Tom Finneran: John Edwards Was Half Right
Friday, May 16, 2014
He always seemed a little too vain and too clever to me. I’m a Harry Truman guy and something tells me that ol’ Harry would not have much use for someone who spent so much time staring at himself in the mirror. That’s weird behavior, particularly for a guy. And his treatment of his wife Elizabeth, the mother of his children, and now dead from her battle with cancer, was both shabby and shameful.
John’s slogan back in 2008 was the slogan of “two Americas”, one America being a place where the wealthy and the connected took very good care of themselves and the other America being a place where the rest of us suffered under the heels of the elite, a ruling class which constantly conspires to keep everyone else down—down in opportunity, down in prosperity, and down in life. His campaign seemed to be a call to the barricades of Les Miserables.
I suppose that every campaign needs a theme or two but the notion that Senator Edwards was peddling seems far-fetched to the America I know. And while it may be a political tradition of sorts to bash “the rich”, it seems to be wasted energy in pursuit of a cheap sugar high.
Senator Edwards was half right about his two Americas. There are two Americas, but not in the sense of the economic royalists he first fried and then frolicked with. The cleaving of America is now occurring along wholly different lines than previous generations witnessed.
History and conscience inform us that the issues of race, slavery, and segregation were the great dividers in American society, creating at least two if not several “Americas”, not all of which were happily or ever melded after the Civil War. Indeed, the periods of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, along with long-term Southern hostility and callous Northern indifference, combined to create legacies and suspicions that remain as barriers to “one America” even today. Sadly, race remains a very long bridge for all of us to cross.
America also had the era of the robber barons where enormous economic wealth and influence was gained and held by an elite few, often at the brutal expense and treatment of immigrant laborers, including women and children. That period of “two Americas” probably began its slide around the time of Robert LaFollette and Teddy Roosevelt, accelerating toward a growing middle class during the administrations of FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower. During these years the influence of labor unions was most helpful in addressing the grim and frightening realities of many American families. World War II was also an equalizer of sorts as America’s ingenuity and might was often best displayed by the farm boys of the South and Midwest as well as the city kids of the coasts. And the GI Bill, opening doors to college for America’s returning servicemen, was an accelerant to ever greater economic opportunity for millions of Americans.
Today in America our divide is more cultural in nature. Here I do not speak of culture in the sense of Irish, Italian, Japanese, or African culture. Rather, I speak of it in the social sense of a commitment to one’s spouse and one’s children. Absent such a commitment, the odds are badly stacked against everyone involved. Absent such a commitment, spiritual, mental, financial, and social poverty result, leading to one of the “two Americas” we bemoan. The other America is an America that gets three very basic things right and they do it in the right order. Those three things are education, work, and marriage before children.
The statistics around those three milestones are staggering to consider. If you finish school, get a job, and marry before having children, in that order, then your odds of living in poverty in America are utterly negligible. If however you fail to finish school, or to get a job, or if you have children without the benefit of marriage then the odds of ending up in a desperate cycle of poverty are sky-high. Heaven forbid that you’re on the wrong side of all three for then you are virtually doomed.
The existence and the disturbing growth of this “two Americas” phenomenon is very different from the exploitative reality of racial or economic divides. In those instances, there was an abuser and an abused. The abuser could be reined in and the abused could be protected. Today’s divide is behavioral and it is driven by the presence or absence of self-discipline and impulse control. There is no abuser, no “guilty party” to be reined in. And cheap political attempts to create class conflicts, to foster guilt, or to make successful Americans defensive will create backfires of resentment. Those successful Americans postponed the parties, studied hard, worked hard, and waited for children. They deserve their success and our respect.
Each of the “two Americas” makes its own bed. The fact that they sleep in two very different beds is simply a fact of life. And that fact is this—choices have consequences. Would that our culture might stop celebrating the poor choices for they have very poor outcomes………for the individuals involved and for America.
Related Slideshow: Bureau of Economic Analysis: Real Personal Income Data for New England Municipalities, 2008-2012
The U.S. Department of Commerce released "real personal income" data for both all the states, as well as metropolitan area, from 2008 to 2012.
Below are the New England metro areas ranked from least personal income growth from 2011 to 2012 -- to the most, as well as prior years.
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