The three old douchebags I got stuck with earlier this week made me think back to those “good old days” they remember so well as being full of capitalism, freedom, religion, and unrestrained racism. Being older than any of them, I actually remember some of those days. Those days were definitely dominated by the old, but they were not good. The good parts of the 1950’s were all inspired by the rampant socialism left over from the revolt against the 1% my grandparents’ generation had waged after those inbred morons (the 1%, not my grandparents) crashed the stock market in 1929, destroyed the economy in their efforts to save their own wealth, and tried to turn the country into a corporatist/fascist state like their hero nation, Germany. Roosevelt’s legacy was continued by Truman and Eisenhower and until Nixon and his thugs came along it looked like the US might remain prosperous indefinitely. Socialism was at the core of that middle class prosperity.
For instance, in my hometown, Dodge City, Kansas, the city owned the utilities (except for the telephone company), a hospital was co-owned and operated by the city and the Methodist Church, and one of our two radio stations was publicly owned. We had a country club with a fancy swimming pool and a golf course on the eastern “rich side of town,” but the poor side of town had a great public swimming pool on the edge of Wright Park (a park donated by Bob Wright of Wright and Rath General Store infamy from Dodge City’s rowdy days) and the west side of town had the American Legion’s club with a sand green golf course and another fine swimming pool. The city also maintained a zoo, a miniature golf course, a performance gazebo, and a small carnival area in Wright Park, where families spent a lot of picnic weekends and adults used the park for company and organization parties. The park was, in fact, a show place for the city; all paid for with taxes and maintained by city workers. A lot of the park construction was from the 1930’s and the work was done by Roosevelt’s Conservation Corps. The city also owned a “civic center” where concerts, sporting events, conventions, and other large events took place; all without naming the building after some corrupt corporation. (Today, that same building is named the United Wireless Arena).
Although John Kennedy and Congress lowered the top income tax rate from 90% to 75% in 1961, there weren’t a lot of obviously rich people in town, but there were a lot of very comfortable people. In fact, the most wealthy people were, as usual, old money folks who hid in their mini-mansions on the east side of town near the country club and hung out with other old money people. It was generally recognized as tasteless to flaunt your money and my step-grandparents knew a lot of the rich folks through their flooring business. As a Servicemaster company, and a part-time employee, we did some repair and remodeling work in their homes. Mostly, they spent more money for the same things as real people, although they spent more for similar services and products.
The big difference between then and now is obvious in both the town’s appearance and the economy. Downtown Dodge is dead. Even a promotional photo like the one at left can’t hide the fact that the core of the city is a ghost town. The old hotel, once a showpiece of the city, is a shabby collection of city government offices. All of the old department store buildings are empty or they host a collection of second-hand stores (a sure sign of a dead town). There is a middle class, but it is a very precarious existence with debt, income, and emergency money all on a knife-edge. The slightest adverse breeze could blow it all down, as it did in 2007.
Today, the town’s tax and income base is primarily made up of residential property taxes, sales taxes, and traffic fines. The parks are in shambles, Walmart is the primary retail game in town, the public schools are in the same kind of condition Kansas schools all suffer, and the wingnut press has done a fine job of turning lower income whites against lower income Hispanics and African Americans.