Available at the .following locations: Old World Bakery 814 W. 12th Street Austin The Stoneleigh P 2926 Maple Avenue Dallas Brazos Bookstore 2314 Bissonett Houston Guy’s News Stand 3700 Main Street Houston The Newstand 1101 University Lubbock Daily News & Tobacco 309-A Andrews Highway Midland b i TEXAS server has even more point as I write, and the Bush White House has begun arrogantly wading in to the center of its most ardent arms supermarket, the Middle East. Thanks to these merchants of death and empire politics, we are all of us the patient guinea pigs for an experiment in World War III. Ehrenreich takes on the Reagan White House more personally in “The Bathtub Tapes,” her acid review of Nancy Reagan’s My Turn, “the distilled bathwater of Mrs. Reagan’s life.” She rakes Nancy for her vanity, her greed, and her inexcusable selfpity. Yet the essay also has an odd sympathetic turn; she has no reason to doubt Nancy’s word that it was she amongst all his more bellicose advisers who pushed Ronnie into the historic meeting with Gorbachev. Nancy’s logic remains inscrutable: “Maybe she divined, in her Bloomingdale-Lauren circle of friends, that Ronnie’s flamboyant Armageddon talk was a little `declasse’. Or maybe, in some bathtub session [Nancy reports brightly that she is fond of defeating her enemies in imaginary bathtub monologues], she settled on peace as the perfect retort to all those critics, including Patti, who thought of Ronnie as a ‘warmonger.'” It is of course the feminist in Ehrenreich who is attuned to this vibration in the other wise-appalling Nancy Reagan, and many of her strongest essays are predictably on femi nist subjects. There are several comic pieces on the so-called “new man,” who was no sooner created by the media as a repository of sensitivity and openness, than he was quickly mocked by his creators, in the rhythm of such whimsical trends, as “the new wimp.” Ehren reich is something of an expert on “the new man” of the last generation, although she admits that the man she hopes for is not the one invented by the news magazines: My new man, if I could design one, would be capable of appreciation, sensitivity, intimacy values that have been, for too long, feminine. But he would also be capable of commitment, to use that much-abused word, and I mean by that commitment not only to friends and family but to a broad and generous vision of how we might all live together. As a feminist, I would say that vision includes equality between men and women and also to mention a social goal that seems almost to have been forgotten equality among men. The explicitly feminist pieces and the whole book is informed throughout by a progressive feminist vision, whatever the immediate subject form a strong group, mainly under the sardonic heading of “Strident Women.” “Their Dilemma and Mine” is an unsentimental and fiercely direct defense of a woman’s right to control her own body; “The Lesson of Mary Beth” is the best piece I have seen of the far too many on the Whitehead “surrogate” case; and “Why We Lost the ERA” is a frank and straightforward reconsideration of the original idea of feminism: “that nothing short of equality will do and that in a society marred by injustice and cruelty, equality will never be good enough.” As these quotes suggest, Ehrenreich writes from a frankly socialist perspective, and that elusive “social goal” is one she returns to again, as a worthy political ideal and as a biting contrast to the social reality of the last 10 years. In “Is the Middle Class Doomed?” she takes up the theme that is central to Fear ofFalling: the growing economic crisis which is polarizing American society, and in the process destroying dreams of equality and democracy. Much of the tale is in the simple and grim facts: since that much-maligned decade, the sixties, “in a sharp reversal of the equalizing trend that had been under way since shortly after World War II, the extremes of wealth have grown further apart and the middle has lost ground. In 1984 … the share of the national income received by the wealthiest 40 percent of families in the United States rose to 67.3 percent, while the poorest 40 percent received 15.7 percent \(the middle 20 percent declined to 17 percent.” Or, to put it another way, “As a result of the combination of reduced taxes for the betteroff and reduced social spending for the poor, the richest one-fifth of American families gained $25 billion in disposable income between 1980 and 1984, while the poorest one-fifth lost $7 billion.” No doubt the rich were putting their hard-earned money into industrial development and a thousand points of light, while the poor were all investing in junk bonds. Ehrenreich does not recite these statistics simply to lament, but as a call to political action, which would be mild enough in comparison to most industrial societies, and yet in the present reactionary atmosphere has begun to sound more and more like left-wing fantasy: We could start, for example, by raising the minimum wage, which would not only help the working poor but would also have a buoyant effect on middlelevel wages. We could enact long-overdue measures, such as national health insurance and a system of subsidized child care, to help struggling young families. We could institute tax reforms that would both generate income for federal spending and relieve those in the middle brackets. A truly progressive income tax, combined with more generous spendfrig for education and socialwelfare programs, would go a long way toward smoothing out the widening inequalities of opportunity. This is hardly a radical program, and yet it has been made to seem outlandish and extreme amidst the current propagandistic atmosphere, in which a water-carrier for the rich like George Bush is considered a “moderate,” and a bankrolled hireling like Phil Gramm buys the position and impersonates the role of a “public servant.” These are not the successors of the men and women who founded this republic; these are hypo crites, usurpers, abusers of the public trust. I don’t know if the title of Ehrenreich’s book is entirely just we have lived through the Nixon years, and would not do so again for any reason but the last 10 years have offered few causes for progressives to celebrate. But Barbara Ehrenreich and her work are reason enough. In the first and best piece in the book, she recounts her own family’s “traditional values,” a long heritage of independent thought, political action, and the determination to call a spade a spade. She recounts with pride the response of her father, disabled by Alzheimer’s disease, to his doctor’s question: “Who is the president?” “Reagan, that dumb son-of-a-bitch!” Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us that dissent and resistance are every bit as American as the phony “traditional values” shilled by the demagogues of the right. She knows a better lesson. “No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.