OPINION: America Should Ignore Russell Brand's Prescription

 Brand then called for an unspecific revolution and urged viewers to opt out of the electoral process because both major UK political parties continue to ignore the needs of the underclass.If you have access to electricity, and I apologize to the Amish, it’s likely you saw the Russell Brand BBC interview as a post on Facebook. The antagonistic exchange again demonstrated the British comedian’s mastery of the English language, and his deep humanistic understanding of social injustice and today’s socio-economic ills. But Americans will do well to ignore his prescription.

Jeremy Paxman asked on what authority had Brand the right to talk about politics given the comedian had never once voted. “I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm, which is quite narrow and only serves a few people, I look elsewhere for alternative political systems,” the comedian replied. While admitting he didn’t know what the alternative was, he described what it shouldn’t be, “It shouldn’t destroy the planet, and it shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, and shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.” Brand then called for an unspecific revolution and urged viewers to opt out of the electoral process because both major UK political parties continue to ignore the needs of the underclass.

I applaud Brand for using his celebrity to shine light on what is not only the single biggest issue of today, but also the most underreported moral crisis of our time: wealth disparity. One can make the argument that wealth disparity has an even greater urgency in America given we have fewer public safety nets; less access to healthcare and higher education; and for the fact that not only have 95 percent of all economic gains gone to the top 1 percent in the past decade, but 22 million American children now live in abject poverty. Also, Brand rightfully blames today’s economic conditions on the pro-corporate political agenda, but electoral abstinence is exactly what the Wall Street plutocrats and the oil and gas oligarchs are hoping you will embrace.

Not only hoping, the corporate elite are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure you become so disillusioned with the democratic process that you will remain seated on the sofa during election day. The plutocrats and oligarchs can read polling data, thus they’re acutely aware America is becoming increasingly a center-left country. This terrifies the rich and the CEOs of Wall Street boardrooms because the two things they fear the most is paying more in taxes and greater government regulation – be it rights for workers, environmental protection, oversight, or the closing of tax loopholes. You know, the kind of loopholes that has allowed the Cayman Islands to starve the U.S. of more than $100 billion p.a in loss tax revenues. So, the GOP and its corporate backers need a cover story to ensure a great number of the center-left majority of the country stay away from the polls, so that they can continue to enact their radical pro-corporate strategy that they proudly call “starving the beast”: push through tax cuts that starve the federal government of the revenue it needs, then use deficits an excuse to cut popular social programs, environmental protection, and safety nets for the poor.

The cover story the GOP and its corporate sponsors chose is to perpetuate what has been wholly discredited as a complete fabrication – that massive and widespread voter fraud threatens the integrity of the ballot box. Despite there being less than a dozen cases of a voter impersonating another voter in all elections since like EVER, the GOP has used every trick to suppress the votes of women, students, minorities, and ex-felons. If the GOP legislatures lose their fight to change voter laws in the courts, they then engage in the dark arts of changing polling locations, changing polling hours, reducing polling hours, reducing the number of polling places, changing voting dates, and more. All of which are tactics to either confuse or obstruct more voters from the polls. The fewer people who vote, the better the odds are for the Republican Party – and their plutocrat sponsors. It’s why the biggest financial backers of the GOP’s redistricting project (REDMAP) were Walmart, the Koch Brothers, and big tobacco.

If the plutocrats and oligarchs had to pay Russell Brand to say, “don’t vote,” they would by the bucket load of deregulated credit default swaps. You know, the unregulated Wall Street instruments that crashed the entire fucking economy. So, while “they’re all the same” is a mantra that excites reactionaries, the problem with that is “it leaves the status quo serenely untroubled.” The entire guiding principle of the conservative party is to ensure a continuation of the status quo: rich favoring trickle down wand waving economic theory that started with Reagan. They want more deregulation, more free trade, more tax cuts, less environmental protection, less funding for public safety nets and education, and they wish to deny healthcare to millions of Americans.

In the four decades that followed FDR’s New Deal, our middle class became the envy of the world. In an op-ed titled “Abject Failure of Reaganomics,” Robert Parry writes, “It was the federal government that essentially created the Great American Middle Class — from the New Deal policies of the 1930s through other reforms of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, from Social Security to Wall Street regulation to labor rights to the GI Bill to the Interstate Highway System to the space program’s technological advances to Medicare and Medicaid to the minimum wage to civil rights.” But then came the period of Reagan’s holy trinity — privatization, deregulation, and free trade. Now here we are today — facing the largest economic crisis since the 1930s.

The battle in America today is between those on the right who wish to exacerbate today’s winner-takes-all society versus those on the left who wish to return to the days of responsible government. Where government is part of the solution, as it was when it led this country out of the Great Depression. President Obama promised change, but change takes time. It’s a process. It’s not one piece of legislation or even two presidential terms. The GOP’s mastery of message, spin, and its disregard for the truth has successfully muddied the word “stimulus,” but historians will look back on Obama’s Recovery Act as FDR’s New Deal on steroids. In constant dollars, the Recovery Act was 50 percent bigger than the New Deal.

The Recovery Act certainly wasn’t perfect, no pieces of legislation this big is, but it was transformative. One advisor who worked under Clinton and now for Obama said, “We probably did more in that one bill than the Clinton administration did in eight years.” Michael Grunwald, author of the New New Deal, writes, “The Recovery Act was the biggest and most transformative energy bill in U.S. history, financing unprecedented government investments in a smarter grid; energy efficiency in every imaginable form…the Stimulus was also the biggest and most transformative education reform bill since the Great Society. It was a big and transformative health care bill, too….it included America’s biggest foray into industrial policy since FDR, biggest expansion of anti-poverty initiatives since Lyndon Johnson, biggest middle-class tax cut since Ronald Reagan, and biggest infusion of research money ever…It updated the New Deal era unemployment insurance system and launched new approaches to preventing homelessness, financing infrastructure projects, and managing stormwater in an eco-friendly way. And it blasted the money into the economy with unprecedented transparency and oversight.”

In the midst of our greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis the Republican Party created and handed to the Democrats in 2009, not a single Republican voted for the Recovery Act. They argued it would trigger inflation. It didn't! They argued government can’t create jobs. It did! The Congressional Budget Office reported that not only did the stimulus directly create 3 million new jobs, it also increased output by 2 percent, the difference between growth and contraction. It also helped balance every state budget, sparing millions of public jobs and services. “The Recovery Act’s most important long-term changes aimed to jump-start our shift to clean energy, reducing our carbon footprint, our electric bills, our vulnerability to oil shocks, and our subservience to petro-dictators while seeding green new industries,” Grunwald writes.

So, please ignore Brand’s advice. He’s a funny bastard with a terrific social conscience, but he’s got it wrong on not voting, because in this country, there is still a choice between one party that is at least partly right versus one that has been completely wrong on everything in the past three decades or more: from evolution to climate change, trickle-down economics, that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators, that the Bush tax cuts would lead to jobs. It didn’t. It added $3 trillion to the debt.

They’re not all the same. The Democrats, for the most part, are carrying out an agenda that addresses matters as they relate to poverty, income inequality, wealth disparity, the environment, education, and justice. While change is not coming fast enough, and at times  the Democrats should be fighting harder, they’re a party that is being blocked at every turn by a GOP controlled House that was largely sworn into power on the back on a low turnout election (2010), which underscores the importance of voting.

CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman


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