Here’s a short political quiz. See if you can guess who made all the following statements:
• “The government must not interfere with business!”
• “Reduce taxes!”
• “Our national debt is something shocking!”
It’s a tough call, with so many Republican politicians to choose from. John Boehner. Mitch McConnell. Michelle Bachmann. Our own Senator Jon Kyl. The list goes on and on.
But in fact, those exact words didn’t come from any of the usual Republican suspects. They’re from Henry Gatewood, a crooked banker in the 1939 Western “Stagecoach,” directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.
If you’re amazed to hear the verbatim talking points of today’s GOP – even including a reference to the “shocking” national debt – coming from a bad guy in a 72-year-old western, welcome to the club.
Recently, I visited Monument Valley, where “Stagecoach” and a number of other John Ford classics were filmed. The lodge where I stayed showed one of his movies each night. My jaw dropped when I heard the crooked banker, who was sitting in a stagecoach clutching a satchel filled with $50,000 in stolen payroll money, utter those all-too-contemporary, conservative sound bites.
But then I realized how appropriate it was. The talking points used by scoundrels to delude the public so they can protect their power and wealth haven’t changed in nearly a century. The 1930s writers who put those words in Henry Gatewood’s mouth were mocking the powerful financial industry that was fighting the efforts of FDR’s administration to minimize the financial pain of the American people and move the country toward recovery. The same powerful interests are blocking today’s recovery using the same old tactics.
Gatewood, who complained about government interfering with business, was hauled off to jail at the end of the film. (To watch the 30-second Henry Gatewood clip from “Stagecoach,” go to http://bit.ly/oBEwSk.)
Plenty of the CEOs and top managers of today’s banks and financial institutions who scream bloody murder about government regulation deserve the same fate. They brought the economy to its knees by purposely ignoring regulations and manipulating the housing and financial markets so they could make obscene profits.
Innocent people were robbed of their jobs, their homes, their savings and their pensions by the unconscionable, illegal greed of those who profited from hedge funds and the housing bubble.
Woody Guthrie got it exactly right in a song, coincidentally written the same year “Stagecoach” was released: “Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.” America has been robbed with a fountain pen, plain and simple, and too few of the culprits have been brought to justice.
Reducing taxes, another of Gatewood’s 1939 talking points, is an endless conservative mantra these days. A vast majority of Republicans at the state and national levels have taken the No New Taxes Pledge, including every Republican member of the new Congressional Super Committee, which is supposed to come up with a debt-reduction package. If they stick to their pledge, compromise will be impossible.
The truth is, tax rates for the rich are at their lowest point since the 1950s, while the transfer of wealth from working people to the rich has reached levels we haven’t seen since the Gilded Age.
If what I’m saying sounds like “class warfare,” that’s because it is: warfare by the richest Americans against the rest of us. The lion’s share of the profits from America’s productivity increases since the 1970s has gone into the pockets of the wealthy. The income of the rest of the country remained flat until the 2008 crash, when so many Americans were shoved off a financial cliff while incomes of the wealthiest Americans soared.
Increasing tax rates for the rich won’t begin to even out the growing financial disparities in this country, but it will help us lower our debt without crippling Medicare, Social Security and other services so many people depend on to get by.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.
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