I’ve had something on my mind for a while, and a conversation I recently had with a republican brought it to the forefront. But before I get to the republican, I need to go back a few months to add some context.
A few months ago, the French went on strike because the government was threatening to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. I was stunned by the reaction to that story on Facebook by my friends, who are (as you can imagine) mostly of the liberal persuasion. Most (okay, all) of the people that posted the story, posted it with a snarky comment against the French people. What the fuck? Seriously, what the fuck? People that have it better than you are not your enemy, and hating them for having it better than you is a special kind of stupid. The French are not whiny, self entitled or spoiled because they get to retire at 60. They fought for that privilege, and they’re fighting to keep it.
I can understand a certain amount of resentment, but I’m completely confounded when that resentment manifests itself in the form of disdain. Here’s a crazy thought; how about we support the French, instead of rooting for them to end up in the same shitty boat we’re in? How about we manifest our resentment in a more productive way, by fighting for the same rights they have? I know, my way is inane because it may lead to everyone being better off.
I brought that up so that I wasn’t unfairly beating up on republicans, when I go into my conversation with the republican. This special kind of stupid apparently doesn’t have a party affiliation.
My conversation with the republican started off by my explaining that republicans in the house are likely to try and get legislation through that would allow states to go bankrupt (which they currently aren’t legally allowed to do). Let’s be clear, being bankrupt is a legal state in which you’re broke and therefore allowed to default on some of your debt obligations. You can be broke without being “bankrupt”.
The very first debt obligation that states will absolve themselves of will be pension obligations to state workers. The republican I was talking to thought this was great. In fact, most republicans think that pensions suck and that people shouldn’t have them. One of the more ugly aspects of Reagan’s legacy (yes, there are many), will be his proactive union busting policies. He hated pensions and the unions that make them possible, never mind the fact that when he was a b-movie actor, he enjoyed the benefits that came along with his union membership. I understand why rich republicans feel this way, but what about the other 98% of registered republicans? Why would anyone that works for a living be happy when another gets crapped on? Doesn’t it make more sense to fight to get a pension for yourself, than to rejoice when someone else is fucked out of theirs?
Pensions are deferred compensation. The deal is essentially this; I will take less money every year, in exchange for my company putting X% away for my retirement. This should be a great arrangement for all involved since the employee has some security for their retirement, and the employer gets to use some of that capital for the thirty some odd years while the employee works toward retirement. It would be great for everyone if the company didn’t at some point feel entitled to keep the money that they have been allowed to play with in the interim. They’re the ones with the sense of entitlement. The worker who is demanding what they were promised as part of their employment agreement is not the whiny, self entitled asshole. It takes a special kind of stupid to see it the other way around.
Let me get back to the French for a moment. I can’t find the words to adequately describe the level of respect I have for them and for the rights they have managed to secure for themselves. America is a country in which very few people fight for anything. We generally just sit back and watch our life, liberty, and right to pursue happiness, taken away from us piece by piece.
We didn’t fight for corporations to give us pensions. Thirty years ago, 27% of US workers had pension plans. Today, less than 8% have them. And those 8% are hard working blue collar Americans. They’re not billionaire hedge fund managers and yet, we hate them for wanting what was promised to them.
We didn’t fight back when our government seized the right to monitor our communications without a demonstrable reason, or a paper trail. We just quietly sat back and let them do it, and deluded ourselves into thinking that we were safer for it.
We sit back and allow the corporations that we helped build with our hard work, lay us off while they sit on 1.8 trillion dollars in cash reserves. And we’ll be happy when they hire us back for 15% less than they were paying us before they laid us off.
And we’re going to sit back and take it, when our social security benefits are taken away from us. Sure, we’ll whine because as you can see here, no one wants that to happen. But we won’t fight to stop it from happening because we hate the French for having fought.
We don’t fight because we suffer from a special kind of stupid here in America.
I can’t figure out why we don’t fight for ourselves. Is it because we’re such a young country that has never actually suffered through the misery that comes with having no social safety nets? Is it because we’re arrogant, what with having achieved that whole “world superpower” thing in 200 short years? Or is it because it’s easier to sit around and crap on other people with rights than it is to fight to secure our own.
I’m not sure I’m ever going to get to the bottom of why we’re the way we are. But I do mourn the days when America was filled with people fighting for their right to vote, right to sit at any lunch counter they pleased, and right to earn a fair wage.