National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Zeroing in On Middle America

The unfathomable gulf between Washington-think and sentiments in the rest of the land, and globe, has never been clearer than in the first month of the new Obama presidency.

It appears that for the first time since President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” initiatives of the mid-1960s, there’s a man in the White House dedicated to directing serious national resources to alleviate pain among average Americans.

The president’s announcement of his plan to address the home mortgage crisis struck a very deep resonating core in middle America yesterday, zeroing in like a fine, powerful laser on the heartstrings of struggling and fearful households and bypassing with deaf ears, so to speak, all the cacophony of Beltway and Wall Street pundits, critics, hesitators, cynics and enemies.

These are remarkable times, ladies and gentlemen. Former President Bill Clinton was right when, speaking to Democratic Party leaders in Richmond, Virginia last week, he said the Obama presidency represents the first restoration of “balance” in American politics since the social chaos of 1968, including the assassinations of King and Kennedy, tilted the balance in the nation to the right.

Clinton celebrated the fact that, in his words, his entire adult life had been dedicated to restoring the political balance in the land, and that effort has succeeded, at last.

Clinton would be the first to admit that his own two terms in the White House, while it did accomplish much of a more progressive nature, only served to temporarily blunt the raging social backlash that was obsessing America.

Not only was “liberal” a dirty word from the mid-1970s on, but so was anything remotely associated with Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Barely disguised, nasty political reaction, fueled by the Reagan administration’s repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, allowing rightwing hate-speak to overwhelmingly dominate the radio airwaves, covered for a veritable orgy of greed and excess by the nation’s privileged and ruling classes, bringing the world to the brink of total economic collapse.

Personal morality was subordinated to a new religion which said, basically, that it is right and proper to do whatever one can get away with, and laws were respected only when they helped. It was an extension of the amorality of the nation’s legal profession, which says that doing whatever one can to acquit a client, guilty or not, is moral, because it supposedly tests and makes the system stronger.

“We do it because we can” became the slogan of the free market right wing, and was proclaimed as the basis of American jurisprudence by no less than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, explaining why his court reversed its long-standing respect for states’ rights in the law to hand the presidency over to George W. Bush in 2000.

But what official Washington, especially its Republicans, its lobbyists and its media, simply doesn’t get is that what’s been at stake in all this are not dueling left vs. right, Democratic vs. Republican ideologies, but is straightforward class warfare. It is a war between the haves and have nots, and their advocates.

NBC’s David Gregory on Meet the Press last Sunday exhibited the Washington problem to a tee when he peppered the White House’s David Axelrod relentlessly. Gregory was not trying to get at how the President’s stimulus, housing and banking policies will work for average Americans, but he simply quoted Republican after Republican criticisms of the plans and demanded Alexrod defend against them.

Gregory’s main issue was the administration’s so-called failure to achieve a significant measure of bi-partisanship in passing its historic stimulus package.

There were no “props,” as it were, for the truly momentous achievement by the President in barely three weeks, or even a serious inquiry into how he did it, and what he thinks it will or won’t accomplish. On the contrary, Republicans and rightwing think tanks were channeled through Gregory to diminish and tarnish the achievement.

Out in real America, families watching that show had to be puzzled and troubled at the wanton irrelevance of Gregory’s line of questioning. Faced with 10 percent unemployment and the worst recession of the century, their only questions are how the stimulus money can help them. Don’t expect the official Washington media to ever ask that one.