Congressman Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama need to learn a lesson from history: Any government that cannibalizes its children, its elderly, its working poor and middle class to support an unprecedented massive military buildup along with tax cuts to benefit the rich, eventually brings the economy and the people to their knees.
Such arrogance in turn leads to a day of reckoning when that government is forced into a corner where its untruths no longer soothe, where, to protect itself, it brings its vast military might to bear against its own angry citizens – and thereby destroys itself.
As Obama and Congress ignore a populace saddled by the worst unemployment since the Great Depression, they dicker over which social programs to slash, while refusing to cut a cent from the almost $1 trillion required to build the F–35 jet fighter, the most expensive single defense project in history.
Maybe someday those jets and the pilots that fly them will be asked to rain down destruction on their own people.
And, if history is true to itself, after that senseless massacre will come the waves of unstoppable, righteous street rage, the onrush of a fearless citizenry with nothing to lose.
Picture angry chronically unemployed Generation–Xers, down–and–out vets from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and aging baby boomers robbed of Social Security and Medicare assaulting hallowed government strongholds and the headquarters of corporate arrogance.
This scenario is no liberal rant. It is an iron rule of history.
The rule played out in Rome under the Caesars, in Russia under the Czars. And it is playing out now across the Middle East, where a tiny power elite spent billions on modern weaponry, which it is now using against desperate people forced to live hand–to–mouth for too long.
It can happen here. In fact, it has.
In America, our own Revolution’s cry against tyrannical “taxation without representation” arose when an enflamed merchant class was forced to repay the British Crown’s horrendous French and Indian War debt. Our founding fathers, remember, were audacious revolutionaries ripe for the hanging.
Just 150 years later, our government fired on its own despairing citizens. The First World War required a massive military buildup that fed corporate greed.
The resulting economic bubble burst with the Great Depression. In 1932, embattled Republican President Herbert Hoover turned the weapons of the Great War against our own citizens.
That year, some 25,000 penniless, workless veterans of the Great War marched on Washington. They encamped with wives and children in shantytowns, resolute to stay until paid the war bonuses the government promised.
Hoover barricaded himself in the White House. The Army was called up, and for most of the sweltering summer of 1932, Washington looked like Cairo circa 2011 – peaceful protesters in a tense standoff with troops.
Hoover denounced the vets as communists.
On July 28th, Washington was transformed again, its streets mirroring those of today’s Tripoli, Sanaa, Manama, or Damascus. Bayonet–wielding infantry, mounted cavalry, tanks and teargas drove out the bonus marchers, killing some. The Army torched the shantytowns as well–to–do Washingtonians in yachts cruised close to watch the show.
The rout of the bonus marchers led directly to the rout of the Republican Party. It brought Franklin Roosevelt to power and his New Deal arrived just in time to prevent a national uprising.
Roosevelt’s empowerment of the American middle class became the dynamo for the greatest growth in prosperity by any nation on earth in history. But the Robber Barons bided their time.
Under presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, they re–jiggered the U.S. regulatory and tax system to re–enthrone the corporate elite.
Now We the People watch as the administration and congress put on a grotesque public show of feigned fiscal responsibility. The military industrial complex remains sacrosanct, as are bailouts to banks and corporate welfare in the billions.
As President Obama and Congressman Ryan dither over the budget they – and all elected officials – should consider carefully the warning of President John F. Kennedy: Those who foolishly seek power by riding the back of the tiger end up inside.
Glenn Scherer is senior editor of Blue Ridge Press. To comment go to www.blueridgepress.com.