Now, several weeks after the election of 2008, analysts have vetted, dissected, chewed on and drilled deep into the meaning of the presidential results. But, I have come away with a different conclusion – one apparently not yet fully described. Just as a person sometimes has what is sometimes called a “silent stroke” — difficult to detect, but leaves one markedly changed — so too was the election of 2008 a “silent revolution” that passed by us quietly and seamlessly, and left us markedly changed. Yet, was “revolutionary” in the classic and historical sense, just the same
Yes, this election was unique in the ways most commonly described: a black man was elected; a woman was on the ticket; the public rebelled against an unpopular president – but it was still more. It was the rising of a proletariat which had been silent, compliant, deceived, and un-rebellious – and finally rose up to challenge a ruling class (a true Oligarchy) which had quietly subverted the democratic process for years, if not decades. This is not “class warfare”, it is the tradition of Americans to fight for fairness and rights; a tradition steeped in the Revolution of our Founding Fathers who did the same when their rights were eroded.
So much has been written about the unfairness, mal-distribution of wealth, and favoring of the wealthy in the past several decades, that reciting the statistics would be redundant. But just a few facts are noteworthy:
• In 2005 the top (1%) 300,000 Americans had almost as much income as the bottom 50% (150 million taxpayer units).*
• The top 10% of American taxpayer units earn almost 49% of the income in our country; while 90% of the rest share all the other half of income.
• Moreover, the slice of the economic pie for the top 1% had tripled in growth from 1980 to 2005 (from 3.4% of the pie to 10.9%), an alarming trend for concentration of wealth, if not changed.
• Similarly, using the Survey of Consumer Finances data collected by the Federal Reserve Bank, while aggregate household net worth grew from $25.9 trillion in 1995 to $50.1 trillion in 2004 (both in 2004 dollars), nearly 90% of the net gains occurred in the top quartile of households in wealth distribution.
• Exacerbating this growth was the fact that incomes in the bottom half of Americans (again 150 million taxpayer units) actually fell (when adjusted for inflation) from 1980 to 2005. This inexorably and sadly created a significant under class, but one with new potential power to make change.
I could go on and on with statistics…but you get the point. And that is, as David Cay Johnston said so succinctly in his book, Free Lunch, “The rich are getting fabulously richer, and the bottom half – for all practical purposes, the poor – are being savaged by our current economic policies”. Johnston further points out that our society has lost its way. America was never established to be a “corporatist” society – nor an Oligarchy. It was formed (as our Constitution so eloquently states) among other things “to promote the General welfare” – not advance the business bottom line, as has been the basis of policy, lobbying, political-speak, and behind-the-curtain concessions to the super-wealthy, for far too long.
So, what has this to do with the election, and my suggestion that this was indeed a “quiet”, but real, Revolution? Well, the one thing our Democracy can do is change policy…change politicians…and reboot our government. Problem has been: a) the power of lobbyists has overwhelmed the average American’s influence in the governing system; b) through slick campaigning, public relations and (yes) outright lying, the common man has had difficulty understanding what was really happening in our country; c) the facts about mal-distribution of wealth and its alarming trends, are not readily discernable and rarely read; d) the average American – and especially those in the lower economic classes – have generally felt any effort to change things was hopeless; and e) there did not seem to be a leader on the scene, who had both the charisma and the policies to make a difference. Thence comes Obama, to hopefully lead a “revolution” – (if he does as he has promised).
In this election, probably for the first time since FDR, the masses (proletariat, if you will) were given a ray of hope that change just might be possible. For minorities, a significant element in the underclasses, Obama brought them special hope. But also the non-minorities who had been shoved under the rug for too long, rose up. They came to believe that just maybe, with the force of an electoral majority, “fairness” could be restored. That their voices could be heard. That there was a leader who might be listening. That their vote might matter, and it was worth a trip to the polls. As with many revolutions, this one was a strange coalition of liberals and the under classes. That is a common trait in historical revolutionary change. But there were other allies as well – and even stranger bedfellows: Bush, McCain and Palin.
Bush gave the revolution a huge shove with his egregious actions, stubborn and even blatant support of the wealthy, and finally proving the fallacy of “trickle down” when those polices collapsed our economy. Consumer spending represents 70% of our economy – when the masses are devoid of sufficient income and/or liquidity, spending dries up, and along with it, “trickle down” economics. Thank you, Mr. Bush.
McCain helped with his ironic and curious campaign mantra accusing Obama of “spreading the wealth”. The “redistributor” he called him. It is true, no doubt, that this is (hopefully) something Obama would try to do…but this is bad? I could never figure out why this was an indictment of Obama’s policies, or how it could help McCain. Thank you Senator.
Palin, aside from her ineptitude, kept trying to remind people who were the real Americans. In the end, she found out and stimulated them to action – because this time the real Americans took her advice (especially in the areas in which she campaigned), and went to the polls. Her assertions that Obama had “Socialist” tendencies, not only rang hollow, they may have had in some perverse way, an attraction for downtrodden Americans as it did in the 1930’s; and her comments about “greedy Wall Street bankers” helped confirm the elitism in our system. Thank you Governor.
How was this similar or even the same as the Russian Revolution? Well, it was in many ways. The proletariat finally found the abuse of power and money so egregious, they said “enough”! Like the French Revolution, the excess of opulence and disparity of wealth finally created rebellion among the masses. These same forces were definately present in the American Revolution of 2008. With one amazing difference. In America, this revolution was done under the rules, and laws, of our great Constitution. It was a Revolution indeed…but it was a Revolution done peacefully. No heads were lopped off; no leaders were shot, it was a Revolution of the majority (the “masses” if you will) — done the American way.
* Statistic generated from studies done by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez; two economists who have been studying income data from around the world going back over a century