BY VERN TURNER
I’ve received a jukebox with hits from every decade that records were made. I’ve seen photographs of just about every city and town in the country taken from 1915 onward.
Recently, however, someone sent me a series of Rockwellian pictures of scenes from the 1950s with little comments about how great it was then and what we had and didn’t have that, presumably was bad.
The underlying theme was that the ‘50s were what made the sender who he/she was.
Great. The ‘50s didn’t have Madonna, but it had Elvis who created more family discord than Madonna ever hoped to. It didn’t have the Civil Rights laws, either, but it did sport racially divided services and public transportation.
The ‘50s even had a Republican President who warned the nation about the growth of the military-industrial complex that would dictate a state of perpetual war. Ike knew about which he spoke, because his prophecy has come true. We spend more on defense than on any other part of our federal budget, except, maybe social services. We also sell more weapons to more countries than all other militarized nations combined. We have decided that weapons and war making is at least equally as important as our citizens’ health and well-being.
If you read or listen to right wing propaganda – i.e., the Romney campaign – you hear the siren song of still more war funded by cuts to the social services that keep a significant number of our citizens from living in squalor, while ignoring altogether the 15% who do live in squalor.
In the 1950s estimates of our underclass citizens measured about 15% of our 150 million people. Today we have over 310 million citizens, but we still have a 15% underclass. That is about 46 million people who barely have housing and enough to eat, never mind the luxury items like safe schools.
These data beg the question: “How much have we improved ourselves as a nation since the 1950s?”
In the 1950s we had an unemployment rate of just 4%. The top tax bracket was 55%. Today we have unemployment rates hovering around 8% with the top tax bracket at 35%.
Employers paid for most, if not all, of their employee’s catastrophic health care insurance. Today, employers are loath to pay any of it, letting families go bankrupt and lose their homes instead.
Teachers were an underpaid group then, as today, but were held in high esteem in the community and respected as professionals. Then, we led the world in educating our children. Today, we try to hold teachers accountable for the failure of parents while our children rank 27th in the world in science and math.
In the 1950s we had yet to create OSHA, the Voting Rights Act, the EPA or any nuclear arms treaty. We were building those things like crazy to keep up with the Russians.
Today we have all these things and, as a result, we have safer work places, safer cars, at least some control of industrial pollution and a guarantee that everyone can vote for free.
Of course, today we also have Karl Rove and his PACs who are trying to rig elections by disenfranchising voters in defiance of the law.
In the 1950s, rock and roll music began flourishing. It possessed the three most famous chords in all musical history. Today, popular music basically uses one chord and sells one-hit wonders to unknowing youngsters who glorify jailbirds.
Ah, nostalgia … It does have its purpose, after all. It acts as a measuring stick for our society’s changes over time to those of us still paying attention after a few decades. I wonder who in the future will be nostalgic for these times.
– Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. He lives in Marble Falls, TX, where he writes a regular column for the River Cities Daily Tribune. His latest book is A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools, available through Amazon.