To paraphrase conservative icon Barry Goldwater, "extremism in defense of injustice is no virtue." The deal that went down in Washington on the debt ceiling proves that. It is a bold step in the wrong direction.
With the president and leaders of both parties pushing rapid passage, with Wall Street breathing a sigh of relief and the media celebrating that they "got it done," many will think this is a done deal. But this debate has only just begun.
Understand what this deal means: It isn't really about deficit reduction. It is about who pays the bill for debts the Congress has already racked up, largely from two unfunded wars, an unfunded prescription drug bill and the economic mess caused by Wall Street's excesses.
Under this deal, Wall Street, the wealthy, the big corporations will not have to share in the burden of cleaning up the mess. There are no, zero, revenues in the mandated cuts in the bill. Instead it dictates cuts in discretionary programs - some $900 billion over 10 years. Working families will pay the bill with cuts in support for schools, for public health, for transportation, for clean energy, and for medical care through Medicaid.
Then the bill sets up a rump group in Congress - 12 legislators divided between House and Senate, Republican and Democrat - to determine another $1.5 trillion in cuts over 10 years from Social Security and Medicare and other entitlements and/or increased revenues from closing loopholes or raising taxes. Republicans have already pledged to oppose any tax hikes even on the wealthiest Americans. So Social Security and Medicare are set up for the hit - or a stalemated committee will trigger deep, across-the-board cuts in both defense and domestic spending, with Medicare particularly at risk.
This is not where most Americans are. Americans sensibly want the budget deficits brought under control. But they want Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid protected. Most Americans think that the big corporations and the wealthy should pay more in taxes. Those who have done well in America should do well by America.
Most Americans are looking for a plan that will get the economy moving and put people back to work. This plan will cut jobs and preclude the federal government from acting on the economy. It will add to children in poverty, does nothing for families losing their homes, will increase the unemployed.
Instead of the values of most Americans, this deal caters to a small faction of legislators irresponsible enough to hold the economy hostage to exact ransom that they would not be able to get in the normal legislative process. House Republican leaders now say that they can repeat this every time the debt ceiling must be lifted.
This injustice cannot stand. The defenders of privilege have had their way. The people must organize and counter the force of organized money with the power of organized citizens. Legislators have been cowed by the heat generated by a small minority of tea party zealots. It is time for them to be scorched by the fury of the vast majority, whose values are being trampled.
With the president and the Republican leaders in Congress committed, some say nothing can be done. But when the Civil Rights Movement began, African Americans had no right to vote. We were locked out of public facilities, isolated in separate, impoverished schools, excluded from economic opportunities. We felt powerless.
But Dr. Martin Luther King taught us we had no choice but to act. "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." So, too, today, injustice will not be challenged by those who benefit from it. This injustice must not stand, but only citizens acting independently of both parties can turn this around.
In a conniving way, the ceiling has been raised and is exacting a pound of flesh from the most vulnerable people. We must not allow the floor to be lowered and expand the cracks in it. The most vulnerable must be protected.
We have never lost a battle for social justice that we have fought, and we have never won a battle unless we fought. For this cause, to heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable, it is fighting time.