Columnists » Kilian Melloy

Trickle-Down Freedom

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Nov 6, 2012

America votes today.

Or rather, I should say, a fraction of America votes today to decide who will be our president for the next four years.

Some people -- too many -- will be turned away or frightened off by the impediments placed in their path by legislators and election officials in places like Florida (where freedom-to-vote advocates have filed a federal lawsuit for alleged attempts to disenfranchise early voters likely to cast their ballots for Democratic candidates).

Would that everyone had the passion it takes to face down the vote suppression crowd and insist on their right, as citizens of a free and democratic republic, to have their say. But a lot of people, maybe even a majority of those qualified to vote, will sit this one out, as happens every election. Some are disinterested or apathetic; some don't think their votes will matter. Some are actively disgusted; one friend advises against voting lest one be guilty, by association, of whatever atrocities the victor's administration might perpetrate.

This, too, is democracy, though in a limited way: I suppose it is a valid choice to abstain (or, if you like, go off and sulk), rather than stand for something, even if the choices at hand are not perfect.

We certainly have imperfect choices before us, but those choices are also starkly different in some crucial respects. Of all the reasons given for not voting, the idea that Romney and Obama are basically touting the same platform is the most offensive and scurrilous. Further, it ignores a deeper question about how much the character of a candidate counts.

We know Obama can be a little cool, a little remote, even a little imperious in his affect. But Obama has convictions, and he states them publicly. Obama's convictions on a Monday remain his convictions on a Thursday, and when his positions "evolve" (as they did with regard to marriage equality), it's a process that takes place by degrees; moreover, it's a visible and open process.

Romney simply changes his stripes according to which way the wind is blowing. And talk about imperious! As governor of Massachusetts, Romney went out of his way not to have to deal with the unwashed masses. (Whenever I see a Romney-Ryan bumper sticker around Boston, I wonder if the driver of that vehicle actually lived here during Romney's tenure. Or maybe that cell phone clutched in the driver's hand has fried some key memory circuits?)

Romney was a lousy governor, and he's a lousy candidate for the Oval Office. The rare Romney assertion that carries a ring of genuine truth is his claim that as president he would be able to "reach across the aisle" and work with Democrats more effectively than Obama could work with Congressional Republicans. But that's not a mark of his national leadership ability, any more than it was his ability to lead the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; it's the result of Democrats being willing to compromise and work together with someone of a different ideology.

The GOP, on the other hand, has shown itself to be so entrenched and intransigent over the last four years that they would rather hold America's families as economic hostages in order to smear Obama than work for the common good. Indeed, you have to wonder if the "common" good is even on their minds. The common citizen certainly isn't, at least not once he's cast his Election Day vote.

Personally, I get the impression that the Republicans believe in a kind of "trickle-down freedom" that hands the greatest measure of autonomy and choice to the few wealthiest elect. A few weeks ago, The New Yorker profiled billionaires who are working against Obama because the president has come out in favor of allowing Bush-era special tax exemptions for the rich to expire. The billionaires in the article talked about their liberal views on social issues, but they are hard-liners when it comes to defending their stash from the greedy masses who want them to kick in and help pay for roads, bridges, and that expensive military.

Because they have the cash to attempt to hand-pick our political leaders, America's billionaires intend to replace Obama with a man who would repeal, rescind, and roll back years... make that decades... of hard-won social progress, a man whose agenda means punishing a large swath of Americans in order to curry favor with a narrow ribbon of the best-to-do. But! Here's the thing: America is one big party, and Romney's not gonna ask the super-rich to pick up the tab. No, he's got another idea altogether: Serve the wealthy a whole lot more champagne and oysters, and then ask every other table in the joint to shoulder the bill. Who cares what Romney does to the little guy as long as he refrains from the "class warfare" of asking the rich to pay their share?

The whining from the super-rich about Obama's "class warfare" went so far as to compare the president to the sort of bipolar, drunken sot who beats his wife, then apologizes for it, then beats her some more. Really? I mean... really? As the New Yorker noted, "The growing antagonism of the super-wealthy toward Obama can seem mystifying, since Obama has served the rich quite well."

Mystifying, indeed, except that "Hostility toward the President is particularly strident among the ultra-rich," the segment of society that sees itself as above the need to pay its taxes because it's just so very, very special. (They are the "job creators," don't you know, and even if they aren't creating any jobs, well... they're rich, and isn't that what America is all about?)

The billionaires in question attempt to defend their special right to not pay as much in taxes as the poor by saying that their charitable donations to pet projects amounts to a kind of "self-taxation." Gee, I would love to be able to dictate where my self-imposed taxes go: I have plenty of beloved causes that are disgracefully cash starved. Public schools, for example. Museums. Libraries. All the public institutions that disciples of Ayn Rand (VP candidate Paul Ryan, for instance) keep claiming are not available to those who most deserve them. (Note to self-entitled Ayn Rand clones: Get a library card. Anyone can do it, even the terminally selfish. You'll feel better if you participate in the public good rather than standing in the corner scowling and griping about it.)

Then there's the strange case of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire twenty times over who runs gambling establishments that are now under investigation by Obama's Justice Dept. As reported at The Huffington Post, "Adelson's casino empire, the bulk of which is based in Asia, is being investigated for bribery and money laundering." Adelson has said he is willing to spend $100 million to unseat Obama and, presumably, buy himself some relief from criminal investigation under a Romney administration. The New York Times noted how little Adelson's motivations mattered to a pair of GOP candidates who, if elected, will have been chosen of the rich, by the rich, and for the benefit of the rich: The Times noted that Romney and Ryan seemingly went out of their way to avoid giving the press a chance to pose "uncomfortable questions about the multiple federal investigations into the company behind Mr. Adelson's wealth" following Adelson's huge contributions to their war chest.

"Those questions, though, aren't going away, and neither are the ones about the judgment of Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan in drawing ever closer to a man whose business background should lead them to back away -- fast," the Times noted. "By not repudiating Mr. Adelson's vow to spend as much as $100 million on their behalf, the two candidates seem more eager to keep the 'super PAC' dollars flowing than to preserve the integrity of their campaign."

Unless, of course, the "integrity" of the Romney-Ryan campaign really is all about money. And why shouldn't it be? It seems that at this moment in our national history, money isn't simply speech; it's the rule of law, as well. Justice for the wealthy is a different matter than justice for the increasingly not-so-wealthy.

This matters in other ways, as well. The rich get richer, just as the saying goes, and the poor get screwed. Poverty restricts lives, closes doors to opportunity, and harms individuals and their families.

In unvarnished talk, money buys freedom. The people I know who support Romney say it's because Obama's economic policies bleed their pocketbooks too much. They don't seem to get two essential facts: One, Obama reduced taxes on most ordinary Americans; Two, Romney will raise them again, while cutting taxes for the wealthy. Either that, or he'll do what Republican presidents before him have done: Spend big and put it all on account, which is just another way of raising taxes, albeit on the next generation rather than the current one.

What Obama knows that Romney doesn't is that "we all do better when we all do better." Romney clings to the belief, demonstrably untrue, that when the rich do better, so do the poor. The rich have been doing better and better for thirty years now, while the middle class has been shrinking and the poor slipping further into the morass of debt and need.

But it's not the numbers or even the realities that matter to Romney, whose campaign has proudly run on facts that turn out not to be facts at all. A government-bailout-enabled Jeep factory moving to China? I'd say "You can do better than that," but if the aim was to tell a lie so bizarre and fathomlessly fictitious as to confound all reason, well, you probably can't do better than that. Facts may not matter to politicians whose convictions shift with the clouds overhead, but they do matter to auto executives, and Chrysler called Romney on his bullshit.

"I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China," Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne reassured the company's workers in an email sent after the Romney campaign saturated the airwaves around Toledo, where thousands of auto workers live, work, and vote, with its misleading ad.

Lies in the air, facts on the ground: While Romney favored letting big carmakers file for bankruptcy, Obama took action -- and now the auto industry is thriving to the point of potentially expanding its operation into the Asian market. That's a hell of a lot different than suggesting that Obama is giving American car-building jobs to the Chinese. Coming from Mitt "Bain Capital" Romney -- Bain being a company that really did export American jobs -- it's painfully, grimly aggravating.

Money is not freedom, but America's super-wealthy and its lapdog GOP seem to think that the two things are one and the same, just as the GOP view of money (shared by our ideologically tilted Supreme Court) is that it is also "speech." (Actually, you get the impression that to the money-mad and politically punitive, money is pretty much everything... and that, too, is worrisome.)

This confusion has brought us to the aforementioned "trickle-down freedom," the already-observable state of our society in which the rich simply have more rights and more privileges than those of us who get by on less. A lot less. Several orders of magnitude less. Just like the money that doesn't, in fact, "trickle down," those liberties remain ensconced far out of reach of the ordinary American.

The result? A presidential candidate who preaches opportunity, but plans to curtail options. Romney has said he favors amendments to this nation's foundational legal document, the Constitution, that would restrict the rights women have over their own bodies, and forcibly divorce same-sex couples in the states where their marriages are valid.

Romney's willingness to place policy over people's bodies and their family lives is not a surprise, exactly, because freedom, for the Romney camp, is not a right to be enjoyed by all. In a system where money = speech = freedom, there really is only so much to go around -- and the rich don't get rich by sharing and sharing alike. Voter suppression, predatory financial practices, and laws that focus on punishing people instead of helping them are the order of the day under such regimes. (What: You don't remember eight years under W and his corporate puppet masters? Dude, that mess came to an end only, like, four years ago. Right after the economy tanked following the second financial sector meltdown under a Bush administration.)

But listen, don't take my word for it... If you really like the guy on the Republican ticket, go and vote for him. All I ask is this: Don't try to blame "the liberals" for the disaster that will result from a Romney presidency. In the event of a Romney-Ryan debacle, try this instead: Four years from now, man the hell up and take some real responsibility. I mean, take it -- right back from a government that's so negligent it lets our kids grow up dumb, but so big it thinks it can tell me who to marry.

Understand that we got into the mess degree by neglectful degree, and that to get out of it we'll have to go about it step by responsible, civic-minded step. The first step is to vote for the slightly less bad choice on the ballot, and work from there.

So would you please take the trouble to vote today -- or else hold your peace until 2016. Not that you'll have a choice, unless, of course, you have a billion dollars in the bank. In that case, you can speak up and be heard even if it's not Election Day.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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