The observation of how the Senate, under the callous and inhuman rule of Mitch McConnell, inadequately and urgently responded to the suffering and needs of unemployed Americans, and largely denied their reality, was reminiscent of a scene by American author William Dean Howell’s 1890 novel A Hazard of New Fortunes.
In the novel, Howells tells the story of the married bourgeois couple Basil and Isabelle March moving from Boston to New York with their children, while Basil seeks a mid-life career change from insurance manager to editor.
In New York, especially when they are laboriously looking for an apartment, they encounter a much more extensive metropolis and an urban culture that is often diverse and divided and that cares much less about human needs and suffering.
In one scene, an apparently hungry and homeless man comes up to them on the street and asks for help. Basil undertakes, with some handouts, to reproach Isabelle, warning her that the man may have been a fraud and only pretend to have to cheat on her.
Basil is responding to the effect that the man, even if it is a scam, is a real need, and he would rather fall victim to this man’s pretext than take the risk of not helping someone in real and urgent need grant. The man could only be successful if people realized that there was real poverty.
This fictional moment seems to capture the debacle of the Senate debate and the sudden public discourse on whether or not Americans earning less than $ 75,000 should pay out $ 2,000 relief checks.
The tremor and hesitation was about whether or not Americans are actually in need, and also about whether it is most effective and purposeful for Americans to give a flat $ 2,000 without any means to meet real needs and suffering .
This tremor continues as demand at the country’s food banks – the main feature of the Great Depression – rises and supply dwindles, and while millions are on the verge of eviction because they have not been able to cover their rent and have been unable to pay mortgage payments for months.
Lawrence Summers, a former economic adviser to President Obama, puts it this way:
When assessing general tax breaks, the question arises, what about the vast majority of families who are still working and whose incomes have not fallen or whose pension or social security benefits are not affected by Covid-19? For this group, the pandemic has reduced the ability to spend more than the ability to earn.
So the problem for Summers is that people aren’t open to giving out their “stimulus” checks so they’re not really helping.
Somehow the millions of unemployed Americans waiting in their cars on bread lines or about to be evicted are invisible to him, or they are just cheating on the system. For these people, the controls are an absolute relief, not an economic “incentive”. Even the language we use to describe the purpose of the controls is key to portraying the reality of the situations that overwhelming numbers of Americans face.
Nobel Prize-winning and well-known liberal economist Paul Krugman also complained that the $ 2,000 checks were not targeted enough to meet demand.
The Washington Post argued on its editorial page that the $ 2,000 relief checks were unnecessary because “the economy is significantly healed.” And they, too, agreed to Summers’ view of the checks as a useless incentive because so many restaurants and shops are not even open.
The Wall Street Journal went further, arguing that for many, the pandemic had a positive impact on their finances as they benefited from the rebound in stock markets, low interest rates, etc.
All of these voices that suddenly entered this debate fueled McConell’s power play and effectively gave him cover behind her “liberal” topics of conversation as he quoted them all as if she were the mere dummy of their ventriloquist.
Here are just a few quotes from his speech in the Senate:
* “Liberal economist Larry Summers, President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary and President Obama’s NEC director, says,” There is currently no good economic case for universal checks for $ 2,000. “
* “Even the liberal Washington Post is laughing at the political left today, demanding larger giveaways unrelated to actual needs.”
* “The Senate is not being bullied into throwing more borrowed money into the hands of the rich friends of the Democrats who don’t need the help.”
Somehow there is no need in America even though 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since last August (the Washington Post itself reported!) And the money goes to the rich, although there are actually some resources they can use to test income levels.
Well, I don’t disagree that giving $ 2,000 to someone who makes $ 75,000 or less or married couples who make $ 75,000 or less is not the best way to meet the needs of those in America who are suffering the most make less than $ 150,000 whether or not they lost their paychecks.
My problem is that these voices suddenly jump into this political debate when the suffering is severe and many Americans are desperate.
The last auxiliary law was passed in March last year. The Democrats in the house passed the HEROES bill last May.
These economists and media experts could have stepped in at any time during these months trying to find a better way on a public forum to determine how funds could be targeted and effectively directed to those who suffer most, to those in real needs – IF that is really their concern.
With all the ways you can gather data on people in this information age, you can’t tell me that we don’t have the resources together to determine who is late for rent, who depends on food banks, and so on.
Give me a break.
These “expert” voices now entering the struggle are just ideologues, tarnishing the waters and distorting reality, denying the real hardship and suffering of millions of desperate Americans.
They do not want to hear the shepherd boy trying to warmly tell them what he is seeing in their palaces.
While the $ 2,000 solution is by no means perfect, distributing funds to those who aren’t in such dire straits, at this point, like Howells’ character Basil March, I’d rather risk giving money to those who aren’t than need not to risk helping those who really suffer.
So that we understand each other. We are in the middle of an upswing and vaccinations are advancing slowly. We’ll be back at this table sooner rather than later, so now let’s give the $ 2,000 and risk not doing it as effectively and start figuring out how to really meet the needs of those who suffer.
Tim Libretti is a professor of American literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. As a longtime progressive voice, he has published numerous academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, and the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.