Losing America, Left versus Right

It's hard to take an article posted on the World Net Daily seriously but the fact that its author is Pat Buchanan lends it a measure of importance. After all, Pat Buchanan is a two-time Presidential candidate and now the self-appointed spokesman for the increasingly besieged white American. I won't dispute the fact that many white Americans feel their lifestyle under siege. They do feel that way and it is, but not for the reasons the right would have us believe nor is it limited to white Americans as Pat would have us believe.

Here's the crux of Pat's complaint:

In their lifetimes, they have seen their Christian faith purged from schools their taxes paid for, and mocked in movies and on TV. They have seen their factories shuttered in the thousands and their jobs outsourced in the millions to Mexico and China. They have seen trillions of tax dollars go for Great Society programs, but have seen no Great Society, only rising crime, illegitimacy, drug use and dropout rates.

They watch on cable TV as illegal aliens walk into their country, are rewarded with free educations and health care and take jobs at lower pay than American families can live on - then carry Mexican flags in American cities and demand U.S. citizenship.

They see Wall Street banks bailed out as they sweat their next paycheck, then read that bank profits are soaring, and the big bonuses for the brilliant bankers are back. Neither they nor their kids ever benefited from affirmative action, unlike Barack and Michelle Obama.

They see a government in Washington that cannot balance its books, win our wars or protect our borders. The government shovels out trillions to Fortune 500 corporations and banks to rescue the country from a crisis created by the government and Fortune 500 corporations and banks.

America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.

The Christian faith purged charge is disingenuous because Pat knows that there is separation of Church and State in this country. What he is objecting to is the teaching of evolution, or the fact that we won't allow creationism disguised as science to be taught in public schools, and that apparently threatens their world. But most of Pat's complaints are economic in nature, though he does so effortlessly descend into a noxious xenophobia. He complains about "factories shuttered,""jobs outsourced,""bank bailouts,""unbalanced books" and "trillions to Fortune 500 companies."

Pity that Pat Buchanan doesn't realize that he voted for that agenda when he voted for Ronald Reagan. Because his litany of complaints, at least on the economic front, are all traceable to policies enacted by Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party.

But Pat's rant is actually quite a race card throwback to the 1970s. It was sinister then and it is sinister now. Historian Matthew Frye Jacobson back in 2006 published a seminal work entitled Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America. In it, Dr. Jacobson described how the then nascent conservative movement played on white fears through attacks on the social aspects of Great Society programs such as affirmative action. Pat plays that card and follows with the free healthcare and education for illegal aliens, the favorite term of the right for undocumented workers.

And funny how illegitimacy, drug use and dropout rates are all generally higher in red state America than they are in blue state America. The states with the highest born out-of-wedlock are the District of Columbia (technically not a state), New Mexico, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina. Drug use is a mix bag and harder to measure but Rhode Island (closely followed by Alaska and Arizona) has the highest percentage of regular illicit drug users and Iowa the lowest. The highest high school drop out rates are in Louisiana, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona, the lowest drop rates are in New Jersey, Connecticut, North Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. The problems Pat complains about while national are deeper in the red states.

Back in June 2005, Paul Krugman too had a column titled Losing Our Country in the more reputable New York Times that more accurately describes the forces at work:

Baby boomers like me grew up in a relatively equal society. In the 1960's America was a place in which very few people were extremely wealthy, many blue-collar workers earned wages that placed them comfortably in the middle class, and working families could expect steadily rising living standards and a reasonable degree of economic security.

But as The Times's series on class in America reminds us, that was another country. The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

But the wealthy have done very well indeed. Since 1973 the average income of the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled, and the income of the top 0.1 percent has tripled.

Why is this happening? I'll have more to say on that another day, but for now let me just point out that middle-class America didn't emerge by accident. It was created by what has been called the Great Compression of incomes that took place during World War II, and sustained for a generation by social norms that favored equality, strong labor unions and progressive taxation. Since the 1970's, all of those sustaining forces have lost their power.

Since 1980 in particular, U.S. government policies have consistently favored the wealthy at the expense of working families - and under the current administration, that favoritism has become extreme and relentless. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy "reform" that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.

It's not a pretty picture - which is why right-wing partisans try so hard to discredit anyone who tries to explain to the public what's going on.

These partisans rely in part on obfuscation: shaping, slicing and selectively presenting data in an attempt to mislead. For example, it's a plain fact that the Bush tax cuts heavily favor the rich, especially those who derive most of their income from inherited wealth. Yet this year's Economic Report of the President, in a bravura demonstration of how to lie with statistics, claimed that the cuts "increased the overall progressivity of the federal tax system."

The partisans also rely in part on scare tactics, insisting that any attempt to limit inequality would undermine economic incentives and reduce all of us to shared misery. That claim ignores the fact of U.S. economic success after World War II. It also ignores the lesson we should have learned from recent corporate scandals: sometimes the prospect of great wealth for those who succeed provides an incentive not for high performance, but for fraud.

Above all, the partisans engage in name-calling. To suggest that sustaining programs like Social Security, which protects working Americans from economic risk, should have priority over tax cuts for the rich is to practice "class warfare." To show concern over the growing inequality is to engage in the "politics of envy."

But the real reasons to worry about the explosion of inequality since the 1970's have nothing to do with envy. The fact is that working families aren't sharing in the economy's growth, and face growing economic insecurity. And there's good reason to believe that a society in which most people can reasonably be considered middle class is a better society - and more likely to be a functioning democracy - than one in which there are great extremes of wealth and poverty.

Reversing the rise in inequality and economic insecurity won't be easy: the middle-class society we have lost emerged only after the country was shaken by depression and war. But we can make a start by calling attention to the politicians who systematically make things worse in catering to their contributors. Never mind that straw man, the politics of envy. Let's try to do something about the politics of greed.

The right can try to frame this debate in ethnic overtones but that obscures the fact what we have endured in this country is a class war on the middle classes. That class war was abetted by people like Pat Buchanan and now that it has gone awry, they remain obtusely unaware that the damage inflicted was by their own hand.

Tags: pat buchanan, Race Relations, US History, White Ethnics (all tags)

Comments

15 Comments

Re: Losing America, Left versus Right

Funny how they had almost continuous control of the presidency or congress over the last 30 years, and, yet, it didn't do anything for them.  Perhaps they should have picked the other team instead.

by LordMike 2009-10-20 09:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Losing America, Left versus Right

I will be celebrating my 40th birthday next year, but Buchanan's lament is even older than I am.  At no time during my lifetime has the white man been able to catch a break, it seems.

These themes still have power, but they are on the decline and will not be making a comeback.  The younger generation will have a different axe to grind.

by Steve M 2009-10-20 09:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Losing America

 It's getting more and more difficult to find good help. And if you get lucky, some IRS FED wants you to pay minimum wage and employment taxes. It's a goddam communist conspiracy!

by QTG 2009-10-21 05:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Losing America, Left versus Right

It's bad enough that the trad/media gives this bloviating jackass the time of day.

by lojasmo 2009-10-21 05:54AM | 0 recs
More distractions from Buchanan

Maybe one of these days Buchanan will own up to the fact that the real problem and the real division is between the "haves" and the "have nots" and that he has been enabling the "haves" for all his political life.

These other divisions are largely artificial.  They are divisions meant to keep us fighting amongst ourselves while the top 1% continues to suck more and more wealth from the bottom up to the top.

As people get more of a raw deal from this government and this economy, they'll look around for people who are getting a better deal than they are, for someone to blame.  It's only going to get worse and worse until the real problem, the wealth gap and the injustices are addressed.  If this administration doesn't start to fix this in a bold way, there will be more not less division between these artificial categories of the huge underclass (95% of us).

by joanneleon 2009-10-21 06:09AM | 0 recs
Re: More distractions from Buchanan

I agree with you that the privileged are always trying to distract the masses from the real battle.  However, I would bet that most of the people who frequent this site come from (either were raised within or now belong to) the top 5% of families in the US.  So, these people would clearly be profiting from the distraction as well.  That's why you get such dismissive remarks (not from you).  

The working class has gotten a raw deal for the past 40 years and it shows no signs of getting better.  I despise Buchanan, but he taps into real concerns of many people.

by orestes 2009-10-21 11:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Losing America, Left versus Right

Read Rick Pearlstein's "Nixonland" and you will discover Buchanan been spouting this same barge bilge for the last forty years. For me reading Nxonland was rather painful because I actually lived through this crap. Can't we move forward - pleeeze!

by phastphil 2009-10-21 06:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Losing America, Left versus Right

he may be a windbag, but how can anyone dispute that he is accurate on these three points?

"They watch on cable TV as illegal aliens walk into their country, are rewarded with free educations and health care and take jobs at lower pay than American families can live on - then carry Mexican flags in American cities and demand U.S. citizenship.

They see Wall Street banks bailed out as they sweat their next paycheck, then read that bank profits are soaring, and the big bonuses for the brilliant bankers are back.

They see a government in Washington that cannot balance its books, win our wars or protect our borders. The government shovels out trillions to Fortune 500 corporations and banks to rescue the country from a crisis created by the government and Fortune 500 corporations and banks."

by BuckeyeBlogger 2009-10-21 07:55AM | 0 recs
Missing the point

I think you missed Charles' points.

1) It is not only white people who see these things. Economic policy in this country favors the wealthy (which contributes to all of the things that you mention) -- and to claim that therefore only white people are under siege is disingenuous and racist (two things at which Buchanan excels).

2) Those policies are in fact a product of 28 years of unfettered Reaganism. It is the policies of the right that created all the situations you describe -- the mantra of deregulation is directly responsible for the making all of these things possible. For Buchanan to pretend that the things he decries are caused by Obama, Pelosi, and Reed (as he does in the article) is a breathtaking attempt to re-write history.

by fsm 2009-10-21 09:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Missing the point

Yes but it was our Democratic controlled congress for mroe than 40 years that oversaw and was part of all this. So to blame one party is absurd.

by BuckeyeBlogger 2009-10-21 10:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Missing the point

Yes; democrats in Congress have often been very feckless in their pursuit of re-election. And as bad a problem as we have today with blue-dog Democrats, the Dixiecrats of most of those 40 years were much worse; they espoused no Democratic ideals.

But to be clear, I am not blaming only one party. However, I am blaming only one philosophy: the free market solves all problems; government (and particular government regulations) are at the root of all problems. That philosophy, and the slavish adherence to it by most Republicans and too many Democrats is where I am laying the blame.

by fsm 2009-10-21 11:06AM | 0 recs
I can dispute it

since it's nothing more than unsubstantiated talking points and generalizations.

by JJE 2009-10-21 10:34AM | 0 recs
Re: I can dispute it

Con't be cute.  Go ahead and dispute those points.  These are not unsubstantiated complaints.  You may want to get out of the privileged bubble you may live in and talk to working class white people.

by orestes 2009-10-21 10:44AM | 0 recs
Ok

I'll raise them with the working-class white people I represent every single day, and you can raise them at your next Minutemen meeting, and we'll compare notes.

by JJE 2009-10-21 02:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Losing America, Left versus Right

 Any discussion using terms such as Middle Class, Wealthy, screwed-over, and privileged without defining what is meant by them hurts this discussion We could all agree with everything that has been said, yet be holding completely contrary ideas from one another considering our different frames of reference. Would someone add some specificity? If by Rich and Privileged we mean those who inhabit Buchanan's circle, then I guess that's specific enough.

by QTG 2009-10-21 01:46PM | 0 recs

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