(My latest Huffington Post blog and column for this week's Newton County News)
For the last few months, the buzzword around the nation has been the 99 percent.
Supposedly, representatives of 99 percent of the population of this country are the ones who are occupying Wall Street and numerous other places. From their vantage point, one percent of the country is basking in luxury while the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet.
However, those are not the percentages that tell the true story of the challenges that face this country. It’s the 78 percent that appear to be the root of the problem.
A page one story in the weekend edition of USA Today noted that only 22 percent of Congress ever served in the military.
There was a time when the military was considered a steppingstone for a career in politics. Veterans returned from service, whether it was overseas or stateside, became involved in local politics, and some of them moved through the ranks, slowly and steadily, eventually reaching Congress or statewide office.
Many of those politicians were also the products of public or parochial schools, and when they completed their military service they attended state colleges through the G. I. Bill. With that kind of background, they were able to maintain a connection with working class Americans because they were working class Americans.
With the advent of the all-volunteer force in the 1970s, the idea of a shared responsibility for this country fell by the wayside. The military continued to be the route many working class Americans took, while the upper crust went directly into business and politics. With the increasing importance and cost of television advertising, politics became primarily a goal for those who had the money or could make connections with those who did. The ranks of elected officials, once filled with people who had made their way through public or parochial schools, the military, and state colleges, became more and more a country club for those who attended exclusive private schools, never even thought about military service, and graduated from the most expensive universities in the land.
The results of this disconnect with our traditions have never been more apparent as in the past decade. Consider the following:
-The system rewards those who are stockholders, while penalizing those who are workers. Tax incentives are actually provided for those who ship jobs overseas.
-Politicians in both parties have no problem with advocating military adventures in far-off lands and why should they? Few of the 78 percent have any relatives who are serving. Those who have served in the military are the last ones to think that sending in troops is the solution to every problem.
-Public schools have been labeled as the root of all evil. Many of the 78 percent are contemptuous of public schools since they have little or no connection with them, resent their money going toward them, and would love to turn their operation over to their friends in the financial community- the people who attend the same parties, send their children to the same private schools, and, more importantly, fork over the big bucks for political campaigns.
I have something in common with the 78 percent- I, too, did not serve in the military. But I did have a solid public school education and grew up in a community where military service is revered and the loss of lives overseas is considered to be something to be weighed seriously.
I teach in a school where the Pledge of Allegiance is still said every morning and where nearly every one of my students, has a relative who is serving in the military. Sadly, the decisions on the risks they must take are left in the hands of those who see them as pawns in a global chess game.
Those people who bypassed the long-accepted path to political stature have also invaded the ranks of our judicial system, providing the framework for the politicians with decisions that afford corporations the exalted status that once was the exclusive preserve of individuals.
The cost of this sea change in not only American politics, but in our way of life, has been dear. We have few in either party who understand the plight of those who are unfortunate enough to be without money, without jobs, and in many cases, without hope.
So while the protests continue to target the one percent, it is the 78 percent that should concern us. With no connection to the institutions that have served as the foundation of the American Dream, and no loyalty to anyone who does not contribute thousands to their re-election campaigns, it is they who appear intent on leading us down the road to ruin.