Losing America, Left versus Right
by Charles Lemos, Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 07:49:54 PM EDT
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.