I recently completed my longtime quest to visit all fifty states by spending six days in Hawaii. Of course, I set aside one of those days to go to Pearl Harbor where the National Park Service operates a visitors’ center and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt defined December 7, 1941, as “a date that will live in infamy.” The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in 347 airplanes destroyed, 21 ships sank or damaged and 1,177 servicemen killed. Their names are listed at one end of the Arizona shrine. Their average age was 19.
With many of its crew trapped inside, the battleship Arizona sank within nine minutes of its being attacked – those sailors are still entombed there. The memorial is directly above the sunken ship. Oil from the vessel still leaks into the harbor and drifts toward the U.S.S. Missouri, the battleship on which Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender four years later on September 2, 1945. The Missouri has been restored and moved within site of the Arizona so that visitors can witness the beginning and end of our official involvement in World War II at the same time.
“Remember Pearl Harbor” is a reminder of what we as a nation can do when we pull together for a common cause. WWII was a time of shared sacrifice in which those on the home front conserved and rationed to support our forces overseas. The Japanese commander of the sneak attack prophetically lamented afterward that he feared he had “awakened a sleeping giant.” He was right. We mobilized our workforce, our industries, and our military and were victorious within four years.
What a difference 60 years make. The infamous 9/11 attacks in 2001 by 19 suicidal hijackers resulted in the cold-blooded murders of nearly 3000 innocent victims. The American people were probably ready to unite to do whatever was necessary to achieve justice and to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
The response to 9/11 cried out for shared sacrifice and for a federal project similar to the Manhattan Project to produce a synthetic oil to eliminate our reliance on oil from the unstable Middle East. Sadly, President George W. Bush sided with Big Oil and Coal and told us to “go shopping.” Instead of his asking to eliminate his 2001 tax cuts for the rich, he expanded them in 2003 and chose to pay for his Afghanistan and Iraq Wars “on a charge card” – with much of the borrowed money coming from China. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq still continue!
As Mr. Bush ran up the deficit to pay for his tax cuts and two wars (and an unfunded prescription drug program he added in 2003), the only ones asked to sacrifice were those who volunteered to fight in his two wars. Meanwhile, unlike after Pearl Harbor, the job market failed to grow following Mr. Bush’s 2001-2002 recession. It was only a couple of months before the Election of 2004 that there was a slight net growth of jobs – Bush was almost the first president since Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression who had not seen any growth in jobs since entering office.
Also in contrast to Pearl Harbor, we failed to unite after the near global meltdown in September 2008 resulting in millions of workers losing their jobs. Instead of our uniting behind our obvious needs to create new jobs to rebuild our crumbling parks, bridges, and highways and for stricter regulation of the banking, oil, and coal industries, we got a Republican minority in Congress that resisted doing anything.
Thanks to the quick organization of the billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity after the 2008 meltdown, we got public rallies of TEA Parties opposing solving any of our problems: no health insurance reform, no jobs programs, and no regulation of Big Business. Those rallies still seem to be the most shameless public displays of selfishness and greed in American history. Because of those Astro Turf rallies, their defense of the plutocracy, and the Republicans’ abuse of the filibuster in the Senate, anything that eventually passed got watered down to dilute their effectiveness. In 2010, The Fox-Republican-TEA Party gained control of the House and solidified their obstruct and sabotage efforts.
What united the Republicans during the Clinton Years was their desire to restore the plutocracy of the late 19th century and to find a reason to impeach Bill Clinton. What unites the current Fox-Republican-TEA Party is quite similar: they are more determined than ever to return to the Gilded Age when the super rich had near-absolute power. They also wanted to be sure President Barack Obama failed to create enough jobs so they might defeat him in 2012. That part of their scheme didn’t work, but they will continue to do all they can to prevent a full economic recovery.
This does not unite the nation – it divides us. Ever since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, we have seen a 35-year increase in the wealth of the few at the top but a decline or stagnation of the middle class. The Elections of 2010 brought in several Republican governors in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Maine who surprised the voters by being stealth operatives for the plutocracy.
John Kasich, who somehow got elected governor in Ohio, is an excellent example. I always remember Kasich as being one of Newt Gingrich’s “gang of thugs” that took over the House of Representatives in 1995 and set out to get Clinton. I used to enjoy my father’s reaction to Kasich whenever he showed up on television news. He called him “Wild Man Kasich.” “Look at him,” my father would say. “You can see it in his eyes – he’s just wild!” Sure enough, he did have that wild, deranged look. I was relieved when Kasich left the House to be one of billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s Republican propaganda voices on Fox “News.” I hoped he would do less harm there.
Governor Kasich’s eyes have lost that glazed, crazed look. Instead, they now have a cold and mean look. That’s appropriate considering the anti-middle class, anti-worker, and anti-public servant bill he rammed through his compliant Republican legislature. The good news is that the middle class suddenly woke up and tried to stop him. When that failed, the people set out to get signatures on petitions demanding a referendum so they could vote on it themselves. They got thousands more signatures than necessary. When Kasich’s bill was voted on by the people, it was rejected by a landslide!
For the last 35 years, the middle class has been “a sleeping giant.” However, the relentless assault against the American middle class may have the same effect as Pearl Harbor. The plutocrats and their supporters may have us against the ropes, but we are not down for the count yet. If efforts like the Occupy movement, which promoted justice for the 99 %, can be resurrected, and if more populist public servants like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) can be found, the middle class may rise again.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published December 29, 2011, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column. (This essay was updated on Nov. 12, 2015)