Pigeons

Assessing the divisions, perceived and actual, between two groups protesting the status quo.

click to enlarge Maybe we're all pigeons now, pecking at the same bitter peanuts. - Jeanne Meinke
Jeanne Meinke
Maybe we're all pigeons now, pecking at the same bitter peanuts.

Not living for each other's sake,

Mind and the world will rarely rime;

The raindrops aiming at the lake

Are right on target every time.

—"Knowledge," by Howard Nemerov (1973)

On Friday evenings we always look forward to listening to David Brooks and Mark Shields debate the week's political developments on the PBS NewsHour, hosted by Jim Lehrer. Though often pointed, it's a genial and generous conversation, a model for political discussion seldom followed in these overheated times. In the last decade or so, we Americans have decided to demonize our enemies. (Apparently you can't reason with demons; you have to shout at them.)

David Brooks is no demon. He's intelligent, well-read and soft-spoken. He has the ability to put together a stream of impressive facts and ideas that somehow, slowly, lead his abstract conclusions to miss the target — unlike the raindrops, see above — whether it's on the Iraq War or presidential candidates. But he listens, and he reads, and occasionally shifts his position, which is the way politics used to operate. (President Obama's so-called failure to get things done is that he didn't fully realize that being reasonable no longer works.)

Brooks' interesting New York Times column, "The Wrong Inequality" — reprinted in the TBTTB (Tampa-Bay-Times-To-Be) — is a case in point. It's based on a report on "Job Income Growth & the Causes of Changing Incomes" by Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Himes; I skimmed through this document, and if Brooks has read this whole tome, more power to him!

Brooks (and this study) understand that the 99-to-1 percent division popularized by the Wall Street protesters is true, but more complicated than that. There are basically two different inequalities: Blue Inequalities (as experienced in big cities), and Red Inequalities (as experienced in small cities and almost everywhere else).

Big-city people like the Wall Street protesters actually live among the 1 percent. They pass their expensive stores and breathe the exhaust from their sleek cars; they focus their anger on the privileged set that surrounds and oppresses them. Small-city people like the Tea Party protesters see that their high school educations are pretty worthless, their health problems terrifying, their jobs outsourced, and their family structures falling apart; so they focus their resentment on the intellectual elite who seem to both displace and disdain them.

These are important distinctions, but both groups — and Brooks — should stare hard at the basic cause of their distress. The Blue Inequalities began with the Republican repeal of the Glass-Steagall regulations in 1999 that opened the door for Wall Street to gamble with our money — and still the Republicans are fighting regulations, leading to the recent collapse of MF Global, headed by ex-Democrat Governor Jon Corzine.

Similarly, the Red Inequalities stem from the Republicans blocking increases to education, weakening workers' unions, disputing climate change, and fighting universal health care. All these things hurt; even their stance on abortion hits the Red population harder. When you think about this, the Occupy Wall Streeters and the Tea Partiers have more in common than they think; let's hope they realize this in time for the election.

Brooks fudges the clean general lines that are pushing America's rich and poor farther and farther apart. Although the Republicans prattle on about religion much more than the Democrats, their positions result in an unrelenting attack on the poor. Somehow I don't think that the Gospels are being read from many Tea Party pulpits: When Christ entered the Temple and threw out the money-changers and "those who sold pigeons," He said (Matthew 21:12), "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers."

Well, maybe we're all pigeons now, pecking at the same bitter peanuts. Still, I'm always happy to hear or read David Brooks' observations; he seems sensible while identifying today's political trends and landmarks, though less adept at recognizing what's casting their shadows.

Strange about shadows, but the sun

Has never seen a single one.

Should night be mentioned by the moon

He'd be appalled at what he's done.

—"Solipsism & Solecism" by Howard Nemerov (1920-1991)

—Peter Meinke's next reading will be at Eckerd College's "Writers in Paradise," 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17th.

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