In his weekly radio address this morning John McCain warned that Barack Obama wants to-- Heaven forbid-- spread the wealth around. He would tax-- at a rate even less than under the Clinton Administration-- multimillionaires like... well, like Cindy McCain who inherited a fortune from her gangster, bootlegger father, and use that money for the benefit of society as a whole. To the right, of course, that is the biggest sin on God's earth. McCain:
My opponent's answer showed that economic recovery isn't even his top priority. His goal, as Senator Obama put it, is to "spread the wealth around."
You see, he believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it. Joe, in his plainspoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism. And a lot of Americans are thinking along those same lines. In the best case, "spreading the wealth around" is a familiar idea from the American left. And that kind of class warfare sure doesn't sound like a "new kind of politics."
Class warfare is what the wealthy and their puppets have been waging against the rest of us. One day, if unchecked, it will boil over and the McCains and Bushes and Cheneys of this country will learn what class warfare is-- like the French aristocracy did. Meanwhile, perhaps they could get a glimmer from the introduction to This Land Is Their Land, the fantastic new book by Barbara Ehrenreich. She writes that "we'll need a new deal, a new distribution of power and wealth if we want to restore the beautiful idea that was "America."
At the pinnacles of the wealth scale, extravagance reigned on a scale not seen since the late Roman Empire. Freshly fattened CEOs, hedge fund operators, and financiers hired interior decorators for their private jets, slugged backed $10,000 martinis at the Alogonquin Hotel in Manhattan, and, in one case, stage a $2 million birthday party in Sardinia featuring an ice statue of David urinating vodka.
There was a connection, as most people suspected, between the massive build up of wealth among the few and the anxiety and desperation of the many. The money that fueled the explosion of gluttony at the top had to come from somewhere or, more specifically, from someone. Since no domestic oil deposits had been discovered, no new seams of uranium or gold, and since the war in Iraq enriched only the military contractors and suppliers, it had to have come from other Americans. In fact, the greatest capitalist innovations of the past decade have been in the realm of squeezing money out of those who have little to spare: taking away workers' pensions and benefits to swell profits, offering easy credit on dubious terms, raising insurance premiums and refusing to insure those who might ever make a claim, downsizing workforces to boost share prices, even falsifying time records to avoid paying overtime.
Prosperity, in America, had not always been a zero-sum game. Early twentieth-century capitalists-- who were certainly no saints-- envisioned a prosperous people generating profits for the upper class by buying houses and cars and washing machines. But somewhere along the line, the ethos changed from we're all in this together to get what you can while the getting is good. Let the environment decay, the infrastructure crumble, the public hospitals close, the schools get by on bake sales, the workers drop from exhaustion-- who cares? Raise the premiums, reduce the wages, add new mystery fees to each bill, and let the devil take the hindmost. Only when the poor suckers at the bottom stopped buying and defaulted on their mortgages did anyone notice them.
That's how Ehrenreich starts her book, which I began reading today. Yesterday I finally finished Congressman Robert Wexler's Fire-Breathing Liberal and I'd like to juxtapose what we just read by Barbara Ehrenreich with how Wexler ended his book:
Rather than focusing on those issues that mattered to the everyday lives of Americans, the GOP built their political agenda around divisive social issues. The so-called wedge issues. Rather than working on improving our school system, they waged a battle against gay marriage. Instead of working toward universal health-care coverage, they passed legislation prohibiting Americans from playing poker online. Instead of tackling global warming, they rallied pro-life activists around the tragic case of Terri Schiavo. Instead of conducting judicious oversight hearings on the Iraq War debacle, they fought valiantly to protect Christmas.
In political terms, the Republicans moved the middle to the right-- and thus moved the mainstream closer to the conservative position. When Democrats regained the majority, we tried to govern from the middle, believing we could be passionate moderates or triumphant triangulators. This strategy, however, has achieved precious few results with an incorrigible Bush-Cheney White House blocking substantial progress. And it makes you wonder: If Republicans govern from the right and Democrats govern from the middle, when does the left get to govern? As a progressive, I fear my party has become more docile in the majority than we were in the minority.
We're trying to expand our relatively slim majority by being cautious. Instead, we should be galvanizing Americans behind a progressive agenda. The facts favor our side. Rather than blurring the differences between Democrats and Republicans, we should highlight them and fight for our principles.
By the way, you can read more about real class warfare in Ehrenreich's book online, an excerpt from The Nation. Coincidentally, Coleen Rowley sent me this incredible music clip last night from Minnesota singer-songwriter Peter Lang: