Sunday, June 11, 2006

America’s Inversion: Middle Class Meltdown

By Elizabeth Chipman

There are two kinds of prominent diseases infesting both our state and our national legislatures at this time. One is fear of sharing power. The other is extreme rigidity regarding what is the “only and right” way to solve social issues and pursue the ideal society.

President Bush has a narrow, rigid, fifth grade diplomatic approach to most complex problems; yet he seems excessively determined to never retreat no matter how foolish and precarious for America his positions have become. He wants his tax breaks for the rich and his war to stand forever as monuments to his accomplishments. I always thought flexibility was best. Remember when Clinton was ridiculed for changing his ideas daily whenever information became available? He had the wisdom for good balance in governance. Isn’t it an odd paradox that those ideologues who most tout moral certitude, are precisely those who are the most out of touch with practical, democratically-based shared power processes which would breathe life into our democracy? Sharing power would allow our best minds to focus on the issues, not the next one-upmanship game, and bring the most creative answers to our tough problems, giving us inspiration for the future. Isn’t it interesting that the medical word meaning to breathe in is to “inspire”? Isn’t air a nice symbol of freedom, equal distribution and accessibility? America is in great need of Fresh Air !

Middle class and poor Americans are increasingly denied their basic human needs, such as having well-funded public schools and decent health care. Our current national and local leaders are creating an artificial “inversion”! The middle and poorer classes of America are being denied what they need to survive, while all optimum benefits are pumped up to the rich. This is done by not sharing power – using secrecy, manipulating information, not allowing the minority parties to have chairmanships or to pass legislation, prioritizing benefits to large corporations, pharmaceutical companies or the rich, while ignoring the basic needs of middle class Americans. There are, of course, token efforts necessary for good press to get re-elected, and for propping up superficial self image as a “good person.” The inversion is also caused by using immorally-based processes to prioritize monies and value competing demands. Here are two local examples: The Utah Legislature voted a small 6% increase to the school districts for their coming year. This is probably not enough to even address the largest wound to our future – enormous class sizes – but the people at the top in the Salt Lake district are following the current national formula. In negotiations, the Administrators are rumored to be requiring their teachers to 1) work an 8 hour work day and 2) relinquish all committee-based discretionary powers to the – you guessed it – Principals; in order to receive their contracts with their huge “raise”.

The teachers, who are already working more intensively than ever before, are being asked to work more intensively longer. The concentration needed to track student progress, individual learning styles, personal needs, and listen to all the layers of voices and respond, is a true brain crunch! I would liken it, and the responsibility that accompanies it, to an Air Controller’s job or an Airline pilot or truck driver with a precious cargo. There are hourly limits legally in place to protect the public from damage and costly errors in these professions; but in teaching, where the demands on the individual are much higher emotionally, in a classroom with eager, anxious, sometimes upset, young individuals, there are no performance limits, no safeguard. We push the teachers closer to the edge of exhaustion, never thinking of the price (often silent) our children will pay. If the public schools slowly sink, the rich can and will just scramble to their private schools, all the while demanding our tax money to help them do so via vouchers and Charter schools.

In regard to decision- making powers in the schools, do we really want those closest to the process of teaching and to the hearts of our children to be given less input in decision- making while the power is concentrated to one person per building – the Principal? Would you rather be tried by a judge alone, or a jury? I’d pick a jury. That’s why we have think tanks, not think cubicles.

Another example of an immorally – based process recently relayed to me was a comment heard from a republican legislator, who , when asked why he voted against the dental and eye care benefits for medcaid recipients said, “ I wouldn’t want to give those people any benefits – they are always up here in our faces!” Apparently there was money for both highways and health care. Eye and dental care would have been able to be covered in the current State health budget, but republican legislators took issue with Governor Huntsman voicing support, and would not approve it being allocated for these purposes. Instead, our highways will be paved with the pain of these disenfranchised citizens sacrificed to petty pride.

In addition our legislature has made it extremely difficult to get enough signatures to get a citizen-based initiative on the ballot. The elected republican legislators won’t even share power with the voters who elected them.

These are just a few examples of possibly hundreds of immorally-based processes. Morals are not to be possessed by a party, but I refer to them as the foundation of our Constitution and the bedrock of our society. They transcend all parties and should breathe life into all we commonly aspire to attain. These are shared Judeo-Christian American values. Why aren’t they more in evidence? Refer to: 1) Fear of sharing power and 2) immorally-based processes. The problem facing us all, including those in power, is that a healthy middle class with access to education, correct information, political input, good health care, and jobs are absolute necessities for a democracy to survive. While we are over-watering democratic starts elsewhere, we are turning a blind eye to the axe beginning to bite into our trunk. It takes a lot of courage to share power. You have to believe in democratic, open processes more than your ideas. You have to place American ideals before loyalty to partisan plans. Ideologues must realize that as the middle class melts down under the weight of so much immorally-based decision making, the foundation of all America is eroded; and though the rich can buy time, they cannot restore America. Our destiny is a common and shared one, like it or not. The wealthy will regret their present privileges. Only a healthy middle class and cared-for poor and ill can restore America. So take a deep breath, leaders. Let’s see you risk courage for America’s future. Let’s have some power sharing and morally-based actions! Give America some fresh air!

False moral superiority and self-conceited certitude are going to crack and crumble, either in the judgment day or hopefully sooner, as the stranglehold of our current one-party system is broken, and people begin to breathe in the more open, just, and effective leadership being offered by the Democratic Party.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Much of your "ranting" makes me wonder if you have ever stepped foot outside of the United States of America but I am mainly frustrated with your comment that somehow Utah has consolidated power at the expense of it's citizens.

You decry this "fact" by pointing to the US Constitution as the foundation of our political system. It is time for you to study the US Constitution. Obviously, the US Constitution acknoledges that the power is vested with the people however it's true purpose is laying the framework for a healthy transfer of power from the citizens to 3 branches of government. It does not set up an initiative process for example nor does it enumerate the people's rights.

Furthermore, if you think a more vibrant citizen's initiative process is necessary please check out this link: - this is what the California voters dealt with in 2004. We do not live in a true democracy and thank goodness the Constitution did not attempt to set that up.