Tom was also a daily communicant. He had eight children to boot, which would make him either a social conservative or highly unlucky in his methods of birth control.
He never attended college. Such places were beyond the reach of working class people of his day. But he read extensively not only “to better himself,” as the phrase went back then, but because he had a deep curiosity as to how the world worked and how humanity fit therein.
Though he was no slash and burn anarchist, he was suspicious of power structures and never trusted bosses in secular or religious life. He was adamant that office employees, like himself, should vote for those who looked out for the interests of all workers.
He was not a judgmental man but he would have been mystified by that odd species, the “Reagan Democrat.” He believed that Jesus Christ was the first socialist and was wary of any dealings with the rich or powerful. He was known to recite Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in pub and teahouse to bolster this claim. Nonetheless, when all was said and done, he believed that religion was a private affair between people and their creator.
I thought of Tom often during the recent financial crisis, or should one say, debacle. Like many people of his generation he was scared to death of unbridled free markets. His parents had gone hungry in the depression of the 1930s and he traced his fear of unrestrained capitalism back to the Great Hunger of 1847 when Britain’s Liberal politicians refused to tinker with the laissez-faire economic system of the day.
Tom’s view of capitalism was that the biggest pig at the trough looks out for himself. He would have been staggered by the bailout of the investment banking system. He would have felt that after the biggest pig keeled over from gluttony and smothered her piglets, the farmer then enlisted every agricultural laborer in the parish to, not only come in and prop her up but beg, borrow and steal to fill her empty trough again.
I mean, let’s face it: these banks speculated wildly – and stupidly – in unstable debts because the profits were higher than the usual “organic” methods of making billions. This practice continued unabated until the inevitable demand to see the emperor’s new clothes. At that crucial point, unfortunately, someone blinked, as Sarah would put it.
Then, when the whole deck of cards threatened to come crashing down, we suckers were informed that this looming disaster was too “complicated” to understand; in fact we’d better get out our Chinese credit card and charge another 700 billion to the 700 we’ve already run up in Iraq before we’re all out on the street and heading for Beijing to wash dishes.
How both ironic and incredible that robust American capitalism has been brought to its knees by an asleep at the wheel, God and country, Republican administration and is being rescued by the descendants of Mao Tse Tung.
So, in one fell swoop, say goodbye to any health insurance reform, bolstering of social security, looking after Iraq veterans, you name it.
The poor speculators down in Wall Street must be bailed out. Enough said; get the Chinese comrades on the phone and ratchet up that deficit because no one can be asked to pay any extra taxes for this cluster f@#k as we call it in the music business.
You could tell that poor George Bush, the first president with an MBA, couldn’t figure out the hell what was going on – anyone still want to have a beer with him? One would have imagined, however, that John McCain could have made a fist of it, after all he was one of the Keating Five during the savings and loan crisis when upwards of 150 billion was whistled away.
And what of the Democrats? Nice to see Barack getting good advice from Robert Rubin, former chairman of Goldman Sachs! Or dare one say that the “party of the people” was hustled again by this new economic WMD.
It’s not that I’m saying that a bailout wasn’t necessary – although my bet is that most of the “toxic” debt is not Joe Public overreaching by a couple of grand and a shifting interest rate in his quest to buy a home – but speculators issuing paper for expensive land and buildings that they hoped would continue appreciating in the recent real estate bubble.
For 700 billion, though, we deserve a thorough debate. Because it’s time to take stock of the country we live in. Do we wish to continue on this economic rollercoaster where the rich are revered even when they rip us off? Where children are taught that if they don’t make Wall Street or its equivalent they will become failures, and every career that seeks to merely educate, inform or look after their community is looked down upon?
Capitalism will survive with or without this bailout. But in the end we as a people are the losers for we have missed a great opportunity to take stock of ourselves and our dreams for our children.