Bernie Sanders, an Independent, is Vermont's junior senator
At a time of great political division in our country President Obama has found a remarkable way to unite Americans of all political persuasions -- conservatives, progressives and moderates. With a loud and clear voice the overwhelming majority of the American people, across the political spectrum, are saying NO to another war in the Middle East -- Syria’s bloody and complicated civil war.
There are two major reasons why the people in this country are adamantly opposed to the U.S.’s military intervention in Syria.
First, of course, is the much discussed “war weariness.” The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for 12 years, and the war in Iraq dragged on for nearly nine years. The cost of these wars has been horrendous: more than 6,700 American deaths; hundreds of thousands suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder; and a financial cost of between $4 trillion to $6 trillion by the time the last war veteran receives needed care. Further, as a result of the ineptitude and dishonesty of foreign policy decisions made in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, the American people worry deeply about the unintended consequences of another military venture.
But there’s another reason why Americans are reluctant to get involved in a third Middle East war in 12 years. And that relates to the fact that Congress today has a 14 percent favorability rating and millions of Americans have absolutely no confidence that the U.S. House or Senate is even remotely concerned about their needs or views.
Here’s the truth. The middle class in this country is collapsing. The number of Americans living in poverty is nearly the highest on record and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider. And very few people in Washington give a damn.
Year after year the American people have begged the Congress and the President to move aggressively to protect the middle class from total collapse. And, so far, their leaders have failed to act. Today, the American people are demanding action to create jobs for their kids and retirement security for their parents.
They are deeply worried about the state of the economy, and they have every reason to worry. Here’s what’s going on:
- Real unemployment Counting those who have given up looking for work and those who are working part-time when they need a full time job, the real unemployment rate is 13.7 percent, not 7.3 percent.
- Average wages Non-supervisory workers have seen their wages go down by eight cents an hour since the beginning of the so-called recovery and are now a paltry $8.77 an hour.
- Income and wealth inequality From 2009-2012, the richest 1 percent of Americans captured 95 percent of all new income, while the typical middle class family has seen their income go down by more than $2,100. The Walton family, the owners of Wal-Mart, are worth more than $100 billion and own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans.
- College unaffordability Over the past 30 years, the cost of a college education has gone up by more than 250 percent. The average American graduating from college this year is drowning in debt of more than $35,000. Even worse, hundreds of thousands of high school graduates are unable to go to college each and every year not because they are unqualified, but because they can’t afford it.
- Childhood poverty. We live in the richest country in the world, yet one out of five children in the U.S. is stuck in poverty. And the reality is that children living in poverty in America today are more likely to stay in poverty when they grow up than in any other advanced country on earth.
The lesson to be learned from the widespread opposition to the war is that the American people standing together can make a difference. Building on that momentum, now is the time to demand that Congress create millions of decent-paying jobs repairing our crumbling roads, bridges, dams, culverts, schools and housing.
We need to end our dependence on dirty fossil fuels that are threatening the planet and move toward energy efficiency and renewable energy. We must increase the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour and lift millions of Americans out of poverty. We must fundamentally rewrite our trade policy so that American products, not American jobs, are our No. 1 export. We must stand up to the greed on Wall Street by breaking up too-big-to-fail banks that have done so much damage to the economy. And, we must make college affordable so that every qualified American can get the education they need to reclaim the American dream.
None of this will be easy. But the American people have proven that if they speak out, if they flood Capitol Hill with phone calls and emails, they can stop a war. Now is the time to use that same energy and passion to save the middle class.
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