A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, October 19, 2008

“Joe the Plumber?” Tchah. Here’s the real story of Dad the Mechanic.

I was raised in a working class home. My father toiled for over thirty years as an aircraft mechanic, and before that he was a truck driver and a salesman. Before that, he served in the Navy during World War II. To join the Navy, he dropped out of high school in his senior year.

Dad was a registered Democrat, as most people in quasi-Southern state Oklahoma tended to be in the 1960s, if you get my mortified drift. But I don't think I ever remember him voting for the Democratic candidate in a presidential election. I mean, this is a man who put a “Goldwater for President” bumper sticker on my tricycle. I'm serious. On the local level, though, he voted Democratic and Republican, based on whomever he thought was the best candidate. And that's the way that it should be.

However, as I reached adulthood, I noticed that the people Dad was voting for for president really didn't represent his economic interests very well-- and that meant they didn't serve MY economic interests very well, as someone who wanted to go to college from this working class household. They tried to destroy the power of working people to band together in unions to demand fair wages and benefits. In fact, their rhetoric demonized the phrase “working people” as a kind of shorthand for “communists who want to redistribute wealth.” Of course working people want to redistribute wealth! If it’s their labor that enriches corporations and CEOs, they should be paid wages that reflect that! My father climbed through the fuselages of commercial aircraft for over thirty years. He studied diagrams of wiring and schematics and took tests continually. He came home reeking of sweat, covered with metal shavings that cut his skin hundreds of times before he could shower them off. His labor made those planes fly.

How could it be American to claim that he was just a sucker who was spoiled in asking to be able to bargain collectively with his fellows for a fair wage and benefits? Who benefited from the anti-worker policies of the last 40 years? Let’s see. In 1980, the average differential between workers’ salaries and CEO salaries was 42. This means that CEOs earned 42 times more than their average workers’ salaries. Now, fine, CEOs have more education and decision-making responsibility, so they should be compensated for that. Okay. But by 2005, that multiplier was up to 411. That could be justified if corporate earnings had increased at a similar rate, perhaps, but they haven’t. And workers’ wages have stagnated as unions have been depicted as crime-infested communist fifth columns—and many working class and middle class voters have bought it! Genius!

These administrations and congressmen that my Dad voted for wanted to alleviate requirements that corporations actually fund their pension plans, and wanted to encourage shifting the options for people to save for their retirement into stock-market based plans. These plans were good for the corporations, because more people would then buy their stock, which would then reward their shareholders. It was perfect! Not only would employees' toil enrich the corporation, but they would reinvest their wages into company stock, which would then make them work harder because their retirement would depend upon the success of the company in the stock market as well as in the greater marketplace (And if you think those two things are merely synonymous, you are cute.)

These same administrations for which my Dad voted came up with a brilliant strategy. They would get working class people to vote for their anti-working class administrations through a bugaboo of social issues. "Gun ownership!" my dad cried-- but we had one rusty squirrel gun from circa 1908. "Criminals loose on the streets!" But we left our cars unlocked and our house unlocked and the worst thing that ever happened to us, crime-wise, was that someone once stole our dog. A guy once tried to back a truck up to our house and steal some lawn equipment, but our neighbor who was built like a gorilla started questioning him and the guy split.

Then there was this gold mine: "Abortion!" You know, we never knew anyone who got one, but there was still something strange about the political career of this issue. Republican administrations have controlled Washington for 28 of the last 40 years, but abortion really seemed worthy of a few loud platitudes only at election time. It was especially good to get Catholics and fundamentalist Christians to vote Republican contrary to the teaching of their religion in almost every other area (And, Catholics, if you don’t believe me, try a few of these: Laborem Exercens, Mater et Magistra, Pacem in Terris, Populorem Progressio. And to all Christians, try looking up how many admonishments there are regarding justice for the poor in both Testaments, and then try looking for the term “abortion” in Holy Scriptures. Try online concordances—it’ll be quicker. I’ll wait.). Strange that in all that time, what was talked about so loudly before the first week in November every four years suddenly disappeared as an action item immediately after that. It seemed that Republicans had very little interest in actually eliminating abortion, because then how could they distract voters into voting against their economic self-interest? The majority of the judiciary of this country have been appointed by Republican presidents. Abortion hasn’t disappeared because it is too useful of a political tool. And that surely is evil.

My Dad managed on his very modest wages to put three kids through college, and as long as we got plenty of loans, we made it. But there was no extra to put toward retirement besides the pension plan. Every year, the money covered fewer things, and the corporation was legally allowed to renege on the promises it had made to its retirees. Every year, doctors’ visits and medicine became even more expensive. Every year, property taxes on my parents’ modest little house went up to pay for things that should have been paid for through an equitable tax system. By the time my Dad’s cancer was killing him, he decided to spend $10,000 on a (futile and excruciating) chemotherapy regimen. Eight weeks later, he was dead. But before he died, he admitted that the government he had voted for absolutely didn’t care about people like him. Except to charm their votes from them every few years through the cynical use of issues that, ultimately, don’t matter as much as being able to live in a modest, comfortable, dignified way after a lifetime of back-breaking toil. Toil that has made this country great and powerful. Toil that is sneered at by the conservative elites who dress up their disdain for American working people by plunking hardhats on their heads or by clutching dead pheasant carcasses every now and again so that they can masquerade as being “just like us.”

And here's the secret: taxes pay for good things as well as bad things. The trick is to demand that our government not spend money it doesn't have and then use that irresponsibility to cut services the government SHOULD be providing to all of us. If only we weren't distracted by a load of stalking horse issues that disguise the very dangerous and irresponsible economic agenda of the GOP-- an agenda that has gotten us into a very real crisis today.

My Dad was a hard-working American. He deserved better policies from his government in exchange for his precious vote.

Maybe that’s why people like the make-believe “Joe the Plumber” bother me so much. This man supports anti-worker policies and then wonders why he can’t get ahead. He hasn’t undergone the training that is required to be a plumber, but claims that Democratic policies are what’s holding him down. He claims that Obama would prevent him from buying the plumbing business for which he works while omitting that he doesn’t have the training (or, frankly the funds) to do so, nor even to be a licensed plumber to begin with. And he doesn't have the sense to know that neither McCain nor Obama have anything to do with his failure to pay his OHIO state income taxes.

"Joe the Plumber" isn't real. My Dad was.



At 10/19/08, 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderfully said!

At 10/19/08, 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bible says you shall not kill...abortion does. Justice to the poor must come from you. Do you really think you will personally get Gods grace from Robinhood type actions?

At 10/19/08, 12:23 PM, Blogger Imoen Grace said...

Thank you putting into words my frustrations. I, too, come from a working class family and area.

It kills me to see people put their own self-interest aside because of a few religious issues. The republicans do nothing to help these people and yet their "religious" platform carries them into office all the time.

At 10/19/08, 12:27 PM, Blogger PamelaTrounstine said...


And doesn't it make it even sadder that we don't get to teach history in school anymore, even the history written by the winners. Our students will have nothing to go on when they hit 18!

At 10/19/08, 2:47 PM, Blogger Fred said...

I could almost write the same story. Change my dad into a telephone company repairman and substitute four children, and we'd have a match.

Well done...this is an excellent summary of what's happened to millions of people. You hit the nail on the head. With force.

At 10/19/08, 3:37 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Ah, anonymous-- how have you been brainwashed that justice means theft? From whom would working people be stealing i order to receive a just wage for their hard work? And apparently, you really don't remember the story of Robin Hood-- the situation he was confronting was rife with injustice and oppression. And yet you come down on the side of King John? Hm. The Bible also says, "Let justice roll down like a river, and righteusness like a never failing stream." Amos 5:24

And of course the Bible says killing is wrong-- let's start with Iraq.

The question is whether abortion is murder. Ethically and legally it is not. And as someone who has had a miscarriage, I can tell you firsthand what a tragedy that is-- but we did not have a funeral afterward. There's a reason for that. My point was not that abortion should be avoided-- it was that there is no intention on ending it on the part of those who use it for political gain.

Even the language used by the Palins is interesting. They trumpet that Gov. Palin CHOSE to continue her pregnancy of Trig, and that Bristol CHOSE to continue her pregnancy as well. That's a very interesting way to put it, I think, from someone who proclaims her anti-choice views in this area.

The fact that they HAVE a choice is how it should be. When I became oregnant with my last child, I CHOSE not to even find out if it had Down syndrome. Choices-- as Republicans remind us-- as good things.

I would like to see a world in which every pregnancy comes as the result of wanting to be pregnant, and every child would be a wanted child.

But scripture mandates justice for the poor over 300 times.

At 10/19/08, 5:03 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

At this time, NEITHER candidate gets my vote. I am against our continued involvement in Iraq, I don't understand the fever of some politicians to demand that those who earn more money are forced to pay more of it to the government. I do not believe the government has any business in education or health care or individual retirement systems. I believe the Federal government should stick to the powers and duties granted to them by the US Constitution. Everything else is up to the states. I like Steve Forbes ideas of a flat tax, say 10% for everyone. Get the special interest out of Washington DC and our state capitals, Restore the people of this nation and the states as THE special interest for the overseerers of our nation and states.

Now, if we want a more centralized, more powerful national government, then as a nation, we should change the rules in the US Constitution.

People need to take responsibility for themselves and not rely on the government to take care of them. If they want that, move to Sweden, France, Italy or Britain and pay 50% of your income to the government.

At 10/19/08, 5:25 PM, Blogger Valerie Roberson said...

Truly excellent post. It astonishes me that the working-class continually vote for the GOP, when they are the very ones hurt most.
Again, wonderfully said.

At 10/19/08, 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brainwashed? Someone who would only vote for or against a party as you seem to be resigned to may be classified as brainwashed. Listen to what you said earlier "whomever he thought was the best candidate. And that's the way that it should be"
I vote for character of the candidate unlike many liberals who will not vote for McCain since they despise Bush...seems like a contradiction in your thought process. I will continue to choose without worrying if they are democrat or republican...try it and see how clear your head becomes. Don't attack Joe the plumber he is not on the ballot.

I give my money to charity and thats what is in the Bible. When Christ said ." Render unto Ceaser what is Ceasers" that meant seperation of church and state something that someone who leans left should agree with.

Then you compare killing in Iraq to abortions. Hummm killing innocent ones - I believe fetus may be a comfortable word for you here - is the same as killing Saddam a mass murderer as well as all those terrorists. I am aware that innocent people died and are dying in Iraq but they were not TARGETED whereas a ftus is the target of abortion. You are right that legally abortion is not murder... but to say ethically it is not...wow the power of your own blog has soooo gone to your head. We lost a baby prematurely as well and had funeral ...guess that was silly of me huh?
So many words you wrote and not one mention as to why you will vote for Obama which you obviously will. I will not try to figure out why because that would not be fair. I will state that I am voting for McCain.

At 10/19/08, 8:32 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Wow. I? Powerful? I've never thought of anything like that.

I will state that I am voting for Obama because his policies will most help all of those children born in this country, to both rich or poor, wanted or unwanted. I believe that caring about innocents continues after those innocents are born, even if -- especially if-- their parents have made bad decisions in their lives. I believe that in a country as wealthy as we are children should not have to suffer want. I will vote for Obama because I believe that charity is vitally important, but so is having a government that understands that the poor and working class are citizens as well and doesn't just shrug its collective shoulders and shirks its responsibility onto already those already overworked charities. I will vote for Obama because in an economic crisis, the first thing to go from people's budgets is charity donations, at exactly the same time that they need it most.

And my view of character of the candidates is obviously important as well. I believe that McCain has stooped to the same nasty tactics that were used against him in 2000 by the Bush campaign. I also believe that McCain's economic policies are fiscally irresponsible and damaging to a vast majority of Americans.

I will vote for Obama because I believe the war in Iraq distracted us from the war on those terrorists who have attacked this country, terrorists who are still running free and regaining strength and support as Afghanistan slips back into their control.

I am truly sorry for your loss. Would that such things would never happen, or at least that we could understand why. Godspeed.

At 10/19/08, 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, the real point of the post is lost. The point, if I understand it correctly, is what should we expect of government in terms of economic policies.

When one issue becomes a smokescreen, everyone loses.

At 10/19/08, 9:55 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Point taken. So...
it's all in how "religious values" are defined, too. We need to stop slinging religious and ethnic insults at people, and think.

the frustration about teaching history is certainly right on the button. It's scary, by the way, how many US economic upheavals have been caused by bubbles bursting in the property market.

what concerns me is that someone with my Dad's job could now come nowhere near being able to put kids through school. That's the story that everyone overlooks in all the recriminations and distractions.

can we imagine a world in which candidates spend more time saying what they are for instead of trying to scare people about the other guy? Can we imagine people demanding better?

Thanks, guys and gals.

At 10/20/08, 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

quite a range of topics here. I think on the choice topic it should be left at that .. a choice. As i read your bio ms cornelius being a teacher should that not spill overto education and vouchers as a choice? Leaving all your personal feelings aside so you don't sound like the anti-abotion people who interject their personal beliefs and feelings on a subject.
We should demand more from our politicians but also from our citizens which really represents what our country is. Let's not get to touchy feely that we fail to realize some people make a choice to live in poverty and sin and if we lower the bar to them our country will sink to that level. God Bless the USA!

At 10/20/08, 8:25 AM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

This aside to Anonymous: May God bless all other countries in the world as well.

At 10/20/08, 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i did not mean to sound exclusive with that comment on blessing the USA Calteacherguy and you are correct that he blesses the world. My years in the military made me aware that when I defended the USA i was also defending all the free nations as well!

At 10/20/08, 12:25 PM, Blogger Kristie Walker said...

Yes, some people do choose to live in poverty. But for many upon many, poverty chooses them.

Wonderful post, Ms. C, and I for one have not lost its point in the side debates about war and abortion. (Incidentally, I'm curious, Anonymous, what your position on the death penalty is.)

At 10/20/08, 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was the last anonymous but not all of them so assuming your question was to me ... I am personally opposed to the death penalty. Even though the issue is an extreme one its not one i feel strong about.

At 10/20/08, 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your artical was interesting and unfortunately there are one issue voters on both sides of the spectrum. How many have blindly followed the democrats based on class warfare?
CEO's making absurd money is a serious problem in this country but don't define the republican party by them even though I am sure most are republican.
I am a registered democrat and I would hate to be defined by the actions of the Hollywood actors (mostly liberals) who make obscene money with increases in their profits that rival those you quoted on the CEO's.

At 10/20/08, 7:48 PM, Blogger Nancy Flanagan said...

Zap! Pow! Most excellent post, Ms. Cornelius!! And thanks for modeling Good Blogger Etiquette and responding to your commenters. You truly rock.

The best thing I ever read on why people--smart people, like your dad and mine--vote against their own economic interests was Thomas Frank's book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Frank traces the Republican party from the "old" Republicans (small business owners, true fiscal conservatives, those who prefer not to change too much, those who invest for long-term gain) to "new" Republicans--single-issue voters who feel disenfranchised and frightened by cultural shifts.

If you watch the videos of people shouting out anti-Muslim and racist venom, you're looking at that second group. People who respond to fear first. And there's a lot to be afraid of, right now.

I'm voting for someone who hasn't capitalized on fear, but who offers the conviction that we can think, conserve and innovate our way out of the ugly mess we're in.

Brilliant post. Thanks.

At 10/20/08, 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So naive...the media created this "mess" you think your in because i have never or will never blame the goverment for where i am at in life only those who are susceptible to propaganda would. I have read many negative comments here that you say you don't by into...too funny!
The sky is falling..at least thats what i read in the "negative " main stream media.

At 10/20/08, 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is it about anonymous posters that they never can spell? Or should I write that "nivver cann spel?"

Can I have an apostrophe, please, anonymous?

At 10/20/08, 9:44 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Okay, okay, kids, if we could stay on topic, please pretty please?

Nancy, i read that book a couple of years ago. It was very well reasoned, and thanks for reminding me of it? I wonder where I lent that book?

I too decry the politics of fear and distrust. It is time for change-- real change.

By the way, Obama has MORE experience than probably the greatest of all Republican presidents-- and yes, that would be Abraham Lincoln, not President Reagan.

And some low life stole my yard signs out of my yard last night. Fear and desperation!

At 10/21/08, 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Hillary has more than Obama what's your point? Can only you go off topic?

At 10/21/08, 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could at least tell me i'm being negative...that's Obamas' tactic when he does not like the question or will not answer it.

At 10/21/08, 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like I overstayed my welcome here and since this is my first blog i may not be following proper etiquette so excuse me. Mrs C I did get something out of your story and I'm sure your father was a great man who worked hard for his country. I bet he may have even voted for Kennedy who said something far removed from where i see the democratic party today...Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country. God Bless!

At 10/22/08, 8:00 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Why are all these anonymouses so angry-- and so challenged punctuation-wise?

We are definitely going to disagree about which party elevates the concerns of the individual over the concerns of the people at large. But we probably can agree that a sense of connection and concern for our fellow-man and -woman have definitely decreased in the last forty years.

I believe that compassion is a value that needs to be honored instead of denigrated. Love for our brother and our sister. Seeking to be a force of good in the world.

At 10/22/08, 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymouses - not on my spell checker? Are you serious? I used Word to check your writings and found 10 many typos and punctuation ...like it matters on a blog. You never answered the questions which is why I (a Hillary supporter) am worried about the election. Obama does the same thing and you as one of his supporters falls right in line. Feel free to correct my grammer as it must be important to you...words are all Obama has going for him.

At 10/23/08, 5:27 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, I meant anonymouses as a kind of pun-- as in "mouse?" Never mind.

And actually, I was a Hillary supporter, too, mr. d, but I have made my choice based on the two candidates who won the nomination. We have to grow up and accept setbacks like big people, there-- something that is sadly lacking lately.

And the questions (I assume you mean by the anonymous commenter above your comment) have nothing to do with the original post.

People are welcome to vent-- and I get to choose to respond or not. That's why I have a blog. And everyone else is welcome to use their own blog to say whatever they want.

The problem with political discourse is the inability to focus on the issues and sustain a thought all the way through-- and everyone here is guilty of that.

At 11/5/08, 3:14 PM, Blogger MommyProf said...

I read this in my graduate class on Monday and it made my theoretical point perfectly, so thank you.

At 3/2/09, 5:54 AM, Blogger sexy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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