy: The banishing of big-money interests from government (see #2), along with federally-imposed financial reforms that would restore the more equitable society of the late 20th century: greater regulation of Wall Street and higher (but not punitive) taxes on the rich, plus elimination of most tax shelters and loopholes.
5. The Great Demographic Shift. (Last year: #11.) It’s official: people of color now account for more than 50 percent of American births. This shift is more than cosmetic; while many blacks and Latinos are finding their way into the middle class, many more of them simply aren’t. School dropout rates and community social problems will doom a hefty percentage of these new babies to poverty. At the other end of the age spectrum, Americans are living longer than ever and will require decades of Social Security and subsidized medical care. How will a shrinking middle class support all these needy Americans and still provide enough funds to maintain our infrastructure? Trend: Increasing steadily. Remedy: Anything I suggest would sound like eugenics, so I’d simply encourage middle-class and wealthy Americans to procreate more freely. (Hey, it’s fun!) But I’d also recommend drastic cuts in foreign aid and military spending to open up resources for urgent domestic needs.
6. Polarization. (Last year: #14). The 2012 presidential campaign has exposed the rift in American society as never before: blustering, Bible-believing, gun-loving, government-hating Middle American conservatives pitted against predictably snobbish, well-educated urban progressives who seem to regard their opponents as a lower form of humanity. Trend: Increasing, at least during the presidential election year. Remedy: A vocal (even radical) moderate movement that can make itself heard above the noise and even reconcile the two warring factions. That means outspoken moderate voters as well as pundits and politicians.
7. Obama’s inaction on the economy. (Last year: #2) The president claimed recently that the private sector is doing just fine. But laissez faire is no longer an option. The federal government needs to intervene — should have intervened back in 2009 — with job creation programs, because the private sector simply isn’t doing it. Where’s the man who promised hope and change? Branded as a socialist by the right, he’s turned out to be the ultimate elite establishment liberal: nominally progressive but a little too comfy-and-cozy with big-money interests. Caution can be a virtue in a leader, but not when people’s lives and futures are unraveling. Trend: The moment for action was three years ago, so our economic woes are looking more like the “new normal.” Remedy: Obama is understandably reluctant to play into the hands of the socialist-baiters on the right. But I’d like him to invoke his inner FDR, risk the ire of conservatives and unions alike, and propose 21st-century versions of the WPA, CCC and other alphabet-soup programs that will put unemployed, underemployed and sporadically employed Americans to work at steady jobs until we gain some broad-based economic momentum. (That means not just the rich getting richer.)
8. The federal deficit. (Last year: #3) The crisis may have passed for now, but nobody is doing anything about the underlying problem: the government is spending far more than it’s taking in. (Greece, anybody?) Where will the money come from when we’re already in hock up to our national armpits? Trend: Not going away. Remedy: Here’s a start: slash military spending and foreign aid. Dramatically. (In an economic crisis, the needs of Americans must come first.) The government would also be wise to start trimming those plush federal pensions, starting with members of the House and Senate. The IRS needs to busy itself collecting a fair share of taxes from huge corporations. No loopholes. Stop state-sponsored corporate welfare (like reimbursing Goldman Sachs for 100% of its investment losses). And yes, it’s time to end the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. No compromises, Mr. President… just do it.
9. Perpetual war and other foreign entanglements. (Last year: #7; formerly “multiple endless wars”) At least we’re no longer fighting on multiple fronts this year, but we’ve been at war for over a decade now. How can we justify risking more American lives in dead-end conflicts? We still haven’t learned that guerrilla fighters never surrender; they have no infrastructure to bomb and no capital to occupy, so we’d have to gun them down to the last man. And when we can’t trust the “legitimate” government we’re fighting for, it’s time to cut the cord. The United States simply can’t control and fine-tune all world events to its specifications. Trend: Easing up a little, but without any underlying shift in foreign policy. Remedy: A foreign policy that shuns Neocon interventionism for rational vigilance, with an occasional drone strike to keep our enemies off balance.
10. Outsourcing and downsizing. (Last year: #9) Sure, let’s export all our manufacturing and white-collar jobs to help the struggling populations of developing nations. How altruistic of our big corporations! Meanwhile, all those jobless Americans won’t have the money to buy all those imported goods. As for downsizing, it’s time we abandoned the warped perception that corporations exist solely to make money for their investors… they need to honor their stakeholders (including employees), not just their shareholders. Trend: Still unchecked. Remedy: We need to reward companies for keeping their jobs in the U.S. and punish them for going abroad. I’d gladly pay slightly higher prices for U.S.-produced goods, wouldn’t you? Corporations also need to include rank-and-file employees on their boards (by federal mandate if necessary) to counterbalance the inclination to shed jobs for a quick score on Wall Street.
11. “Community”-based allegiance. (Last year: #17) It used to be that nearly all Americans identified themselves as Americans, plain and simple. Yes, we came from a multitude of backgrounds, and we honored our ancestors, but our allegiance to the Stars and Stripes trumped everything else. It also used to be that a community was the place where you lived. You made your home in your community and enjoyed the cozy feeling of belonging there. No longer: now we’ve splintered into a motley assemblage of special-identity “communities” based on race, politics, gender, religion and sexual orientation. We identify primarily with our group and its interests, which are generally one-sided, frequently narcissistic and increasingly oblivious to the fact that all of us are Americans. Trend: Rapidly rising, what with all the overheated rhetoric about gay marriage, racial profiling and the “War on Women.” Remedy: An invasion from space would bring us together in a hurry, but short of that, we simply need to think more about our common humanity and values. Favor the uniters, not the dividers. Whatever we do, let’s not start thinking of ourselves as members of the “moderate community.” Agreed?
12. Racism and racial tension. (Last year: #16) The Trayvon Martin killing revealed that race is still a sore point for millions of Americans. The U.S. is far too race-conscious as a society, and we’re much too inclined to close ranks with our skin-brothers when trouble is brewing. Few of us, black or white, are entirely free of prejudice. It’s human nature to instinctively favor our own group, but it’s also time to override our instincts and think about impartial justice instead. End of sermon. Trend: Back in the spotlight now after a cooling-off period, which seems to be typical. Remedy: It might be that we’ll never eradicate race problems in America until we all mingle our genes through intermarriage. Barring that, we just need to step back from gut reactions, befriend individuals of other races and try to see the world through their eyes.
13. Student woes. (New this year.) College tuition has increased so insanely out of pace with inflation that higher education is becoming an unaffordable luxury for most Americans. Middle-class and working-class whites, the vast majority of whom have no access to affirmative action admissions and scholarships, face two unacceptable choices these days: 1) forgo a college education or 2) incur a staggering burden of debt that effectively eliminates any thought of buying a house, enjoying discretionary income or sending their own kids to college. More subtle, but just as damaging, is the increasing pressure on college students to ditch the liberal arts and major in practical subjects that will repay the huge investment. Only the moneyed elite can now afford to study philosophy, French or history. Trend: Increasing, with no end in sight. Remedy: Set up a panel to determine why tuitions have been escalating so dramatically, and do something to rein them in. Divert public money from defense and foreign spending to grant federal scholarships to deserving students. It might be that fewer Americans should be going to college in the first place, but nobody should have to incur a lifelong debt for doing so.
14. Environmental destruction. (Last year: #12) Americans tend to overlook the ongoing destruction of remote rainforests, coral reefs, rivers and wetlands (not to mention the wild creatures that inhabit them) because most of it is taking place far from our back yards. Developing tropical nations like Indonesia and Brazil account for much of the destruction as they convert forest to farmland. Eventually we’ll realize that we’ve ransacked a wondrous planet, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it. (And we’re not equipped to start colonizing distant planets just yet.) Trend: Increasing, with no end in sight. Remedy: We need to work with other governments toward establishing and enforcing international environmental regulations, because the Earth belongs to all of us.
15. Radical Islam. (Last year: #6) The good news is that the radical Islamist leadership has been decimated, and that vast numbers of Muslims (and especially young Muslims) aspire to the freedom and liberality of Western cultures. The bad news is that the “Arab Spring” is struggling to prevail in more benighted corners of the region, and that the anti-establishment insurgencies include numerous Islamists. But the Islamic world is no longer a monochromatic picture of reactionary religious fanaticism, and that’s cause for celebration. Trend: Set for a long-term decline despite predictable (and increasingly isolated) flare-ups of Islamist fervor. Remedy: Escalate the decline by supporting moderate Muslim movements through non-military means.
16. Illegal immigrants. (Last year: #8) The mass incursion of undocumented Hispanic immigrants through our southern border appears to have slowed to a relative trickle, but the question remains: what happens to the 10-15 million illegals who have already settled here? Given the disparity in birth rates betweeen the native-born and Hispanic immigrant populations, the U.S. could increasingly take on the attributes of a Latin American nation. That means a less-educated populace and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, with the added element of cultural friction between Anglos and Latinos. (On the plus side, at least we might get into the salubrious habit of taking siestas.) Trend: The number of new illegal immigrants has declined, but their population within the U.S. continues to grow at a rapid clip. Remedy: Make the U.S. less appealing as a destination for illegal immigration. (This is already happening on its own as our economic fortunes decline.) And, as President Obama has proclaimed (though he shouldn’t have done so by fiat), provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegals who have behaved blamelessly and who express a desire for higher education.
17. Cultural degeneracy. (Last year: #10) Movies, TV, pop music, video games, high art and everyday behavior have combined to forge a decadent culture that worships all the most loathsome and idiotic ideals. Do I believe in having fun? Absolutely. (This isn’t The New Puritan, after all.) But we also need to restore respect and affection for the nobler virtues, or we’ll crumble, as the Romans did, from internal and external assaults that we’re too weak to withstand. Do I sound like an alarmist? You bet. Trend: Still increasing, but bumped down the list by even more urgent issues. Remedy: Beats me. Sometimes I think Western civilization at its apex was simply too demanding and rarefied for our species to maintain for any length of time. We’re slowly reverting to our simian roots, which may be lamentable but probably suits our natures. Still, if you have standards, don’t surrender them!
18. Manmade global warming. (Last year: #13) When we have to navigate the streets of New York and London by gondola, maybe the skeptics will finally believe. Unfortunately, this subject appears to be owned by zealots with a vested interest in promoting their faith. Still, the empirical evidence is convincing enough: steadily retreating glaciers, earlier spring blooming seasons and crazy-violent weather (like the catastrophic 2011 tornado season). Trend: Heating up, just like the planet. Remedy: We need to hear unbiased, purely scientific opinions on the subject, if such a thing is possible… then take prompt international action based on those findings.
19. Political correctness. (Last year: #15) For a while it looked as if the PC police were a resurgent force in our polarized red-blue culture. The melodramatic liberal-left overreaction to Arizona’s immigration law was a case in point. The sensitivities of militant special-interest “communities” still tend to stifle our freedom of speech, inadvertently or not. And of course the world of academia, at least in the liberal arts, still falls under the dominion of dedicated multiculti leftists. But given all the other hot issues on our Vigilance List, I’ve had to drop political correctness to the bottom. Trend: Still with us, but hardly worth any loss of sleep at this point. Remedy: Dare to speak freely but without malice.
I’ll let you choose your own #20. (If you think your choice should rank higher on the list, that’s fine, too.) Feel free to take issue with any of my choices, of course. I’d like to hear from you.