By Manifesto Joe
The America of 1934 was much worse off than the America of today. But there are some parallels: stubbornly high unemployment, pay cuts, political polarization, a field day for demagogues, a right-wing Supreme Court confronting a liberal Democrat in the Oval Office ... above all, a general feeling among the populace of, "When did my life become a horror movie?"
Today's America has Keynesian economic precedents, and something of a social safety net, with food stamps as the centerpiece. At least few people could actually starve, unlike the situation in '34. And the official unemployment rate is hovering at only around 10 percent. Even if one factors in the underemployment and other differences of today, the job situation of 1934 was certainly worse. There are no bums coming to my door, begging to do whatever work I have here for some food. My mother, who was 7 in 1934, had vivid memories of them. And, beans and cornbread was mostly what my grandmother had to offer a Depression-era tramp. My grandfather was making about a dollar a day.
But one of today's crucial differences, the social safety net -- such as it was at the start of "The Great Recession" -- now seems in peril.
Last week, the extension of unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed failed to clear the Senate. I've created a link. The vote was 57 for, 41 against, with 40 smug Republicans plus Nebraska Blue Dog Ben Nelson blocking the bill. Nearly 1 million jobless Americans will lose their unemployment benefits because the Democrats could not muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster.
If this had happened in 1934, I would dare say there would have been a lot of people out on the streets all over this country the next day, and quite possibly bloody violence. It's true that Americans were remarkably stoic through 10 miserable years during the Great Depression. But in those days, there was at least enough turbulence to show that people basically knew who their enemies -- and friends -- were. In the America of 2010, at least half the country doesn't seem to get it.
Because of the Senate's inaction, there will be a spike in homelessness and hunger. There will be many more foreclosures and evictions.
There are doubtless some right-wingers who think that unemployment benefits encourage people to remain jobless. I don't think that such people have ever had to try to live on the meager sum that unemployment insurance pays. But even if their notions were so, there are few jobs compared to the number of jobless. This will force many people out of their homes, into shelters, into already-stressed food banks -- and into suicidal despair.
I find it a bit ironic that the one Senate "Democrat" who sided with the Republicans on this is from the very state where a Depression-era food riot occurred. The eruption that took place in 1932 in Lincoln, Nebraska, is now barely a footnote in history. It was one instance in which the stoicism of heartland Americans was finally exhausted.
But, history doesn't exist for many Americans of today. It's interesting to note that one of the most active Communist Party cells in America during the 1930s was in Oklahoma City, capital of what is now one of the nation's most rock-ribbed Republican states, represented by two of the most dimwitted right-wingers in the Senate. Not that being a communist was an especially bright thing, even then -- but it's understandable when you realize what daily life was like for most Oklahomans during the Depression. I lived in that state briefly during the 1980s, and by then, you couldn't tell there had ever been a Dust Bowl. Nobody seemed to remember it.
So, what's the difference between America of 1934 and America today? Back then, people seemed to have a collective memory, at least of sorts. Today, many can't remember back any further than whatever Glenn Beck told them on Fox News yesterday. And, while there were indeed demagogues back then, and right-wing ones -- they seem to have more muscle now.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.