I’ll admit it. For three years, millions of us have been a mite down in the dumps. Some of us even lived like mites, down in the dumps and dumpsters of this great nation.
The right wing accused us of being cranky.
Now when I have ever been cranky? Puzzled, maybe, that none of my right-wing neighbors who tout volunteerism and bootstrapping as cures for poverty ever helps me wash dishes at my local food bank.
A tad miffed by the vandalism of our nation’s economy. Somewhat panicked as I struggle to make the mortgage on a one-bedroom home. A teensy-weensy bit sick and tired of being sick and tired, as it says on the tombstone of Fannie Lou Hamer.
Just a hair freaked out about consumer debt, national debt and foreign debt. With a soupçon of nostalgia for my hazy memories of the inside of a doctor’s office.
Nudged, ever so gently and kindly, to the brink of suicidal despair by the disappearance of living-wage jobs.
Imperceptibly disgusted that my friend Carolyn must juggle three demanding jobs as a caregiver to the sick and elderly, while raising five children and volunteering at their schools, and still have “to stretch nothing into something” while the wealthiest 1 percent got an extra $60,000 in tax cuts this year.
I’m as jolly as the next person who’s having her fingers pried loose from the bottom rungs of an economic ladder held over a yawning chasm of debt while everything I hold dear is being assailed.
Besides, as any woman who’s had her teeth kicked in a few times and is now reluctant to press charges for fear it could prove fatal will tell you, a little domestic abuse never hurt anybody. This nation is just fine, aren’t you honey?
Now go dry your eyes, the tough guys told us, and let’s not hear any more girlie-man poetry about “health insurance for every American, a real jobs plan to create jobs instead of destroy them. Standing up for middle class and working Americans who got a tax increase, not a tax cut … a foreign policy that relies on telling the truth to the American people before we send our brave American soldiers to fight in foreign lands … a commander in chief who supports our soldiers and our veterans, instead of cutting their hardship pay when they’re abroad, and their health benefits when they get home.”
And so it went, our own little personal Lifetime movie of the week, only we couldn’t seem to change the channel on the right wing. They were everywhere. Putting their hands all over our civil liberties and reproductive rights. Talking real big about education and not knowing the first thing about it. Trashing our international reputation and violating our sense of safety.
And now they wanted us to smile pretty.
Right, right, we liberals said, affecting the lopsided grin of satire, and patting a little makeup on our bruises. And the whole time we kept moving on closer to the back door.
Then it was run like hell to the nearest precinct meeting, find shelter, build your support group, take it one vote at a time, and hey, brothers and sisters, what do you say we take back the house?
And that’s what really pissed off the right wing. They’d counted on us all going Stepford, not turning into Norma Rae. Union, union! Things turned ugly and the right wing tried to smear the ugly on ordinary people who, quite simply, had had enough.
“You’re so pessimistic,” they said, as we busied ourselves making certain that things would get better. Pessimistic? Well, maybe they meant it the way they meant Clear Skies, or Help America Vote, or “Superb job, Rumsfeld.”
And even as we found our spine and started walking tall down Main Street, calling everybody to come join us — Democrats, Independents, and plenty of Republicans who don’t think it’s fiscally conservative to run up a deficit, gamble away nearly 2 million jobs and pay an $87 billion cover charge to start a fight — even then as we came up with reasonable alternatives, they sneered and rolled their eyes.
“No one’s ever going to go for that,” they said. The way they saw it, people who are hungry for jobs, justice, housing, education and oh yeah, food demand one thing and one thing only — the prevention of stem cell research. Throw in a whiter, brighter voting record and you’ve got a deal, they said.
But we kept on pestering the American people with trivia like peace and economic prosperity and the survival of the planet. We went to the Democratic Convention in Boston and used our happy indoor voices. And what do you know? We really were happy. And even if not everybody tuned in to the C-Span Dance Party, America was in the house. And everybody’s name was on the invitation.
“If there’s a child on the South Side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me,” said Barack Obama, “even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. ‘E pluribus unum.’ Out of many, one.”
Meanwhile, leave it to Dennis Kucinich to find the WMDs. “Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction,” he said. “Joblessness … homelessness [are] weapons of mass destruction.”
And then John Edwards told us, “Hope is on the way. When you wake up and you’re sitting at the kitchen table with your kids, and you’re talking about the great possibilities in America, your kids should know that John [Kerry] and I believe, to our core, that tomorrow can be better than today.”
Which prompted Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke to say, “This night exemplified the anger, pessimism and negativity of the Democratic Party.”
And to be fair to Mr. Dyke, Edwards did say, “We’re going to say no forever to any American working full-time and living in poverty. Not in our America, not in our America, not in our America.”
Grammatically speaking, that is pretty negative.
But I don’t hear anger and pessimism. I do hear that Dick Cheney “is trying to show his more amiable side.” I feel his pain. And that Cheney recently sent out an e-mail inviting everyone to help spread the truth about George Bush’s record of accomplishment. And I want to assure Mr. Cheney that we will do just that. Positively.
And briefly. Because the truth is, we’re all pretty eager to get on with rebuilding our lives. As John Kerry has said, it’s time to stop subsidizing the loss of our own jobs, time to give people’s healthcare greater priority than the pharmaceutical lobby, time to make college affordable, and time to restore our respect in the world.
George, you keep hammering into our weary heads the lie that “the economy is strong and getting stronger.” The truth is, too many of us have taken beating after beating. As Kerry said in his acceptance speech in Boston, “Here at home, wages are falling, healthcare costs are rising, and our great middle class is shrinking. People are working weekends; they’re working two jobs, three jobs, and they’re still not getting ahead.”
But help is on the way. “We value jobs that pay you more than the job you lost,” Kerry said. “We value jobs where, when you put in a week’s work, you can actually pay your bills, provide for your children and lift up the quality of your life.”
Dick, George, it’s true, for three long years we sang the blues. But to paraphrase the old song, there’s a smile on our faces now. And you didn’t put it there.