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Guest Column

October 30, 2010

Tired of all the fighting?

Coffee Party offers an alternative

“I can’t believe the way that they are disrespecting our President, the leader of the free world,” the woman in front of me said. “It’s horrible, I have never seen anything like this in my life,” she commented.

“I‘m ashamed of people who do that and then call themselves Americans. They should be more respectful, especially to our president, “ the other woman next to her added.

I was in a long line at Southside Mall waiting to see a movie when I overheard these two women talking.

“I couldn’t agree more,” I said to them. “What’s happened to common decency in this country? We used to be able to agree to disagree,” I added.

The women nodded, and for the next 10 minutes, we talked about the name-calling, demonizing and the fear-mongering mentality of some organizations and political parties.

In August, the Oneonta chapter of Coffee Party USA was formed. Its existence in our area has the potential to be a voice of sanity and reason. We are citizens who recognize that government is not the enemy of the people and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges we face as Americans. We want to see cooperation in government to create positive solutions.

The Coffee Party recognizes that helping to polarize our country does not address problems. As a citizens’ watch group, we hope to point out the differences between the truth and outright lies, and recognize those who are doing good work.

Most people think that the Tea Party movement began on its own in various regions of the country. What is not known, however, is that its agenda was largely constructed by special-interest groups headed by corporations and/or wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers in New York City. Their purpose in funding groups like the Tea Party is to promote candidates, who in turn will further their own pet projects.

Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and his Freedom Works group, for example, have underwritten most of the Tea Party strategies and along with various “anonymous groups,” are spending hundreds of millions in TV ads to buy our votes.

For perhaps the first time in the history of American politics, an entire network, Fox News, is supporting one political party with the ultimate goal of influencing the outcome of the elections. Some Tea Party issues, such as government spending, are quite legitimate. But one has to wonder where this group was during the Bush administration, when the bulk of those issues created the very mess the present administration inherited.

There’s more at stake in the upcoming midterm elections than just the anger of disillusioned citizens. I believe what’s occurring today is the “buying and selling of America” by special interest groups on an unprecedented scale.

The recent Citizens United decision enables corporations, foreign interest groups and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to donate monies to campaigns without disclosing their sources. Essentially, an entire foreign government could impact our own elections if it wanted to, and it would be legal.

The floodgates have opened, and our democracy is being auctioned off to the highest bidder. On average, $1.2 billion is spent by lobbyists to influence each and every member of Congress. Unfortunately, this is the reality of American politics and the resulting juggernaut in Washington today.

In thinking about the past two years under the Obama administration, I wonder how many citizens would have liked to have seen two American icons _ General Motors and Chrysler _ go under? That was an option that our president wouldn’t allow to happen. How many realize that our country came right to the brink of a financial disaster that could have been worse than the Great Depression thanks to the previous administration? And what about the Iraq war, a conflict that we now know was based on a lie and should not have been fought? Imagine how the trillions of dollars that went to fighting that war could have been used to build our cities, provide jobs and strengthen our country’s infrastructure rather than destroying and rebuilding Iraq.

The Obama administration has also increased veterans benefits, passed health insurance reform and tougher wall street/banking laws. All this was accomplished without any support from the “party of no,” a party whose leader, Mitch McConnell, has stated publicly that his only goal is to elect a Republican president in 2012. What about the best interests of America? Shouldn’t that be at the heart of the GOP rather than furthering its own agendas?

I’m not picking on the Republican Party, but it’s unfortunate that it has taken the positions it has, rather than coming up with constructive, meaningful alternatives. What happened to bipartisan solutions? I don’t believe that the GOP strategy of delaying and undermining every single program the Obama administration puts forward is being done for any reason other than political gain. We deserve more from the Grand Old Party.

The Democrats seemed to have lost their way as well. What happened to the party who used to represent the working class, fought for safer conditions on the job, human rights, social justice and a more-prudent approach to war mongering? Lately, they seem to be more like their counterparts. They at least did some good work in the last two years, but you wouldn’t know it. They seem incapable of tooting their own horn for fear of voter backlash.

Don’t get me wrong, because some of my best friends are from both parties, but somehow “the land of the free” got replaced by “who can I buy off, get what I need and make the other guy look bad.”

When I hear those lame arguments about President Obama’s socialist ideals, I cringe. Having lived in countries with socialist systems, I can speak from firsthand experience that we are nowhere near imitating those governments.

This attempt to portray President Obama’s agenda as “socialist” is another example of outright lies that are used to strike fear into the hearts of voters. Scare tactics like these and others are simply un-American and should not be believed.

When I hear the same old tired cliches like “less government” and “less taxes,” do people actually know what that means? Should we scale back on postal services to a one-day delivery? Should we cut Social Security to our seniors, who have worked hard all their lives to earn their benefits? That would be less government. What did the past tax policies of the Bush administration create? They created the worst deficits in the history of this country and the squandering of a massive surplus. Do we want to return to “less government“ like that? I don’t think so. What we need is “smarter government,” not less.        

In my opinion, President Obama has done an incredible job of saving a floundering economy despite a climate of obstructionism by the opposition party. Obviously, jobless numbers are unacceptable and job creation will not come quickly. But we are starting to see positive signs of a rebounding economy. GM has paid back its loan five years ahead of schedule with interest. Health insurance reform and infrastructural investments are ongoing and their accomplishments will eventually be substantive. None of it is perfect, but it’s a start.

The stimulus package may have not accomplished all it could, but it did help. Wall Street is above the 11,000 mark again. But for most of us, it’s Main Street that we are most concerned about and the future of our children. How can the little guy, the couple struggling to raise a family, the senior living off a fixed income or the college student make a difference against candidates who are backed by powerful special-interest groups?

The answer is simple. They can vote. Their choice can make a difference. Voters will have to dodge the onslaught of lies that are bombarding us daily on every issue and then either endorse or replace our elected representatives who are supposed to have our best interests at heart. We cannot depend on any single political party or any movement to tell us the truth or how to vote.

In times like these, we as Americans need to be reminded again and again that the strength of our nation has always come from the fairness of its citizens, the manner by which we treat each other and a common decency that everyone deserves. We are a melting pot of individuals with diverse backgrounds and traditions. Whether we are Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party, Coffee Party, Progressives or Conservatives, we are all Americans and it’s time we started acting like it.

Despite our differences, we can and should be civil to one another. Respect for the office of the president and our elected representatives should be a given. In fact, respect for everyone should be a given. It is not necessary to demonize one another in order to bolster our political parties.

Above all, we must realize that as a nation, we can achieve greatness only if we act in everyone’s best interests. Unless we start working together as a country and understand that its citizens are being undermined by powerful special interest groups, the average person out there will lose in the end. If our candidates don’t win, we should support the victor and not become “bad losers” who choose to be nothing more than obstructionist for our opponents’ agendas.

It’s time for common-sense solutions to problems, which is what groups like Coffee Party USA advocate. Vote for the best candidate, irrespective of any political party. It is our only hope of maintaining a true democracy. Elect a representative who actually stands for something _ its citizens. That’s how it should be in a democracy: the real American way.

Joseph C. Stillman represents the Oneonta chapter of the Coffee Party USA.

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