Lee Harrison: What are we voting for, anyway?

Monday November 5, 2012


‘Professor Warren," Re publican Scott Brown snarked during their Springfield debate, "I suggest you put down the hammer." And -- to Brown’s everlasting regret -- Elizabeth Warren did just that!

Brown is a slippery fellow, voting with the tea party Republicans to obstruct or dilute virtually every Obama initiative until Warren entered the race, then shape-shifting like his pal Mitt Romney to make his record more palatable to Massachusetts voters in the Nov. 6 election. But in Springfield Warren finally nailed him -- on their differences in values as much as his record of voting against women.

"He’s had exactly one chance to vote for equal pay for equal work, and he voted no," said Warren. "He had exactly one chance to vote for insurance coverage for birth control and other preventive services for women. He voted no. And he had exactly one chance to vote for a pro-choice woman -- from Massachusetts -- to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he voted no."

"Those are bad votes for women," added Warren. "The women of Massachusetts need a senator they can count on not some of the time, but all of the time. I want to go to Washington to be there for all of our daughters and all of our granddaughters." Advantage Warren.

While women’s rights were the focus of this exchange, the Nov. 6 election will test our values more generally. For instance, do we value fairness in financial and tax regulations, or should we continue the 30-year tilt in favor of the top 1 percent. The strength of our middle class has been the foundation of America’s success, but today, the top 1 percent owns 40 percent of America and rakes in 25 percent of all annual income. Can we continue to ask men and women to fight and die for a plutocracy?

Do we value Social Secur ity, which is financially solid until 2035 and requires only minor tweaking after that, or do we want it privatized and subject to the ups and downs of Wall St.?

Do we value Medicare as it is, or do we want a voucher system that will force the elderly to shop for insurance that will become increasingly unaffordable.


Do we value clean air and water, or do we want to bring the country back to the world before the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, when the color of our rivers depended on what factories were expelling that day, when smog and other pollutants threatened our children’s lives and acid rain killed our forests?

Do we value fair elections, or are we OK with tycoons Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers spending hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure their interests are protected.

Do we value a sensible approach to the federal de ficit? Democrat Bill Clinton left office with a federal budget surplus, but George Bush squandered it on two wars and tax cuts for the wealthy. Of course, part of Bush’s plan -- and that of all tea party Republicans -- is to run up a deficit so staggering that all federal spending, from health care to education to safety and environmental regulations and, yes, Big Bird must be gutted. That is their real agenda, but truth to tell the federal budget deficit is manageable without drastic spending cuts.

In 1950, just after WW II, "federal debt in the hands of the public was 80 percent of GDP, which is in the ballpark of what we’re looking at for 2019," said Paul Krugman. "By 1960 it was down to 46 percent and I haven’t heard that anyone considered Am erica a debt-crippled nation when JFK took office."

So, how did we manage it? We invested in ourselves and grew the economy, and yes, we can do it again. Incredibly, Mitt Romney’s and Scott Brown think we can cut and slash our way to prosperity.

Fairness, equal opportunity, a willingness to help the needy and invest in the future have always defined America. But tea party Republicans like Brown and Romney see America through a different lens. As such, this election will determine whether, as Lincoln said, "We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth." That indeed is what we’re really voting for.

Lee Harrison is the former chair of the Berkshire Brigades, the countywide Democratic organization.


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