There is a war going on in this country, and I am not referring to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. I am referring to the war waged by the wealthiest people in America on the shrinking middle class of our country. The nation’s billionaires are on the warpath. They want more, more, more. Their greed has no end, and they are apparently unconcerned for the future of this country if it gets in the way of their accumulation of power and wealth.
On the floor of the Senate, we discuss a lot of things. But one thing we fail to talk about is who is winning in this economy and who is losing, and what that means for parents struggling to survive while they’re working longer hours with lower wages.
Right now, the top 1 percent controls more than 23 percent of all income earned in America. The top 1 percent controls more than the bottom 50 percent. In the last 25 years, we have seen 80 percent of all new income going to the top 1 percent.
On top of all this, as a result of the Citizens United [Supreme Court] decision, what we are beginning to see in elections is unbelievable. Billionaires are going to flood states with all kinds of negative, dishonest ads in an effort to defeat people defending the middle class.
The Republicans’ goal—and to their credit, they have been pretty honest about it—is to bring this country back to where we were in the 1920s. All of the progressive legislation that started with FDR is on the chopping block. Despite the great successes of Social Security over the last 75 years, despite the fact that Social Security today has a $2.6 trillion surplus, they are targeting Social Security. They are targeting Medicare. In Arizona today, people on Medicaid who need transplants are no longer able to get them—that is a real death panel.
Right now, according to a number of studies, we are losing about $100 billion every year because corporate America and the very wealthy are stashing their money in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. In 2009 ExxonMobil made $19 billion in profits and not only did the company not pay anything in taxes, it got a $106 million refund from the IRS. We should also be aware that since 1997, we have almost tripled funding for the military. So if we are serious about reducing the deficit, those are things we need to look at.
Our job now is to rally Americans to put pressure on a handful of Republicans—to tell them, go into your hearts, talk to your constituents and tell me if it is appropriate to hold hostage the future of this country for an agenda that benefits only the very rich.
If we act, we can win this fight. It is crucial that we do, because if we don’t—if they roll over us now—there is no stopping them. It is time we organize.
Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history. Excerpted from In These Times (Feb. 2011). www.inthesetimes.com
This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader.