Street Corner Soapbox

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Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Street Corner Soapbox  by Jay Stevens
A. Conaway

Last week, in a radio interview, our US Congressman, Mike Kelly made an unfortunate comparison to President Barack Obama. “He’s the leader of the greatest country ever known,” said Kelly, “he never says, ‘I was wrong, folks’...This guy is the Pontius Pilate of politics.”

It’s just a heated remark, right? No big deal, right? Certainly not enough to make a fuss about.

But I’d feel better about it if Kelly hadn’t made the comment on G. Gordon Liddy’s show. You know Liddy. He orchestrated the break-in at Watergate, did a jail stint for it. But you may not know he also planned a murder of a media critic, proposed kidnapping anti-war protesters, and advocated killing federal agents, and has yet to repent his violent and criminal past. I’d feel better if Kelly had made his comments elsewhere, not on the show of an extremist talk-show demagogue, whose ideology is way out of step with the district Kelly represents.

You. Me.

I’d also feel better if Kelly and his chosen political party weren’t mulling drastic cuts to unemployment insurance, reducing the weeks of coverage by as much as 40, tightening eligibility for claimants, and requiring the unemployed to pee in a cup to get benefits. We’re in a recession whose worst feature is long-term unemployment. Now is not the time to pull the rug out from under working- and middle-class Americans.

I’d feel better if Kelly and his chosen political party weren’t mulling ways to avoid extending the payroll tax cut. You know, the tax break that actually benefits ordinary taxpayers. I’d feel better, too, if Mike Kelly and his party supported paying for the payroll tax cuts with a surtax on millionaires – they, after all, have dangerously tilted the tax game to their benefit, at the expense of the economy and the federal budget. Instead, Republicans are threatening to block the middle-class tax cut because the wealthy aren’t getting their usual stint at the teat of government.

I’d feel better if Kelly’s political party hadn’t voted down the payroll tax cut extension at least four times in the House and Senate. I’d feel better if Republicans didn’t want to privatize Social Security and Medicare, lavishing billions in fees on stockbrokers and subjecting our pensions and health care benefits to the whim of stock traders.

I’d feel better about Mike Kelly’s hyperbole about Obama if he weren’t poised to turn his back on his constituents.

Pontius Pilate, of course, sent Christ to be crucified on Golgatha in the most famous case of criminal indifference and political expediency known to Western tradition. “I am innocent of this man’s blood!” he said in Matthew 27:24, “it is your responsibility!”

Likewise Mike Kelly stands in a position of power with a choice before him: to do right, or to bow to political pressure.

Erie county unemployment is 7.5 percent. Over a third of its citizens are below the poverty level. Median income is just over $32 thousand a year – 36 percent lower than the state’s. These are the people Mike Kelly represents. He can help his constituents in these tough times by extending tax breaks and unemployment benefits, and by protecting Social Security and Medicare. Or he can follow his party.

Will he wash his hands of us?

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