The debt ceiling debate between the Home GOP and President Joe Biden might, if not solved, result in financial chaos and destruction – so it might sound surprisingly lighthearted to surprise what a Nice Melancholy-era singer and activist would take into consideration this explicit political second.
Actually, in all of the analysis I did in placing collectively my guide “Prophet Singer: The Voice and Imaginative and prescient of Woody Guthrie,” I by no means got here throughout any remark Woody Guthrie made in regards to the debt ceiling.
However he lived via the Nice Melancholy and its aftermath. He additionally stood witness to legislators struggling to appropriate the route that the nation was headed in through the Thirties and early ‘40s.
He had quite a bit to say about Congress normally and the way it dealt with the nationwide debt specifically.
He as soon as made a folksy joke that implies his emotions about this supposedly august physique.
“The Housewives of the nation are at all times afraid at nite, afraid they’s a Robber within the Home. Nope, Milady most of em is within the Senate,” he wrote in his common column for The Folks’s Day by day, known as “Woody Sez.”
Guthrie consistently railed in opposition to politicians, each Republican and Democrat, who he thought represented their very own egocentric pursuits fairly than these of deserving working women and men.
What if he might survey in the present day’s America? Would his feedback on the state of the nation prior to now recommend that he would have one thing to say in 2023?
In reality, a few of his observations sound as in the event that they had been written about this political second – fairly than his personal.
‘Hearin’ the hens a cacklin’
When Guthrie visited Washington, D.C., in 1940, he managed to listen to some Senate debates and supplied his ideas on their effectiveness.
“I gawthered the Reactionary Republicans was in love with the Reactionary Republicans; additionally that the Liberal Democrats was in love with th’ Liberal Demacrats. Every offered a quick case of statistics proving that the opposite temporary circumstances of statistics, was mistaken, misinterpret, misquoted, mislabeled, and mis-spoken,” he wrote in his column.
And simply what had been politicians arguing over then? The nationwide debt.
Bipartisan legislative efforts raised the debt ceiling thrice underneath President Donald Trump. Now, Home Republicans are balking except sure circumstances are met, whereas the Democrats are demanding a clear invoice with no restrictions.
Guthrie witnessed a lot the identical state of affairs in his period. Throughout his go to to Washington, D.C., he listened to “senators a making speeches – on each conceivable topic underneath the solar, an’ although the style by which they introduced forth their arguments, their polished wit, and delicate maneuvers, had been all very entertaining, I come out of it as empty handed as I went in,” he wrote in “Woody Sez.”
He then in contrast their debates to “hearin’ the hens a cacklin’ – and a runnin’ out to th barn.” Regardless of the scene’s being “loud, noisy, and lots entertaining,” the consequence was “no eggs.”
There’s lots of noise coming from Congress in the present day additionally – however no outcomes.
What might occur if the 2 sides can’t agree? A telling instance occurred in 2011, when the bipartisan deal to lift the debt ceiling got here so late that Commonplace & Poor’s downgraded the nation’s credit standing – which hiked the curiosity that wanted to be paid on the U.S. debt.
But when an settlement doesn’t occur, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that such a disaster would convey on “financial and monetary disaster” on a nationwide and world scale.
Guthrie would discover this sort of brinkmanship troubling. Not as a result of he was a political operative, with merely an mental understanding of the dangers. As an alternative, he was pushed by a private information of the day-to-day hardships, the human toll of such momentous political choices. His household had fallen from middle-class security into abject poverty even earlier than the onset of the Nice Melancholy.
Due to falling agricultural costs within the aftermath of World Struggle I and his father’s actual property hypothesis in some small farms surrounding their hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma, the Guthries couldn’t sustain with their mortgages. They had been pressured into foreclosures.
Guthrie joked that his father “was the one man on the planet that misplaced a farm a day for thirty days.”
Foreclosures would doubtless be simply one in every of the ruinous results of default now, together with rates of interest hikes, slashing of social packages, unemployment spikes and decimation of pension plans. All are damaging outcomes, however they’re sure to hit the poor and dealing class the toughest.
These are the folks whom Woody Guthrie advocated for all through his profession. These are the folks whose hardships he lamented in such songs as “I Ain’t Obtained No Dwelling” and “Mud Bowl Refugee.”
However he additionally expressed optimism in regards to the energy of those self same folks to make a constructive change, comparable to in “Union Maid” and “Higher World A-Comin’.” Particular person and collective motion was obligatory, in keeping with Guthrie, and he celebrated each. The union maid would “at all times get her manner when she requested for higher pay,” and in “Higher World” he sings, “we’ll all be union and we’ll all be free.”
Maybe his best-known feedback in regards to the nation seem in “This Land Is Your Land,” with the favored model praising the American panorama. However in his early model of that tune, he ended it along with his narrator surveying a line of hungry folks lined up “by the reduction workplace” after which requested, “Was this land made for you and me?”
That query might rise once more in 2023: If congressional leaders debating over the debt ceiling fail to seek out frequent floor for the nation’s higher good, maybe somebody will problem them and ask if the politicians are in workplace for the American folks, or for themselves – simply as Woody Guthrie would have.