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Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 12:12 pm

America’s leaders are small, but Americans are not

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“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

What a paragraph! Whatever happened to that BIG idea of America – the creation of a society that embraces and fosters such egalitarian values as justice, tranquility, common effort, the welfare of all and liberty?

We know, of course, that our nation has never attained the fullness of this ideal, but over the decades, generation after generation has at least strived to get closer to it – and made impressive progress. But today, some 224 years after the penning of the preamble, America’s corporate-financial-political establishment is insisting that it’s no longer possible or even desirable to pursue those democratic ideals that make our country important – and make it work.

What’s happened is that, from Wall Street to Washington, we now have too many 5-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets. As a result of our leaders’ dimness, America’s uniting and constructive ethic of “We’re all in this together” and “Together we can” is being supplanted by a shriveled, dispiriting ethic that exalts plutocratic selfishness and scorns the public interest as intrusive, wasteful, ideologically impure and morally ruinous. They’re pushing us toward a forbidding Kochian jungle in which there is no “we” – money rules, everyone’s on their own and such matters as justice, general welfare, tranquility and posterity are none of society’s damned business.

So here we are, the wealthiest nation on earth, with massive needs and an industrious population eager to get working on those needs, yet our leaders throw up their hands and say, “No can do.” Heavily financed political forces are rumbling throughout the country to crush the union movement, eliminate wage protections, privatize everything from schools to Social Security, kill poverty programs, un-regulate Wall Street, repeal environmental rules, suppress voter turnout, stack the courts, corporatize elections and delegitimize the democratic values expressed in the preamble. They are dynamiting the underpinnings of the middle class and taking away the public tools that ordinary people must have to do the extraordinary things that truly make America great.

Our “leaders” have given up on greatness because there’s no greatness in them.

However, there is hope in the people themselves. We see it in the ongoing Wisconsin rebellion that is rejecting the Koch-fueled autocracy of the imperious Gov. Scott Walker; in the 61 percent grass-roots victory in Ohio on Nov. 8 to throw out the repressive anti-labor law that the right-wing Gov. John Kasich arrogantly tried to hang around the people’s neck; in the Occupy protest that is so big and so deeply felt by so many angry/hopeful people that even police sweeps cannot make it go away; and in still more uprisings that are coming – coming from such corners as frustrated jobseekers; tens of thousands of misused war veterans returning from the Mideast to mistreatment at home; hundreds of thousands of homeowners being mercilessly foreclosed on by bailed-out bankers; and others who are simply fed up with the corporados and political flim-flammers who are knocking ordinary Americans down and holding America back.

What we Americans have the most of is the very thing our failed leaders have the least of: bigness of spirit. They say “no,” but we say “yes” – on everything from repairing and extending our nation’s crumbling infrastructure (a 2009 poll even found that 74 percent of Republicans are willing to swallow a tax hike to get going on this) to reclaiming our democracy by banning corporate money from our elections (84 percent of Americans support a constitutional amendment to do it).

While it can be disheartening to see the smallness of those in power, don’t let it get you down. Better that we turn their failure into our inspiration for more agitation. After all, they’re the ones who are wrong – wrong about the can-do power of the people they pretend to lead, wrong about the depth of this nation’s historic commitment to egalitarianism and the common good, wrong about what they think they can get away with.

As we head into the New Year, our task is to confront their pusillanimity – demand from every candidate for every office to explain why their vision is so myopic and why their idea of what Americans can do is so small.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.
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