What Color is the Sky in Your Universe?

It has been obvious for quite a while that Americans occupy different and incommensurate realities. But in the midst of the partisan and religious vitriol (often fed by an appalling lack of basic constitutional, economic and scientific knowledge), there is some evidence of–dare I say it–a creeping rationality.

 As millions of Americans continue to struggle in a sluggish economy, a growing portion of the country says that poverty is caused by circumstances beyond individual control, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The poll shows a significant shift in American opinion on the causes of poverty since the last time the question was asked, nearly 20 years ago. In 1995, in the midst of a raging political debate about welfare and poverty, less than a third of poll respondents said people were in poverty because of issues beyond their control. At that time, a majority said that poverty was caused by “people not doing enough.” Now, nearly half of respondents, 47 percent, attribute poverty to factors other than individual initiative.

America’s porous social-safety net is largely attributable to a stubborn belief in individual responsibility for social mobility and a corresponding insistence that only lazy people or those who are somehow morally deficient find themselves at the bottom of the economic heap.

Rooted in Calvinism (earthly success as a sign of divine favor) it is a worldview that conveniently overlooks all the ways in which government helps the middle and upper classes and focuses opprobrium on anything that could be labeled “welfare.” (Corporate subsidies are economic development; Social Security and Medicare are insurance programs, etc.).

As a country and society, we perversely refuse to recognize the systemic and institutional causes of economic disadvantage until the pain is widely enough shared and its roots impossible to miss. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that people were willing to recognize the need for even a minimal social safety net. The NBC poll is just one data point. But there are others.

Sane Republicans are speaking out about climate change. Dick Cheney is increasingly seen as the bad joke he has always been. Young people are demonstrably more inclusive than their elders. Same-sex marriages are close to being fait accompli everywhere. There are more tolerant Americans than there are Theocratic Christians, and the ranks of the former are growing while those of the latter are declining.

Although Obama’s election unleashed a depressing torrent of hitherto suppressed racism, the fact remains that we did elect an African-American President. Twice.

There are signs that it’s getting better. If we can just survive the Crazy…


  1. Yeah. Can you believe that Hank Paulson has spoken out in favor of carbon tax? And he is part of a group of business leaders supporting the idea that now is the time to deal with climate change. How is conservative talk radio going to spin that?

  2. Jobs. NOW we need jobs. It does little to lecture and rail at the unemployed and underemployed (as the Right does) while our government subsidizes shipping jobs to Mexico or Asia. We NEED to bring jobs home. God bless FORD for bringing more and more production back to Michigan. And some of the new GM cars are largely products of OHIO. We need decent paying jobs for all of our citizens. Not just the highly educated. We are not all going to be college grads. And WE the consumers need to reward AMERICAN corporations that MAKE things in America. It takes a little time and research but on larger purchases it is worth the effort. Example: I recently wanted a specific set of tires for one of my cars. With a little research I was able to find TIRES that were perfect for my car that were made in the USA. MOST ARE NOT. Please try to be part of the solution. Keep America working. Do what you can when you can. It all helps.

  3. Patmcc – I do that too! I bought a washing/dryer set by Speed Queen as they are still made in the US, Wisconsin I think! You’re exactly right about jobs too. We need a jobs plan and needed it yesterday or actually back in ’08.

  4. Back in 1965 when I first joined the work force. There were plenty of factory jobs or jobs that supported the factories. The factory jobs I had were dirty, dangerous, and mind numbing. You did make a living wage and you had retiree, medical benefits and Credit Unions.

    There were booms and busts, but in the mid to late 1970’s we began a permanent contraction of Industrial Jobs. The “Silent Majority” saw their jobs going away forever. Steel Mills closed, Auto Plants closed never to be re-opened.

    American made cars were not up to the quality standards of some foreign companies. This “quality gap” was not the fault of the workers on the production line and Unions. The American Workers for the Big Three made what management wanted.

    The Middle Class now seems to realize how tenuous their economic well being is and that well being is out of their individual control.

  5. Again, you’ve located the dynamic and shared it insightfully and concisely. I really enjoy your blog (as do a number of my FB friends). I look forward to tomorrow’s!

  6. Culture is meant to be, on the average, self sustaining and constant, but, like sea level has relatively slow dynamics called fashion (tides) and faster dynamics called fads (waves).

    Conservatism, I believe, is a fashion that has had a several decade run. It appealed to many egos in the abstract but now even the most besotted see the undeniable and specific results. And the background music played by websites like this and people like those represented here is becoming more and more compelling to more and more of we, the people.

    Like most fashion it was led, read paid for, by those whom it benefits. It’s not organic, but a consumer good. And like, say, laundry detergent, it’s most effective ingredient is advertising.

    The pendulum is swinging but, as pendulums always do, it will not stop in the middle. We need to remember that, and as the middle approaches, be satisfied with it as the unfettered expression of freedom, and work within it’s chaos rather than shooting for uniformity. We need to remember that diversity is the reality of freedom.

    Conservative fashion has greatly damaged the country and world. There will always be the threat of it’s return to the degree that we don’t learn from this experience. Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, a fate that is completely unaffordable.

Comments are closed.