Back in November of 1986, I wrote an article entitled, "Bleeding Heart, and Proud of It". It described how my brother-in-law and I had always reflected a classic confrontation between conservative and liberal. Into the new millennium we still defend philosophies that began early in our lives. He is now a builder pushing his conservative ideals of free growth and commerce while I am a liberal teacher praying that uncontrolled growth will not destroy the reason I decided to move to Maine over 37 years ago.
Our arguments intensified during the Reagan administration. He was thrilled when our nation decided that it could no longer afford the social programs of the 1970's. Reagan declared them full of fraud and deceit. In the early 1980's my brother-in-law was thrilled to show me that because of Reagan's conservative policies the economy enjoyed a strength it never had before. That was true up to the mid-1980. After that our economy suffered through double digit inflation and interest rates. At the end of this decade we did pull ourselves out after many of our banks failed and property rates went in a direction they were never supposed to go. The problem was that the lost social programs never came back. The concept of health insurance for all and the elimination of poverty in our nation was not only forgotten but also blamed for the excesses of our nation's wealthy.
In the early 1990's, despite the euphoria over our victory in the Persian Gulf War, it was easy for candidate Clinton to quote Mr. Reagan's campaign slogan from 1980, urging each of us to ask the question," are we better off than we were four years ago?" At that time most of us were not. Mr. Clinton beat Mr. Bush and off into the 1990's we were thrown. My brother-in-law was horrified exclaiming that the modest recovery of 1990 would be destroyed by the liberal ideas of that Governor from Arkansas. Little did he know that this would be the beginning of the largest economic growth in our nation's history? But, little did I know that the poor would get poorer and that national health care and the elimination of poverty would still remain a dream from the past.
On issues of foreign policy, our ideas were also highly polarized. My brother-in-law still believes that any policy promoting the strength and security of our nation is necessarily the best and most moral policy. Back in 1986, I argued that history shows that any time one nation tries to impose its will on another; disaster strikes the societies of both nations. I tried to convince him that Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Central America were supposed to represent great victories but in hindsight we all know they didn't. Even the police actions of Panama, Somalia, The Persian Gulf, and the Balkans seem to have made us ignore the social problems we have in our own backyard.
When it comes to the pursuit of wealth, my brother-in-law is deeply entrenched into the capitalist system. In other words, he believes that our nation is based on competition and that the Darwinian concept of "survival of the fittest" is all that exists. I argued in 1986, that never before in the history of our nation has there been so much power behind the idea that success and happiness must be measured in terms of how much money is acquired. These ideas are now at their highest pinnacle in that the people of the new millennium are gambling in a market that everyone understands is destined to fail. For how can something that doesn't exist, succeed?
I, in my bleeding heart role, begged to have him look at the consequences of the "yuppie" mentality. I advised him that drug use is on the rise because of this compulsion for the need for money. In 1986, the financial bubble exploded on all that were part of it. Even the builders and entrepreneurs of York felt the floor fall out from beneath them. It took ten years for property values to regain the strength they had before the times of incredible inflation and bank failures. From 1995 to 2000, our financial and real estate markets have once again boomed. The names of the people who ran into York looking for their fortunes have changed but they are pretty much the same kind of people. The "tech" market propelled this boom into a growth that seemed unstoppable. But, like Newton stated, everything that goes up has a tendency to come down.
In 1986, the family structure was becoming all but non-existent. In 1991, the family had officially joined the ranks of the dinosaur along with the single income, the ability for most of us in this country to own a home, and the capacity to believe our children's lives can be better than our own. Even the concept that education must be offered equally to all Americans has been altered to state that the best education will be offered only to those who can afford it. Today many in our nation want to take public money away from our schools and give it to private schools so that the rich would not have to pay too much for their private education. No one argues, not even my brother-in-law that if this system of vouchers goes into effect public education for all of our children will literally disappear.
I ended my article back in 1986 by stating that being called a bleeding heart liberal didn't hurt that much. In fact, it actually felt good. But, with a national credit card debt reaching astronomical amounts keeping pace with our trade deficit, kids shooting kids in our schools, zoos, and just about everywhere else, prison populations surpassing those of Russia and China, the working poor becoming the rule and not the exception, and the possibility of national health care being compared to seeing pigs fly, my bleeding heart is just about running out of blood.
The problems of the roaring 1980's devastated the hopes of America's future. I am not that naïve to realize there is not much we can do about the past but I am not too foolish to understand that we can and must change the way we do business as a nation in the future. But, the 1990's showed us we are not. We are still allowing our lawmakers to continue the ways of the past, which are destroying our future.
I find in 2000, even my conservative brother-in-law does not argue that the road our nation took during the 1980's was ill advised. I can see in his eyes that the policies we enjoyed in the 1990's seem to be bringing us into a dangerous time. As a professional bleeding heart I can only watch the times for it is too late to change them.
We are now in the year 2008. We have suffered through an attack we thought impossible, we started a war based on lies we thought would be over before the beginning of a new President’s second term, our economy is in shambles with inflation eliminating any chance of surviving it, and this is the first time in our history our children will not be as well off as we were.
In 1986, I wrote that I was proud to be a bleeding heart liberal. In 1991, I found myself in a position of throwing a gate to the wind. Now in 2000, I find that I have little blood to give. In 2008, I clearly understand we are making the same mistakes of our past but these mistakes seem to be deeper and darker. I know it is again time for a change but I pray it is a real change instead of the kind we have been forced to suffer through for the past 22 years; a change to put our nation back on the track of taking care of all of its citizens. In fact, I have been waiting for that change for over 20 years now. The only thing that makes me feel better is that my brother-in-law and I have traveled full circle and are now beginning to agree more. I guess it is because we've both seen the future before and we know that we will need each other to survive it again.
Jim Fabiano, a teacher and writer who lives in York, is a past recipient of the Maine Press Association’s award for Best Weekly Column. You can E-mail Jim at: firstname.lastname@example.org.