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Americans on the Brink April 12, 2010

Posted by Kate Ryan in Bank Bail-Out, Democrats, Economy, National Politics, popular culture, Republicans, Tea Party, Tea Party Activism.
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Yesterday was a typical secular Sunday in my household.   An early riser by nature, I drove off at 8 am to get doughnuts and a paper, and was comfortably ensconced in my recliner in time to watch the Sunday news shows.  During the roundtable feature on “Meet the Press”, host David Gregory was asking the panelists to comment on the retirement of Justice Stevens and any potential Obama nominee to the high court.  Conservative columnist David Brooks supported the idea that the President should choose someone outside the judiciary this time.  Brooks placed it in the context of the current political climate:

“Listen, there’s a social context here.  We have become a divided society based on college education and non-college education.  People without high school–without college degrees, much lower incomes, much higher divorce rates, much less social trust.  They take a look at people running Washington and running corporations, and they say, ‘Those people don’t get me.’ And that’s behind a lot of the anger we see in the country.  And every single issue reflects that in some way. ”

Brooks’ comment got me thinking about the anger in America these days and, I have to say, I disagree with his reasoning.  Americans are not angry because the people in charge don’t “get” them.   They are angry because they are afraid.  They see that country is changing culturally, racially, and economically – perhaps not to their perceived advantage – and this scares the hell out of them.  They feel powerless in the face of this change and are lashing out at anyone and everyone that they feel are responsible.   Unfortunately, they are lashing out at the wrong people entirely.

For the working and middle classes in America, the last 30 years has been a steady and planned destruction.  Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s first tax cuts in 1981, through the paroxysms of globalization and free trade, to the near-collapse of the American economy at the hands of Wall Street bankers, average Americans are losing ground.  If you are lucky enough to have a full-time job, wages and salaries have been stagnant or decreasing.  The cost of living is getting ever higher.  Family lives are suffering because we have to work more and longer hours just to make ends meet.  Teen pregnancy, drug use, and crime are rising because too many parents can’t be home to supervise their children.   Household debt is crushing, health insurance or medical costs are crushing, our pensions are gone in favor of 401Ks that have been decimated by the economic meltdown….the list goes on. 

In the mean time, we have bloated our military budget beyond all reasonableness and have pursued two expensive and largely unnecessary wars – a third if you consider the next to useless “war on drugs”.  We have looted our treasury to enrich political contributors and lobbyists with taxpayer money.  We have ignored the health and well-being of our fellow citizens by gutting every paltry social safety net that we ever provided. We have allowed our roads, bridges, railways, and air-traffic control system to disintegrate in favor of shoveling over 90% of the country’s wealth to the richest 1% of its citizens.

Most of the above can be laid squarely at the feet of Republicans and Conservatives.  Tax cuts for the wealthy, union-busting, incentives to off-shore jobs, deregulation of banks and Wall Street, pursuit of “law and order”, pre-emptive war, destruction of private pensions, ballooning budget deficits…all what the Conservatives want for us.  Now they sit in Congress, gleefully blocking anything that would make things better for the average American out there, and the American people are finally angry.

BUT NOT AT THEM.

To me, that is mind-boggling.   I look at the faces in the crowds at Tea Party protests and see a lot of people who look like my parents, my brothers, my friends and neighbors.  Just regular old working-class shmoes that have the simple desire to see their children do better than they did.   They are motivated by a strong desire to just go back to the time when a guy could graduate from high school, get a manufacturing job that paid well enough so that the wife could stay home and raise the kids, maybe take a vacation every summer, and the kids could go to college – graduate without being a bazillion dollars in debt –  and get an even better life.   

What the Tea Party activists need to realize is that this particular vision of America is gone forever.  What they need to realize is that by embracing change, they will be able to shape change, and that will guarantee the better future we are looking for.  What they also need to realize is that voting for people and parties that are working against their interests will never get them there.

In the 1995 film, “The Usual Suspects”, Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal Kint says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”.  The greatest trick the Republicans ever pulled was convincing ordinary Americans that they were just like them.

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Life’s Way Station August 31, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Motherhood, Parenting, popular culture, Women's Issues.
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Empty-Nest-%232My nest is empty.

On Saturday, Mr. Kitchen Table and I took our daughter two hours down the interstate and left her in a tiny cinder-block room in a city where she knows nobody.  Of course, this place is commonly known as a college dormitory and countless parents have made the same trip – but to us it felt like abandonment of the highest order.  My anxiety was boundless, both before the drop-off and since, though I truthfully believe that we feel more abandoned than she ever would.

I really thought that this would not affect me this way.  John and I have been rather looking forward to this.  If you ever shared a house with a self-centered 18-year old girl, you would understand why.  We were so very tired of arguing the same arguments over and over again because, of course, nobody knows more than a self-centered 18-year old girl.  We were so ready!

Also, John and I had spent a few years just the two of us before she came along.  We went places on the spur of the moment, stayed in bed all day with the Sunday paper, and spent money on frivolous things.  We always knew exactly where our car was, the towels were always hung up in the bathroom, there were no piles of junk on our dining room table, and when we reached in our pockets – there was usually some money.  We were really anticipating getting at least something of those days back. 

What we didn’t anticipate is the overwhelming emotion.  As our daughter stood in the middle of her dorm room (which, to me, looked vaguely reminiscent of the cells in “Lockup” on MSNBC), all I could see was a little girl in her plaid Holy Family Elementary School uniform beaming with excitement on her first day of school.  I saw the anxious face of the first-time Girl Scout camper as we waved goodbye for a week of camp.  I heard the laughter of my companion on our various road trips and the cries of a high-school freshman that lost a schoolmate to a car accident.  I felt the arms that surrounded and comforted me when my parents died.  Then, I saw a beautiful and confident young woman standing there and almost didn’t recognize her. 

I said goodbye to her through some tears and hurried to get to the car.  I am ashamed to admit that since we dropped her off, I have sent four text messages and made two phone calls.  I need to constantly reassure myself that she’s OK.  Though I might have glimpsed an adult standing in that dorm room, I still have a little girl, whether she thinks so or not. 

Right now, my daughter and I are parked in one of life’s way stations.  She’s too grown up to live with curfews and restrictions, but not mature enough to be totally independent.  For me, I need some time to be able to trust in her and completely let go.  I think this must be why they invented resident colleges, to hold you in semi-independence until you are really ready to be out on your own.

My nest may be empty, but most of my friends who have already gone through this have told me not to worry.  Often, the chicks come back and fill it up again – which is a totally other column!