In the iconic Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” an angel offers the beleaguered main character, George Bailey, the stark choice between a hometown named for a cruel banker or one created by and for the middle class.
The banker’s town, Pottersville, is filled with bars, gambling dens and despair. The people’s town of Bedford Falls is made of hope, hard working middle class families, and their homes financed by the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan.
The film’s happy ending is the people of Bedford Falls banding together to rescue George Bailey and the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan that had given so many of them a leg up over the years. Republicans seek a different conclusion. They find middle class cooperation and community intolerable. They want the banker, Henry Potter, with his “every man for himself” philosophy to triumph. In the spirit of their self-centered mentor Ayn Rand, Republicans are trying to disfigure America so she resembles Pottersville.
A building and loan association, like the Bailey Brothers’, uses the savings of its members to provide mortgages to the depositors. Members essentially pool their money to give each other the opportunity to buy cars and homes. At one point in the film, George Bailey explains this concept to frightened depositors who are trying to withdraw their savings during the panic that led to bank runs in 1929.
Bailey urges the townspeople who had crowded into the building and loan office to withdraw only what they need, not empty their accounts. “We have got to stick together,” he tells them, “We have to do this together.” A building and loan doesn’t function without trust and cooperation.
It works well for Bedford Falls. The mortgages it provides help working people move out of the Potters Field slums and into Bailey Park, where homes well kept by their owners increase in value. Despite the success, Potter condemned this practice, saying it was based on “high ideals without common sense.” He criticized the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan for granting a taxi driver a mortgage after Potter’s bank had rejected his application. Potter scoffed at such practices, asking if the building and loan was a “business or a charity ward.”
This is exactly what Republicans do. They describe beloved American programs like Medicare and Social Security as charities – using the euphemism “entitlements.” Like mortgages from the Bailey Building & Loan, Medicare and Social Security are not charities. They’re the American people depositing and pooling their money for the benefit of the American community.
The GOP tries to destroy programs like these that aid the middle class, the vast majority of Americans – the 99 percent – while Republicans protect tax breaks and special perks for the rich – the one percent, the Henry Potters.
This time last year, Republicans demanded extension of tax breaks for the 1 percent, contending tax breaks stimulate the economy.
For the past three months, however, Republicans have fought extension of payroll tax cuts, contending a break benefiting 160 million middle class Americans did not stimulate the economy.
All year, Republicans have demanded an end to programs the middle class created to aid the majority, the 99 percent. The GOP wants to reverse the new banking regulations that were passed in an attempt to prevent another economic collapse caused by risky Wall Street practices. The GOP tried to to rescind the healthcare reform law that prevents insurance companies from terminating coverage when beneficiaries get sick and prohibits the practice of refusing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Influential Republicans this year have called for repealing laws forbidding child labor, laws guaranteeing minimum wage and laws protecting the environment. They’ve demanded elimination of federal funding for organizations like the Public Broadcasting System that educates preschoolers, Head Start, which provides opportunity to poor children, and Planned Parenthood, which uses 97 percent of its funds to provide general, obstetrical and gynecological medical care to women, many of whom are rural and poor.
Republicans have decided to be the party of Henry Potter, the “meanest man in the county,” a man about whom George Bailey’s father said: “he’s a sick man, frustrated. Sick in his mind, sick in his soul, if he has one.”
Like Potter, Republicans deride compassion and community as character defects.
In the Republican world, where greed is good, it was appropriate for Henry Potter to keep the $8,000 in Bailey Building & Loan money that George Bailey’s uncle, Billy Bailey, accidently handed him.
Republicans are attempting to impose that selfish belief system on the selfless American people, people like the citizens of Bedford Falls who rush to the rescue of neighbors.
It won’t work, just like it didn’t in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Republicans will fail in their attempt to make America Pottersville because the 99 percent believe avarice is a sin, not a value. The GOP will fail because greed is not the American way.