What once made America a great and unique country was that it strove to value every person's work, whether it was humble or grand. Whether ad exec, administrator, carpenter, cowhand, janitor or physician, every American could aspire to raising a family and owning a home and sending the kids to good schools from K through MBA.
This was what set America apart from the historical default setting wherein the rich brandished a free ticket in life while everyone else toiled in misery and hopelessness. In America, while the rich could enjoy their private country clubs and Chrysler Imperials, ordinary dock workers could afford a round at a very good muni and a Chevy Bel Air. Thanks to planned obsolescence, everyone got a new car every three years, with a chance to measure his -and it was his - progress from Ford to Mercury to Lincoln.
Thanks to progressive income taxes that went as high as 70% or 90% on the richest Americans, all Americans enjoyed roads and bridges and airports and schools and libraries that were new or in good repair. Thanks to progressive income taxes that recirculated wealth through the economy instead of having it disappear into labyrinthine shelters of arcane financial instruments, all Americans enjoyed living and working in a country where businesses and industries innovated and built the wonders of a century right here in the U. S. of A.
Well, not all Americans. And, when the Civil Rights Act set that straight, a goodly chunk of Americans banded together in the Republican Party, decided there wouldn't be any more of that nonsense, and cut taxes to 35%. No sense in paying good money for that lot to get ahead.
President Barack Obama, one of that lot who got ahead, Thursday presented his remarkably ambitious jobs proposal to a joint session of Congress, and, as though intent on proving his un-that-lot-ish centristness, some portions of his speech drew raucous applause from Democrats while Republicans sat stone-faced, and other portions of his speech drew frighteningly enthusiastic applause from Republicans while Democrats sat on their hands.
There was much that was good in Obama's speech, although even taken as a whole, its $447 billion in proposals weren't going to be enough to cover the $1 trillion hole carved into the current economy. And, of course, Republicans had no intention of passing much of the President's proposal.
House Majority Leader and designated GOP attack dog Eric Cantor (R-VA) Friday told the House, "I feel, and have said so many times since the President's speech, that this is an opportunity for us to set aside the differences that we have, because good people can differ, and begin to focus on things like allowing tax relief for small businesses, like allowing for the rollback of regulatory impediments that stand in the way of small business growth."
Of course, when Cantor said, "small business," he doubtless wanted the rubes to envision some earnest exurban duffer with a pickup truck and a box of Sears Craftsman tools, not the $30 million oil and gas pipeline companies, or the 900-employee petrochemical manufacturing firms he was really talking about.
And, when Cantor said, "set aside the differences," he meant Obama and Democrats and Americans as a whole shouldn't hold their collective breath waiting for Republicans to embrace much of the President's $447 billion proposal.
"I certainly would like to see us be able to peel off some of these ideas," Cantor told reporters.
As much as Republicans loved tax cuts for the rich, they deplored tax cuts for the middle class and poor, so they weren't likely to embrace Obama's pitch to expand the current 2% cut in payroll taxes to 3.1%.
"If the goal is job creation, Leader Cantor has long believed that there are better ways to grow the economy and create jobs than temporary payroll tax relief," Cantor spokesperson Brad Dayspring recently told the New York Times.
As much as Republicans loved their pork, they were unlikely to embrace repairing and upgrading 35,000 schools in America, some of which might be attended by that lot. They were unlikely to fall for fixing the bridge between House Speaker John Boehner's Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Kentucky, although each was surely grinding his teeth at having to pass up such a nice fat chunk of pork.
And least likely of all to fan the flames of Republican ardor was Obama's call to raise taxes on America's wealthy patrons of the GOP.
"I'm also well aware that there are many Republicans who don't believe we should raise taxes on those who are most fortunate and can best afford it," Obama said. "But here is what every American knows: While most people in this country struggle to make ends meet, a few of the most affluent citizens and most profitable corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes nobody else gets."
Poll after poll revealed that more than six in ten Americans wanted the rich to pay more in taxes to close the nation's budget deficit and bolster Social Security and Medicare.
"Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs?" Obama asked doubtless rhetorically, as every Republican picked up a Number Two pencil and filled in the radial next to "tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires," while grinning and congratulating themselves for knowing the right answer to that one.
More than the $4,000 bribe to hire unemployed Americans, more than the payroll tax cut for $30 million oil and gas pipeline companies, more than the trade bills with Panama and Columbia and South Korea that would likely create more jobs in those countries than in America, Republicans' favorite part of Obama's speech was surely the part where Obama asked Congress' Supercommittee to find another half trillion in spending cuts to offset his $450 billion jobs pitch.
Cantor and Republicans doubtless would love to "peel off" the half trillion in cuts while nixing the bridge-building and road-repairing and school-fixing and teacher-hiring. Republicans would doubtless love to take the payroll tax giveaway to employers while nixing the payroll tax cut for workers. Republicans would doubtless love to snag the free trade deals with Columbia and South Korea while axing business and environmental regulations and worker protections.
Republicans would love to take everything Obama offered in the way of more tax cuts, tax breaks and tax subsidies for corporations and the rich, while chucking everything in the way of creating more jobs.
Fortunately for Republicans, $447 billion in jobs spending wasn't going to plug a $1 trillion hole in the economy. Fortunately for Republicans, there was enough among Obama's proposals for Republicans to "peel off" and appear cooperative without really helping the economy.
Fortunately for Republicans, they could still make sure no one would restore that long-ago America where everyone's work, whether teacher or firefighter or common laborer, was valued enough to provide a middle class life with a home, self-respect, a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage.
If they couldn't, Gov. Rick Perry might never become President Rick Perry.