I must admit the seven-year reign of Bush & Co. makes me yearn for the years of Ronald Reagan, when the term "conservative" merely meant right-wing, rather than full-tilt, bull-goose loopy.
Still, let's not get our national memory so warped that we put "the Gipper" on a pedestal, as today's far-right ideologues want to do. Bad enough they keep trying to stick Reagan's name on public facilities all across America (apparently oblivious to the irony of naming these things for the guy who claimed to hate government) – but now they're pushing to put his mug on Mount Rushmore. I kid you not! One website even offers a retouched photo of Rushmore that superimposes Ronnie's likeness onto the mountaintop, right alongside Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln.
Even more hilarious is the scramble by this year's GOP presidential contenders to one-up one another in their claims to be the new Reagan. This is a hoot, because if Reagan were running today, the ideologically correct voters who control the Republican primary elections would savage him for his record on practically every hot-button issue.
Start with abortion. As governor of California in 1967, Reagan the Conservative Icon signed a law allowing abortions six years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized them in the Roe v. Wade decision. How about taxes? Reagan signed a billion-dollar tax increase in California and later signed several tax hikes as president. And, ooooo, looky here: In 1986, Reagan signed a national law giving amnesty to illegal immigrants. With stands like these, the beloved Gipper would be running behind Duncan Hunter in today's Republican race!
The real Reagan certainly doesn't deserve the heights of Mount Rushmore, but neither did he fall to the depth of today's extremists trying to claim his image.
What happened to the good ol' American notion of the common good – the idea that we're all in this together, trying to build a strong, unified society by fairly sharing the economic gains that all of us help produce?
Oh, sure, we've always had the rich and the poor, but at least we've tried in the past to narrow that gap, recognizing that a cohesive democratic society – a morally secure society – is dependent on maintaining both a vibrant middle class and a broad perception of fairness. Today, the powers that be – both corporate and governmental – have abandoned all pretense of shared sacrifice, shared gains, and a shared future. The very, very rich are being made ever and ever richer, and they are sailing blithely away from the rest of us, no longer moored to America's egalitarian ideals.
The latest indicator of this extreme change in our nation's guiding ethic comes from FairEconomy.org, which analyzes CEO pay, perks, and pensions. Its latest survey finds the chieftains of Fortune 500 corporations averaged $10.8 million each in pay in 2006 – more than 364 times the annual paychecks of the average U.S. worker! On top of this, CEOs salted away an average of $1.3 million in pension gains in 2006, and they averaged another $438,000 in such freebies as personal travel on corporate jets, country-club fees, and even corporate payment of their taxes.
Well, asserts the CEO clique, we run huge corporations and are simply being paid accordingly. However, FairEconomy.org compared the 20 highest-paid U.S. chief executives to the 20 highest paid in Europe. The European chiefs took only one-third as much pay – even though they ran companies that generated $19 billion more in sales than the U.S. companies.
The ever-spreading pay gap has become a sundering chasm in our society. To learn more about it and to see some proposals for bridging this dangerous fissure, go to FairEconomy.org.
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