BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Dobbs Looking for a Fight

Waging War on the American Dream

Lou Dobbs, on CNN every night, calls himself a lifelong liberal Republican. In his new book, War on the Middle Class, (I'll give you the subtitle in a minute) published in 2006 by Penguin, he lays out so many facts and figures we need to read it and then save it as a good reference book. Anyway, the rest of the title says it all -- "How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back."

His worry is that the American Dream is turning into a nightmare. And we know he is serious about the best of our values when he tells us to reread and study the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, placed conveniently at the end of the book.

It was Oklahoma's own Will Rogers who said that Americans have "the best Congress money can buy." Since his time things are even worse. George Bush likes to say we have "an ownership society." Yes, Dobbs continues, the ownership is by corporations, and we end up with a government that is dominated by corporate money. The Center for Responsive Politics, which Dobbs quotes, reports that at least three-fourths of campaigns are financed by corporations. Wal-Mart is tops in contributions. And he says the total spent is not just millions, but billions.

Lobbyists could now be called the fourth branch of government. In Dobbs' words, they are "the arms dealers in the war on the middle class." Jack Abramoff, now sentenced to six years in prison, is the prime example of many. Unfortunately, there is no big lobby for the middle class. We don't quite have the power of General Electric, which is bigger than the economies of Finland, Ireland, Portugal, and Thailand combined, or General Motors, larger than Saudi Arabia.

Most people think of themselves as middle class and have some concept of the idea of the common good as a goal for government and the society. Look at a few of Dobbs' statistics. He says the top 1% of people in our country are those who take in at least $400,000 a year -- movie stars, professional athletes and some coaches. And oh, yes, Wall Street bankers. The bottom 20% have to get by on $10,000 a year, and the rest of us are somewhere in between. And most CEOs make several hundred times as much as their employees. As Warren Buffet puts it, "My class is winning, but they shouldn't be."

Dobbs is also worried about the effects of free trade on a democracy, or what we used to think of as a democracy. He says, "The United States is losing not only production, capital, and jobs, but our sovereignty, the ability to determine our destiny as a nation." We don't even lead the world any more in the production of cars. Then check your clothing labels. Made in China, probably, or India. Look at your towels and washcloths. They are ilk likely made in Honduras. Outsourcing of jobs all over the world is pretty simple to understand. Corporate executives are always looking for cheaper labor, no matter where it is. Add to all this that the US now has a $9 trillion debt. That's trillion with a T.

So what are we to do about the destructive money influence? Many once powerful institutions just cannot be depended on any more to help. Nearly all the publishing groups are now owned by just eight companies. Then "labor unions are nearing extinction," universities are not the training ground for independent thinking any more and churches had much rather talk about gay marriage than the economy and the common good. The federal government is plain "dysfunctional."

After we reread those two famous documents cited above, Dobbs says that there is a little bit of hope at the state level. This was written, by the way, before the midterm election. But a good example of reform is the public financing of elections, such as is being used in Maine, Arizona and Connecticut.

As a Democrat who feels quite a bit better now, I say that we need more Republicans like Lou Dobbs.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email


From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2007

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