By Ken Trainor
Normally, I don't respond to online comments about my columns. I figure people have a right to react. I don't need to have the last word. But I can't resist replying to "Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park," who posted the following comment about my recent column, Long live the (new) American Dream [Oct. 26]:
"Mr. Trainor assigns blame everywhere except on the news media, the Fourth Estate. Perhaps Mr. Trainor can prove me wrong by citing pre-recession columns he has authored that provide his same perspective as insight, rather than hindsight. Ironic that his column resides in the WJ, which is financially based on free market consumer and real estate ads, that are complicit in the mass consumerism and housing bubble [with which] he now finds fault."
Did I write about economic inequality and the price we would eventually pay for it before the recession began in 2008? Hell, I've been hitting this topic since the beginning of Ronald Reagan's second term when I first started columnizing.
Working backwards in my files, it didn't take long to find evidence. In "Where's the integrity, John?" (about Republican presidential candidate John McCain), I "ghost wrote" a speech for Barack Obama (don't think he ever used it), which indicated a need for "economic policies that don't favor the rich." Ironically, that column came out on Sept. 17, 2008, the day of the financial-sector meltdown that brought us to the brink of another Great Depression. It was quite a day. Look it up.
I didn't have to search beyond 2006, however, to find enough economic inequality references to fill this space. On Nov. 15 ("Even Rip Van Winkle didn't sleep this long"), I wrote about America's quarter-century enchantment with the free market (our state religion): "As you might imagine after such a long sleep, a few things need attending. Big things. Global warming, the vast gulf between rich and poor at home and abroad ... a world of suffering and inequality that breeds terrorism ..."
"Our challenge, in other words, is nothing less than humanizing capitalism and making it work for all people, not just the fortunate few. Indeed, we will have to create an economically just world because it's the only way to combat the root causes of terrorism."
On Oct. 4, 2006 ("Are we screwed?"), I referred to a press release that reported, "For approximately 20 percent of Americans with no bank account and few assets, life can be a daily gamble."
"Twenty percent?" I wrote, "This country has a population of approximately 300 million. Twenty percent is 60 million people with no bank account and few assets. Wow, looks like the free market over the last quarter century ... didn't exactly raise all boats, did it? At the height of the Depression, FDR said he saw a third of the nation poorly fed, housed and clothed. Twenty percent isn't far removed."
The week after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 ("We can't win the war on terror without justice," reprinted on Sept. 6, 2006), I observed, "This is actually a war between the haves and have-nots. It's a war the world has been waging since the very beginning of civilization. Like it or not, we are all soldiers in that conflict. So are our children and grandchildren. And it's a war the haves cannot win, not forever. We cannot sustain a world where the gap between rich and poor grows too wide. The wider it gets, the worse the backlash. No amount of might is powerful enough to contain it."
On Aug. 23, 2006, in "Here's my 'liberal agenda,'" I wrote, "Government, at its best, serves as an effective check on the excesses of free-market capitalism, which concentrates the nation's wealth in the hands of a very few. The greater the gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots, upper and working classes, the weaker our country. The gap is much wider now than 26 years ago. Government's proper role is to help reduce that gap — without smothering the economic engine of the free (within reason) market. For the past 26 years, everything has been skewed in favor of the rich. It's time for economic justice to become a national priority again."
I wasn't the only member of the media writing on this topic, but I would agree with "Enuf" that the Fourth Estate (the corporate media in particular) deserves its share of blame for not doing "enuf."
As to his/her comment that Wednesday Journal makes its living in a capitalist system, no one is suggesting that capitalism be abolished. What I'm saying is:
a) Poorly regulated capitalism is bad for us.
b) Excessively regulated capitalism is also bad for us.
c) What is good for us falls between those extremes: effectively regulated capitalism.
The Republican Party and their Wall Street constituency don't want to join the conversation necessary to define what "effective" regulation means, which prevents us from ever achieving it. The result is the mess we're stuck in.
Change will come only when we've all had "enuf" of those who defend and/or profit from the status quo.