Bill Moyers on American Society

Here’s an exerpt from a speech given by Bill Moyers at Occidental College on March 22, 2007. A transcript of the entire speech is publshed on commondreams.org.

America was not supposed to be a country of “winner take all.” Through our system of checks and balances we were going to maintain a healthy equilibrium in how power works – and for whom. Because equitable access to public resources is the lifeblood of any democracy, we made primary schooling free to all. Because everyone deserves a second chance, debtors, especially the relatively poor, were protected by state laws against their rich creditors. Government encouraged Americans to own their own piece of land, and even supported squatters’ rights. In my time, the hope of equal opportunity became reality for millions of us. Although my parents were knocked down and almost out by the Great Depression, and were poor all their lives, my brother and I went to good public schools. The GI Bill made it possible for him to go to college. When I bought my first car with a loan of $450 I drove to a public school on a public highway and stopped to rest in a public park. America as a shared project was becoming the engine of our national experience.

Not now. Beginning a quarter of a century ago a movement of corporate, political, and religious fundamentalists gained ascendancy over politics and made inequality their goal. They launched a crusade to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual and cultural frameworks that have held private power. And they had the money to back up their ambition.

Let me read you something:

When powerful interests shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they often get what they want. But it is ordinary citizens and firms that pay the price and most of them never see it coming. This is what happens if you don’t contribute to their campaigns or spend generously on lobbying. You pick up a disproportionate share of America’s tax bill. You pay higher prices for a broad range of products from peanuts to prescriptions. You pay taxes that others in a similar situation have been excused from paying. You’re compelled to abide by laws while others are granted immunity from them. You must pay debts that you incur while others do not. You’re barred from writing off on your tax returns some of the money spent on necessities while others deduct the cost of their entertainment. You must run your business by one set of rules, while the government creates another set for your competitors. In contrast, the fortunate few who contribute to the right politicians and hire the right lobbyists enjoy all the benefits of their special status. Make a bad business deal; the government bails them out. If they want to hire workers at below market wages, the government provides the means to do so. If they want more time to pay their debts, the government gives them an extension. If they want immunity from certain laws, the government gives it. If they want to ignore rules their competition must comply with, the government gives its approval. If they want to kill legislation that is intended for the public, it gets killed.

I’m not quoting from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital or Mao’s Little Red Book. I’m quoting Time Magazine. From the heart of America’s media establishment comes the judgment that America now has “government for the few at the expense of the many.”

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