Tilting at Windmills

May/June 2011 Supreme Amnesia…A slam Dunc…Your thoughts, please…

By Charles Peters

There appears to be not a shred of guilt on Wall Street. Money controls Congress in ways that are painfully obvious but also more subtle, like the need of members to spend their evenings and weekends fund-raising so they no longer have the social interaction of Republican and Democratic families getting together for dinner in the evenings, and picnics on weekend afternoons, learning to know that there are human beings on the other side of the aisle. And more recently they have been kept apart not only by the need to raise money, but by the Republicans’ fear of angering the Tea Partiers.

What had been an assertion of group rights became a self-righteous assertion of group privileges without regard to the interest of others. Nothing illustrates that better than the senior citizens who screamed obscenities at those who supported health care for everyone even as they indignantly demanded the government not mess with their Medicare. The sickness is everywhere.

Behind the pursuit of money is a selfish indifference or—as it often appears to be in the case of Wall Street—contempt for the interests of others. Even those who are not motivated by greed are guilty of selfishness, as is the case with those teachers who are more concerned with protecting tenure than with educating children. “Let those hillbillies go get shot” was the title of a Monthly article about the prevailing attitude toward military service. And of course, just last December, Democrats and Republicans joined in the not-so-noble cause of tax cuts even for our wealthiest citizens. Remember the phrase “share any burden” from Kennedy’s inaugural? What deaf ears it would fall on today!

Can we change? I know we can, because I’ve seen it, lived it. The values that came to the fore in the ’30s and ’40s were a reaction to the selfish obsession with wealth that peaked in the late ’20s in a mad rush to get rich fast.

I hope my book will help inspire a similar reaction today. And I would be grateful to readers who might have ideas they could share.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


  • clarence swinney on May 11, 2011 9:45 AM:

    OLDUGLYMEANHONEST madmadmad at Inequality in America

  • acura cake on May 25, 2011 10:18 AM:

    Greetings from your ex neighbor, the one who wore a flight suit to work. Just wanted to let you know I read the site everyday, and even though I don't agree with everthing on it, the writing is better than anything else about poitics on the internet. The piece about New Orleans a few months back is the best account of present local politics in my new hometown I've seen anywhere.
    Take care up there. I'll continue to peruse this site. Make me miss DC just the slightest bit.
    Oh, and great ariticle as usual. I've come to expect nothing less.

  • Gerald on May 27, 2011 4:16 PM:

    I agree we should help those who are less fortunate, and my family and I try to help in several ways. I also agree with many of your points in this commentary. But I don't agree that caring for others and for our society extends to willingness for myself or my children to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Serving in the past decade, and for that matter during any other wartime period, demands far more than I am willing to sacrifice, particularly when I do not support our military's conflicts, spending, policies, etc.

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