An omen of what?

Frank Rich’s recent column on the “kamikaze mission” of Joe Stack agrees with me that it had political significance, more than Obama’s “kabuki health care summit” (I like that phrase). “It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen,” he wrote.

But Rich sees the significance of Stack’s actions as the way in which it was refracted in the existing political framework, how it was taken up by Republican conservatives and far rightwing groups like the John Birch society: he anticipates a future of rightwing violence.

This is where I disagree. I think Rich is confusing the reactions of the anti-government right with the social movement it is responding to. The right is able to rear its ugly head only because of a vacuum of political legitimacy in the country. Government has never been so alienated from its constituency. And people’s grievances are piling up, like the fallout from a slow leak at a nuclear power plant.

By now, people have begun to experience some of the costs of the bank bailout and the several wars the government is fighting, and they don’t like it. In Massachusetts, a new $5 charge for face time at the RMV to renew licenses had to be hurriedly dropped in the face of widespread anger. Everyone who visits a doctor is now faced with additional copayments and reductions in insurance coverage. The middle class is being squeezed in a cynical move to transfer wealth from its pockets to those of the super-rich.

Why are people opposed to change, any kind of change? Unlike the postwar era, the changes people are seeing are all bad – houses are being foreclosed, jobs are being eliminated, whole towns are losing their sources of employment, and there’s nowhere else to go. So they are digging in their heels out of fear.

Their resistance takes many forms, not just opposition to government. For example, although an unlikely vanguard of the workers’ movement, Stop and Shop employees are fighting the giant retailer’s proposal for a freeze on wage increases over the next three years coupled with higher healthcare contributions. The union, still negotiating, is backed by an overwhelming strike vote. What has incensed the checkout staff and baggers is the way they are being made to sacrifice while Stop and Shop made record profits last year. As veteran employee Jay Babineau said: “We’re just trying to get a part of the dream. We just want fair wages. They told us about the record profits and they are really just offering us pennies, nickels and dimes. It’s just not fair.”

Let’s see what the public reaction is to their defiance.


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Filed under political analysis, populism

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