Senator Bernie Sanders was on MSNBC recently doing a panel discussion on some show, I don’t remember which, they all tend to blur together. He was quiet and soft-spoken, a shadow of the thunderclap who had taken the nation by storm and very nearly upset the applecart of The Anointed One. Time and again, he came back to the point he clearly showed up to make: free tuition for public colleges and universities in the US.
After he left, the panel hunkered down to chew over the interview. One of the panelists, some bespectacled groan of a George Will wannabe — he had it all, from the butter-comb hairdo to the sad preppie sport coat with moths in the pockets from 1952 – made it abundantly clear that he respected Sen. Sanders very much, but his free tuition idea was a non-starter because we just don’t have the money. The rest of the panelists bowed their heads in solemn agreement, yes yes yes, oh yes yes yes, like apostles praying to the God of Austerity.
No no no, and furthermore no no no, and also no again, damn it. This is the grand fiction we labor under, assiduously promoted not only by the “news” media but by a pack of presidential candidates who seem to have been trained better than the Lipizzaner Stallions. “We don’t have the money,” lather rinse repeat.
Because it is my fate, I watched every single presidential debate during the primary season. I watched them all, going back to when the GOP had to do twin-bill deals because every Republican except the corpse of Richard Nixon was running and they needed a kid’s table in order to properly serve their thin gruel. I watched all the Democratic debates, as well. I followed the public speeches and the comments from all of them — all of their policy proposals and all of the we-can’t-afford-it rebuttals — and often I would howl loud enough to startle the dog: “Say it! Just say it! It’s just two words! Say it, damn you!”
What two words?
They never say it. The candidates never said “defense budget” when questions of funding came up. More to the point, the debate moderators never said it and never asked about it. The “news” media — print and TV — avoided those two words like cats avoid water. It was a magnificent display in a gruesome sort of way, a Master’s thesis on how to control a populace by dint of narrowing the conversational parameters. Oh, we can’t talk about that, move along, nothing to see here, let’s get angry again about Vince Foster instead.
Pro tip: The “defense” budget is a trillion-dollar graft factory flooded with cash that could be better spent elsewhere. One example: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter which doesn’t work and which no one wants. Pricetag: $400,000,000,000 and counting. Another example: The Osprey, a military plane that kills Marines with dreary regularity because it also doesn’t work. Pricetag: $23,000,000,000.
Chop chop, gone gone, and wow, look at that, we have $423,000,000,000 of your tax money on hand to do goofy things like educate people for free so they don’t enter the job market saddled with crushing debt. That’s just two programs; there are many, many more which deserve to cease existence.
The Pentagon is the world’s biggest piggy bank. It eats many hundreds of billions of dollars per year — more than the next seven international defense budgets combined – and that’s just the stuff on the books; the real budget in total could run to the trillions. All we have to do is crack that piggy bank with a hammer, shake it upside-down for a bit, and money will fall out by gobs and boulders.
While we’re at it, we can run down all the millionaire and billionaire shirkers who have hidden their money in offshore accounts because they think taxes are for other people. Ditto on the hidden corporate profits, because corporations are people, right? Mitt Romney said it, so it must be true.
Fine and good: They get to knuckle up and pitch in like the rest of us, like the nurse with three kids and no savings working nights, the long-haul trucker with burns between his fingers because he uses lit cigarettes to keep himself awake on the lonely road, or the five-tour soldier at Bragg who hopes the commissary accepts food stamps because he has to feed his family.
We’re all in this together, right? I think I heard that from a guy who allegedly got nailed to a crosstie way back when for preaching to the empire that everyone deserves a fair shake in life, regardless of station.
We don’t have the money? It is to laugh. We are swimming in money, and drowning in sordid priorities. It’s not that we can’t do the good and noble and smart things that will bring us out of this, the things people like Bernie Sanders are talking about. It’s that we won’t do them because wealth has been extracted and accumulated, and wealth exerts overwhelming power, so here’s your grounded F-35 and your crashed Osprey and a hole in your gut where your peace of mind used to live, because that’s freedom as far as you know.
For an awfully long time now, that’s all we have known. This presidential election is going to be a strutting demonstration of every single way this nation, this idea, has gone off the rails. They won’t say two simple words that could solve so many problems. I guess we’ll have to say it for them from every rooftop, every hill and vale, every place that echoes and wherever there is sunshine. Find the thunder in your throat and say those two words.
Bob Marley said it best: “Light up the darkness.”