Walking down Main Street, pushing a grocery cart loaded with clothes, toys, and appliances was Marshbaum. Fastened to the right front corner of the cart was an American flag tied onto a three-foot ruler.
“Patriot!” he was calling out. “Step aside for an American patriot!”
“You posing as a homeless veteran to get spare change?” I asked after almost being body-checked by the cart.
“I’m doing exactly what the government told me to do,” he replied.
“The government told you to load up a shopping cart and run pedestrians off the sidewalk?”
“No, Ink-Breath, I just spent my $600 rebate check. I’m stimulating the economy just like George Bush and everyone running for re-election this year wanted.”
With almost no opposition, Congress had agreed to the President’s massive rebate program. Violating almost every principle of conservative politics, except the one for self-preservation of their jobs, the Republicans willingly tossed around money in a naive belief it would slow down the recession. The plan was to mint almost $120 billion for the people, mostly to make them think they should be grateful to Big Government for its concern for the “Little Guy,” even ones making up to $250,000 a year. That $600 individual rebate was also a lame disguise to make the people overlook the $50 billion that was being distributed in the form of tax rebates for American business, a Republican pet project. Only at the last minute—and only because the Democrats demanded it and agreed not to fight the Republicans who refused to allow heating assistance for the impoverished and extra money for the unemployed—did the final proposal include $300 for each of the 250,000 disabled veterans, and $600 for each of 20 million senior citizens who didn’t qualify.
The $168 billion “stimulus package,” had it not been spent on buying votes, could have given every uninsured American health care for at least a year. It could have significantly improved medical and psychiatric facilities for veterans. It could have helped rebuild New Orleans and other cities decaying from neglect. It could even have been the base for massive public works program to improve the nation’s infrastructure while giving jobs to the unemployed, a program similar to what Franklin Delano Roosevelt created to bring America out of its depression. Nevertheless, no matter what the $168 billion was used for, it was less than one-third what has been spent on the invasion and occupation of
“Marshbaum,” I asked, “how does having all this drek help the economy?”
“Just like the President demands,” he explained, “the people will be so grateful for the money they will buy things they don’t need in order to help business make more money and stop a recession.”
“Isn’t it likely,” I asked, “that the people will use the money to pay their mortgages or for overdue health care bills?”
“Only if they’re traitors who don’t want to see the end of the recession,” he said. “Me, I’m the patriot. I’m doing what I’m told.”
I picked up some of the items in Marshbaum’s cart. The clothes were made in Pakistan and Thailand. The books were printed in Hong Kong. The toaster had a label, “Hecho in Mexico.” The half-dozen toys, each probably carrying unspecified amounts of lead, came from China. “Even your American flag,” I pointed out, “was probably made in China.”
“Of course it was,” said Marshbaum proudly. “Who could afford it if it were American-made?”
“This doesn’t help Americans!” I said. Marshbaum was quick with his response.
“Bought them at Wal-Mart. Big Box hires Americans to sell the products. I buy the products. Two stimuli for the price of one!”
I reminded Marshbaum that last year 1.6 million Americans were laid off, most of them probably because not only was the economy diving lower than a nuclear sub, but that American companies had formed alliances with slave-wage companies in other countries to provide products that skilled union workers once made in America. Marshbaum didn’t even blink.
“Cheaper products are better for Americans,” he again emphasized, and then launched a discourse about how if the products were more expensive, Americans couldn’t afford them and the economy would suffer from a lack of what voodoo and government economists call “vitality.”
“If the companies hired American labor,” I reminded him, “the workers would have more money to buy more things, even if they were more expensive. The economy would recover.”
“A fifteen buck shirt is three times better than a forty-five buck shirt,” he said.
“Even if the bosses buy cheap cloth and 10-year-olds are paid pennies an hour to make shirts that the stitching falls out in two months?”
“So you buy two more shirts. No big deal. Stimulates the cash registers. More times the drawers open, the better it is for business. Now, do you have any more dumb comments or questions?”
“Just one. Why are you wheeling everything home? Is your car in the shop?”
“That’s two questions, but since reporters are math-challenged, I’ll answer both of them with one question.” His one question made far more sense than anything else he said this cool, windy afternoon. “With gas prices over three bucks a gallon, who can afford to drive?”
[Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is professor of mass communications at Bloomsburg University. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch through his website, walterbrasch.com]