Where Is The Silent Majority Now That We Need Them?

by George Kennedy on September 1, 2011


Where Is The Silent Majority Now That We Need Them?

Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, is reported to have told President Obama during a White House meeting that “elections have consequences.” He was referring to Republican successes in the 2010 elections. McConnell was right. Since gaining control of the House, one of the signature successes, or consequences, of the House Republicans has been to convince a large segment of the population that “government is the enemy”, and that it is “out of control” under Democratic leadership.

And, guess what? Many bought it along with the bridge attached to the lie. They provided no context, just an incessant drumbeat of lies to deflect attention from the most serious domestic consequence of the failed Bush economic policies: three million jobs lost by 2009 and rising after two tax cuts for the “job creators.” I must have missed it but I do not recall Republicans demanding better stewardship of the economy under the previous administration. In less than a year, The Republicans in the House have created an alternate universe within which they promote values and ideas alien to most of us.

I am not an advocate for big government or small government; more-so an advocate for responsible and effective government. Its size would be determined by the legitimate needs of our society as expressed by the will of the people, not a narrow band of ideological partisans like the Tea Party with their disproportionate influence.
Recently, I read the results of a poll on the 10 most disliked industries in the U.S. and most of those on the list fit my list as well: Pharmaceutical industry, airlines, the legal field, banking, real estate, oil and gas, and advertising and public relations. However, the inclusion of three additional industries shows just how effective Republican and conservative demagoguery continues to be: education, healthcare, and the federal government, the latter ranking number one on the list. I am not naïve.

Republicans make no secret of their disdain for government if its programs or policies support the middle class; improve the quality of life for children, the poor, the temporarily unemployed, the infirm, or retirees. In their worldview, this is “big government” at its worst. Republicans only like government when they need it and when it champions the interests of the powerful and the rich. Otherwise, their preference is dysfunctional government through obstruction and filibuster. Their fondness for Herbert Hoover is touching.

That silent majority, for reasons that enrich the pundits and politicians, and a mixed-bag of economists thrown into the analytical mix, has compliantly unhinged itself from the reality that is government in the U.S. Have we become so distant, so disconnected that we have moved on? If so, what is the alternative?

We believed we were a democracy unique in world history for a reason: our form of government and its contract with Americans. Reagan referred to it as “the shining city on a hill.” A bit maudlin but it resonated with Americans. During the Cold War, we were alternately the “bastion of democracy” and/or “the arsenal of democracy.” To millions of immigrants, the Statute of Liberty was a beacon of light. Although our image is frayed, we still represent the best hope for many. The rudimentary understanding among immigrants, many of whom were illiterate, was that our form of government was responsive to its people; that people had a voice.

To be a bit granular, the federal government that Republicans want to transform, advocated legislation that protected children in the workforce; gave us the 40-hour workweek; a national minimum wage; civil and human rights; food and water safety; a cleaner environment, Medicare, Social Security, protection from rapacious banking practices, taxpayer-funded medical research, airline and highway safety.

The list is endless. This family of legislation and thousands of other pieces of legislation that collectively enrich the life we assume as a birthright is under continuous assault by the Republicans. And we give them voice! Where, then, is the voice of that great silent majority whose lives will be unalterably transformed – for the worse – if Republicans succeed with their “government-is-the-enemy-agenda”?

My generation remembers a program funded by the federal government that reaped dividends in a post-WWII world for over five decades: Educational and Cultural Exchanges. It was through this program that practically every foreign head of state and government, legislators, business and civic leaders, academics, and journalists, including those representing our enemies, visited this country to meet with ordinary Americans in their homes, to learn why we were unique as a society, and how they might align their values and legislative programs more closely with ours – not as clones, but appreciate, for example, the rule of law, democratic principles, equality between the sexes, and the importance of a strong public education system.

These leaders and the emerging generations of leaders that succeeded them did not always agree with US policy but they respected us; dissented with American policies, often with our concurrence, yet they valued a partnership with the United States. We lost that support during the previous administration and the erosion in respect for American leadership continues.

We kept our friends close and our enemies closer. It was the United States that was the strongest proponent for democracy and free market principles in a post World War II world – and we succeeded. An organized and vocal cabal of conservative miscreants continues to assault the federal government for narrow partisan gain. When do we rise up in opposition and say Enough! No, we are not and never were perfect. What we did represent was the best hope for humanity. At our present rate of decline, we could lose that and increase our vulnerability.
America was feared by some but respected by most. This was the federal government under both Democratic and Republican leadership. Americans lived and died for the opportunity to be an American. They still do in Iraq and Afghanistan. For 35 years, no one told me they wanted to come to the U.S. because it was the land of Ford, Boeing, GM, Wall Street or American Airlines. It was for our educational system, our quality of life, a government that was of the people for the people, and the land of opportunity. It was federal policy that extended the welcome mat.

In less than one year, our government has become dysfunctional because of the depraved practices of a Republican Party that brought us the worst economy since the Great Depression, trillions of dollars in national debt, two of the longest wars in American history, and a determination to create more of the same. It could not have accomplished some of their success without a timid White House and a palpable fear among Democrats in the Congress. Republicans repackaged their incompetence and failed stewardship of our country, told us “there is a problem”, and that “it can be fixed” if we just entrust them, once again, to do more of the same but this time with an even greater sense of purpose.

The Republicans have convinced us that the best form of government is no government. Has anyone tried living in an America without a federal government? The next time there is a natural disaster, be sure to ask for the largest and closest corporate entity for support. The federal government is a lifeline because disaster relief exceeds state government’s capabilities. The first consideration for disaster relief should be to support our neighbors, not time-consuming discussions about budget offsets as proposed by the Republican Majority Leader. When you have agreed to fire most of our public school teachers and other public employees, educators, EMS personnel, police and firefighters, call your elected representative. They will have the answers.

When your drinking water makes your children and your family ill, or most days are declared an emergency air quality day, who will you call? Oh, don’t call your local or state government officials because they, too, are broke. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, “states are now receiving less in receipts from all forms of state taxes than they were in 2005.

There has been a 9 percent drop since the peak collection year of 2007 – a decline of state revenue not seen in the post-WWII era.” Federal stimulus funds are gone and the Republicans will not support another stimulus bill. The upshot is, many critical state and local jobs may well be eliminated along with other spending. For those in the private sector with state contracts, you know well that when states cut spending, they cancel existing contracts.
I could go on but I hope you get the point I’m trying to make. I want responsible government at all levels, government that is integrated at all levels that respects our values as a society. Government has to reflect the values, the priorities, and the experiences of its people, not just those of a few.

The problem is not the federal government, it is the incompetent, morally bankrupt, and overly partisan officials we elect to represent us. THEY are the problem! A government is people. Only people can exercise a veto over any and all legislation because it benefits society, and not the interests of a few corporations, bankers, and lobbyists. Only people can be bought by lobbyists, Wall Street moguls and the Koch brothers. Only people can prefer long term wars over more urgent national priorities. It is only when the silent majority becomes alarmed enough to reclaim their government will it once again bear a resemblance to one of the institutions that make us great in the minds of most Americans and friends abroad.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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