In the hit television drama The Good Wife, there's a scene where Peter Florrick, a disgraced and incarcerated former prosecutor played by Madison native Chris Noth, is talking to wife Alicia about how his conviction could be overturned, in which case "everything goes back to normal." This after she's learned, via CNN, that he betrayed their marriage vows in torrid liaisons with a prostitute, à la Eliot Spitzer.
"Peter," Alicia replies, "it's never going back to normal."
I think of this exchange whenever I hear upbeat news about the "rebounding" economy. Last week, for instance, the state Department of Workforce Development reported that unemployment in Wisconsin fell to 7.7% in May 2010, down from 8.2% in April and 8.6% in May 2009. The unemployment rate in Dane County is now just 5.2%, the lowest in the state.
That's terrific - unless you happen to be one of the 15,344 workers in Dane County still out of work, or one of many more whose sense of economic security has been severely eroded by successive waves of crises.
Anyone who's been paying attention has to feel a deep sense of betrayal. The covenant that supposedly exists between the American economic system and its people - work hard, play by the rules, get ahead - has been brusquely elbowed aside by a more urgent ethic: Those who got, get.
When banks and other financial institutions engaged in reckless practices that nearly bankrupted the economy, the political structure rushed to protect...the banks and other financial institutions. Most have weathered well the perfect storm they created.
As for the impact on ordinary citizens, just check out the foreclosure notices in the daily paper. On Tuesdays, an especially busy day (because of when these actions are filed), the State Journal usually runs dozens.
The point has been made, perhaps more emphatically than ever, that those who benefit most from the labor of others are the last to get hurt when times get tough. The nation's elected leaders make sure of that. Then they pretend otherwise, no matter how obvious it becomes, because they need the support of ordinary folk to get elected.
This is doubtless something elected leaders have been doing, to some degree, since the dawn of civilization. The question is: Now that the curtain has been pulled back and we've clearly seen what is going on, will we let everything go back to normal?
Know this: When politicians solemnly promise to devote themselves to improving the lot of ordinary working people, they're lying.
I've previously written on how state Democrats failed to pass even a modest increase in the state minimum wage, even though they now control both houses of the state Legislature and the governor's office ("Dems Don't Do the Minimum," 2/4/10). The party's leaders refused even to bring the matter to the floor, to avoid embarrassing party members who would have voted against it.
That's par for the course. But do we really have to keep falling for it?
This election year, when Democrats running for office champion the cause of ordinary workers, let's make sure they get some feedback loud and clear: "Liars!"
Tom Barrett, the Dems' choice for governor, purports to be a champion of working people. But apparently the words "minimum wage" appear on his campaign website only once, in a posted comment on a blog:
"Will you support a higher minimum wage - or even a living wage? Will you support legislation that ensures workers share the success for their hard work?"
The response from a campaign flack was to blow smoke about Barrett's commitment to creating and retaining jobs, which he's elsewhere promised to do with "targeted tax cuts" and "putting Madison on a diet," as though eight years of state government cutbacks under Gov. Jim Doyle were not harsh enough.
In 2005, as mayor of Milwaukee, Barrett signed a slight increase in the city minimum wage. Democrat Doyle reacted by pushing through a permanent ban on the ability of local governments to set higher minimums.
Now Barrett apparently doesn't even talk about raising the minimum. And even if he did, who would - or should - believe him?
My purpose is not to suggest there are no differences between the Democratic and Republican approach. It's just that these differences are not, in the end, all that consequential for people struggling to get by.
Democrats talk a good game, then invariably betray the people who vote for them. Republicans, meanwhile, wave the flag and tout social issues they don't do anything about, so they can run on these same issues again.
Both parties are truly, madly, deeply aligned with powerful special interests and an economic system that promotes the upward distribution of wealth.
Does that sound like an obvious thing to say?
Good. Then maybe we won't need any more reminders.