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“The Politics Of Fear”: It’s The Solidarity Of The Group That Matters Most To Right Wing Conservatives, And Their Loyalty To It

The bigger they are the harder they fall. The higher they climb the greater their fear of falling.

That was the takeaway of a much talked-about piece by Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo, called “the Brittle Grip,” about America’s rich and how they’ve twisted American politics because of their pathological fear of losing it all.

What Marshall’s essay highlights is how pervasively the glue which now holds the Republican coalition together is fear and anxiety. It’s a fear that is fed daily by demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and the prime time line-up on Fox News.

One reaction among the Top 1% to the near collapse of the world economy back in 2008 might have been shame and remorse and a resolution to make amends for the pain and suffering their greed and recklessness had caused for millions of Americans who lost jobs and are still struggling to find work.

Instead, the Top 1% became consumed by fears the American people, acting through their government, might rein in bankers and financial wizards the same way their ancestors did when they elected Franklin Roosevelt after capitalism almost destroyed itself way back in 1929.

The higher the Top 1% has climbed up the income ladder, the more tenuous it feels its grip on those top rungs has become. And it is that fear of falling, as Marshall says, which explains the snarling, ferocious backlash we’ve seen over the past five years among an upper class that is desperate to keep everything it’s won and furious with President Obama for suggesting they should give some of it back.

“The extremely wealthy are objectively far wealthier, far more politically powerful and find a far more indulgent political class than at any time in almost a century – at least,” says Marshall. “And yet at the same time they palpably feel more isolated, abused and powerless than at any time over the same period and sense some genuine peril to the whole mix of privileges, power and wealth they hold.”

This “disconnect” requires some socio-cultural explanation, says Marshall, because on the surface this hysteria among the swells just doesn’t make sense.

After all, President Obama angered portions of his own party when he went along with George W. Bush to push through unpopular fixes that saved the personal fortunes of a lot of the same people who are now demonizing him — like billionaire Tom Perkins who recently compared Obama to Hitler in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

The irony, of course, is that Obama’s policies have been just fine for rich people, says Marshall. Taxes have stayed low. Almost nobody got prosecuted for incinerating trillions of dollars of wealth. And profits are again at record levels.

But reality is no match for a concentration of wealth and gap between rich and poor that is so massive it creates its own “status anxieties” among people who are anxious their status at the top of the social pyramid makes them targets of envy and resentment by those left behind.

The Top 1% (or .01% ) doesn’t just have more stuff, says Marshall. “The sheer scale of the difference means they live what is simply a qualitatively different kind of existence.”

Today’s income gap would create “estrangement and alienation” in any society, says Marshall. But such massive inequality is particularly problematic in a democracy like ours “where such a minuscule sliver of the population can’t hope to protect itself alone at the ballot box.”

And it’s that fear of what “the masses” might do with whatever residual political power they still retain in our democracy that has turned America’s upper class into mistrustful reactionaries who are fighting back with everything they have and demanding that the Republican Party give not one inch to this interloper in the White House and the rainbow coalition he represents.

Could that be why a once-socially responsible conservative like George F. Will, who used to regularly scold fellow conservatives for embracing a survivor-of-the-fittest ethos, has found a new home at Fox News and a second career denigrating democracy while proclaiming the infinite virtues of plutocracy?

Those shouting “class warfare!” today are the same people who were spoiled by Ronald Reagan and his Republican heirs with all their fawning flattery that those with money were the only ones “driving forward the society and economy and prosperity for everyone.”

No matter that Wall Street had come close to crashing the global economic system with its irresponsible risk taking and its gaming the political system to permit “this high-risk, wealth-juicing leverage,” says Marshall. “These were, and are, folks who just weren’t used to public criticism.”

These “masters of the universe” believed their own mythology that only they were responsible for “keeping the globe we all live on from spinning off its axis,” says Marshall. Their attitude was: “So let us enjoy our Hamptons estates and our private jets in peace and we’ll do our jobs and you do yours.”

It’s this overwhelming hubris, insecurity at the brittleness of their hold on wealth, power and privileges — combined with the reality of great wealth and power — “that breeds a mix of aggressiveness and perceived embattlement,” says Marshall.

Obama is hardly a radical socialist. Indeed, most historians and political economists locate Obama somewhere right of center on the political spectrum given his (infuriating to his supporters) caution when approaching the near economic depression of the past five years and the financial sector abuses that caused it.

But when Southerners Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are the only other Democratic presidents elected in the past half century, then Barak Obama becomes the closest thing to a real progressive any of these plutocrats have seen in their adult lives. “And that was just not something any of these folks had experienced before,” says Marshall.

That is how Republicans mutated from a party that once believed in a “hands-off fiscal and regulatory policy” to one that exhibits a “kind of feverish mindset” where conservatives can actually claim with a straight face that progressives are intent on a campaign of “mass wealth confiscation or internment or even exterminations,” says Marshall.

This “feverish mindset” at the upper end of the Republican food chain finds ample expression at the bottom of the conservative coalition as well, where the GOP’s populist right wing base is suffering its own “status anxieties” as white Christians shudder at all those lurid tales it’s been told of the dark-skinned hoards now taking over the country who mean to confiscate their bank accounts and throw them from their homes.

Theirs is the demographic panic of a Mayflower descendent like Sarah Barnes, who complained on Herman Cain’s website how Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl commercial featuring America the Beautiful sung in a chorus medley of different languages was robbing her of her heritage, her cultural inheritance and her “national identity.”

Barnes is all for “diversity” — just so long as the dark-skinned races remember their place and not turn America into a “Frankenstein national cadaver of half dead cultures, stitched together by some godless bureaucrats in Washington.”

Having told us how she really feels about her fellow Americans, Barnes can’t understand for the life of her why narrow-minded liberals are not more accepting of the “different” ideas she expresses but instead call her a racist just because she thinks America belongs to her and her kind while the rest of us are free to live here just so long as we behave.

I feel quite certain that if ever Adolph Hitler rose from the dead and threw his helmet into the ring for the Republican presidential nomination there would be those conservatives who would compare liberals to Nazis for demonizing Das Fuhrer for proposing that the vote be limited to blue-eyed Nordic blondes.

Is the odious bigotry of Sarah Barnes, so rampant now on the right, identical to fascism? Maybe not. Not yet.  But it’s a kind of fascism. Or at least the kind of toxic cultural chauvinism that leads to fascism given the right conditions.

“The human mind is so weak an instrument, and is so easily enslaved and prostituted by human passions, that one is never certain to what degree the fears of the privileged classes of anarchy and revolution are honest fears and to what degree they are dishonest attempts to put the advancing classes at a disadvantage,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr in 1932, just as FDR was taking office.

But these are not bad people, Niebuhr reminds us, just bad groups, which bring out the worst in their members.

Individuals may be moral because “they are endowed with a measure of sympathy and consideration for their kind” and so are able to consider interests other than their own, says Niebuhr.  And provided these  individuals are able to purge “egoistic elements” from themselves, they may even from time to time prefer the advantages of others to their own.

“But all these achievements are difficult, if not impossible, for human societies and social groups,” says Niebuhr. That is because in every human group “there is less reason to guide and to check impulse, less capacity for self-transcendence, less ability to comprehend the needs of others and therefore more unrestrained egoism than the individuals who compose the group reveal in their personal relationships.”

For all their fine talk about liberty and individualism, it’s the solidarity of the group that matters most to right wing conservatives, and their loyalty to it.

 

By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, February 13, 2014

February 16, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Mission Accomplished”: Rand Paul Says ‘War On Women’ Is Over, Everybody Get Married

Yesterday, Rand Paul (R-Ky) declared an armistice in the “war on women” when he told Candy Crowley that the war is over and besides, “women are winning it.”

“The whole thing with the War on Women, I sort of laughingly say, ‘yeah there might have been,’ but the women are winning it,” he said Sunday on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’ “I’ve seen the women in my family and how well they’re doing. My niece is in Cornell vet school and about 85% of the people in vet school are women.”

Mazel Tov to your niece, Rand Paul. It’s so great to hear that there are more women in vet school than in Congress.

“I think women are doing very well, and I’m proud of … how far we’ve come,” Paul said. “I think some of the victimology and all this other stuff is trumped up and we don’t get to any good policy by playing some charade that one party doesn’t care about women or one party isn’t in favor of women advancing or other people advancing.”

On the one hand, Paul’s not totally wrong. Here are all the ways women are winning:

  • Women outnumber men on college campuses 57% to 43%, and the gap is expected to reach 59% to 41% by 2020.
  • The pay gap is shrinking for millennials, with younger women making 93% of what men make
  • Women are 48% of medical school graduates, up from around 10% in 1965
  • Three words: Hillary Rodham Clinton

But on the other hand, women still have the cards stacked against them, especially poor women:

  • 1 in 3 American women live in poverty or on the brink of it
  • 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women, and they usually don’t get sick days
  • The average woman makes 77 cents on a man’s dollar, and that’s lower for minorities; black women make only 64 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women make only 55 cents
  • Even for the rich and well-educated, there’s still a disparity: men with MBAs make an average of $400,000 per year a decade after grad school, women with MBAs make around $250,000

But what Paul said next about marriage is the real nugget here.

“The number one cause of poverty is having kids before you’re married,” he said. “I tell people over and over again, I can’t make you get married, I can’t do anything about that.”

But, Rand…what if there was some magical way to make sure women didn’t have babies before they were married? What if there were some kind of pill, or even a procedure that would allow women to not have babies when they couldn’t afford them? How bout it, Rand? Maybe science has the answer! Let’s check!

Oh wait, this the same Rand Paul that co-sponsored the Life at Conception act to completely outlaw abortion and opposes the Obamacare birth control insurance coverage mandate. Right, I forgot.

He did seem very, very concerned about the plight of women on CNN. “It would be very difficult to have a government policy… how would you institute a government policy that didn’t create incentives to have more children?”

It’s a real head-scratcher.

The fact that Rand Paul thinks the war on women is over means he had no idea what it was about in the first place. Nobody accused the Republican party of standing in the way of women going to veterinary school– women’s financial and educational advancements are propelled by social changes that aren’t being specifically debated on the Senate floor. The “War on Women” is about abortion rights and access to affordable contraception more than anything, and Paul is fighting against both of them.

It’s giving me deja vu to when Bush stood in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner in 2003; a false victory, a pat on the back, and nothing really accomplished.

 

By: Charlotte Alter, Time, January 27, 2014

 

January 28, 2014 Posted by | Rand Paul, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why There’s No Outcry”: At Some Point, Working People, Students, And The Broad Public Will Have Had Enough

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.

First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.

In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.

No longer. Working people don’t dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to paycheck.

No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.

Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.

Second, students don’t dare rock the boat.

In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement, and against the Vietnam War.

But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt. Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating.

To make matters worse, the job market for new graduates remains lousy. Which is why record numbers are still living at home.

Reformers and revolutionaries don’t look forward to living with mom and dad or worrying about credit ratings and job recommendations.

Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible.

When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than 20 percent of Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than 75 percent agreed.

It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.

You’d have to posit a giant conspiracy in order to believe all this was the doing of the forces in America most resistant to positive social change.

It’s possible. of course, that rightwing Republicans, corporate executives, and Wall Street moguls intentionally cut jobs and wages in order to cow average workers, buried students under so much debt they’d never take to the streets, and made most Americans so cynical about government they wouldn’t even try for change.

But it’s more likely they merely allowed all this to unfold, like a giant wet blanket over the outrage and indignation most Americans feel but don’t express.

Change is coming anyway. We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation’s income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue too drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy.

At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.

Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait the more likely it will be the latter.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, January 25, 2014

January 27, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Pushing Bad Politics And Bad Economics”: Washington ‘Centrists’ Don’t Want President Obama To Target Inequality

Last week, President Obama delivered an impassioned address about growing income inequality and declining mobility, correctly identifying the trend as both a problem long in the making and the seminal economic challenge of our time. Inequality in the U.S. has not just meant a growing divide between the rich and the poor, but a weakening middle class, with median wages declining to $51,404 a year, down from $56,000 a year in 2000, all while productivity increased. As President Obama put it, “We know from our history that our economy grows best from the middle out, when growth is more widely shared.” But this belief that a strong and growing middle class is key to economic growth and that inequality actually harms the economy is not an argument Obama pulled out of thin air. Rather it is a theory at the core of the Democratic Party, adhered to by both recent and long past Presidents. Indeed, Bill Clinton who titled his campaign book “Putting People First,” made the same argument when he accepted his party’s nomination for the middle class, stating he was doing so “in the name of all those who do the work, pay the taxes, raise the kids and play by the rules.” And of course, FDR was the father of middle-out economics, adopting demand-side Keynesian economics in the face of the Great Depression.

That’s why it was so surprising that the day before Obama’s speech hosted by the Center for American Progress, Third Way’s Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler declared economic populism “a dead end for Democrats.” They argue that messages about income inequality are overly idealistic and claim that the progressive economic agenda doesn’t excite voters outside of midnight blue districts. Of course, they ignore that it was a populist message about reducing inequality that won Obama reelection just over a year ago.

However, the push from leading progressives for Democrats to embrace a policy agenda that says the promise of America should be for all wasn’t born from a political playbook, but from the economic reality of the last decade. Wages have been unacceptably stagnant: in 2000 the median American worker earned $768 per week, in 2012 that worker still makes $768 per week even as productivity increased over the same time period by 23 percent. Inequality is on the rise. Between 2009 and 2012, 95% of the country’s income gains went to the top 1% of earners. An overwhelming majority of Americans—85 percent—feel that it’s more difficult for middle-class families to maintain their standard of living now than a decade ago. It is in response to this economic hardship and widening income inequality that Americans have embraced a policy vision that rejects failed austerity measures in favor of smart investments in the middle class.

This vision is far from “fantasy-based blue-state populism.” In fact, it’s budget-hawks whose arguments for austerity find support in fictional evidence. The deficit is falling fast—in 2013 it decreased by 37 percent. Where in 2010, the Congressional Budget Office projected deficits would exceed 8 percent of gross domestic product by 2023, today deficits are projected to average around 3 percent of GDP; the unemployment rate, on the other hand is higher today, averaging 7.5% this year, than the CBO predicted it would be by this year , 6.7%. But unemployment isn’t following the same trend. While debt projections are no longer threatening to spiral out of control, budget hawks continue their relentless focus on deficit reduction. And Washington’s obsession with fiscal “solutions” that are in search of a problem has made it harder, not easier, to create good jobs, to increase wages, and to boost overall economic growth.

This is the reality not only in true-blue districts and states, but across the country. That’s why a focus on inequality and requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share has not just been a successful political strategy for Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren, but for leaders in Ohio, California, Maryland, and across the country.

In Ronald Reagan’s home state of California, Gov. Jerry Brown fought for a proposition to raise taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year and to increase the state’s sales tax by a quarter-cent directly to Californians in 2012. The establishment of a “millionaire tax” didn’t drive away innovators, but allowed the state’s leaders to say no to painful budget cuts and turned California into a global model for how to make an economy that works for everybody. Brown turned a $27 billion deficit into a surplus, brought down California’s unemployment rate, and improved the state’s credit rating. As Brown’s progressive, middle-out economic agenda paid dividends, his approval ratings soared.

Kessler and Cowan disingenuously term the serious policy ideas put forward by progressives as a “‘we can have it all’ fantasy.” But what’s lofty about a proposal to enable every child the opportunity to attend preschool when the plan would dramatically expand opportunity by boosting children’s lifetime earnings, reducing teen pregnancy rates, and lowering the chances of future arrest and incarceration? Making smart investments in early childhood education could not only generate more than $7 of economic benefits over a child’s lifetime for every dollar spent up front, but would also benefit our economy in the immediate term by providing parents with increased workplace flexibility. In pursuit of pragmatic, big ideas like universal pre-k, progressives are more than willing to talk about entitlement reforms that don’t hurt beneficiaries. In fact, the  idea that every child should have access to high quality pre-k in return for enormous economic dividends is simply smart economics, not fantasy.

The most confounding piece of Kessler and Cowan’s argument is that they don’t distinguish between tax increases that affect everyone and tax increases that impact the wealthy. They argue that Democrats should learn a lesson from Colorado’s recent decision to turn down an across the board tax. While raising taxes on the wealthy has proven to be both good policy and good politics, there’s no doubt that raising taxes on everyone, as Colorado attempted, may be difficult to do—especially when wages are down. But, Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren aren’t arguing that everyone should pay more in taxes, but only that the wealthy should pay their fair share. President Obama is advocating for the idea that when the top 10 percent of earners take home 50 percent of the country’s wealth, it’s reasonable to ask that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share to ensure that all Americans have a shot at economic success. There’s another politician who raised taxes on the wealthy by raising the top marginal rate who was handily reelected President: Bill Clinton.

 

By: Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress; The New Republic, December 15, 2013

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Middle Class | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Why Inequality Matters”: Rising Inequality Is By Far The Most Important Single Factor Behind Lagging Middle-Class Incomes

Rising inequality isn’t a new concern. Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street,” with its portrayal of a rising plutocracy insisting that greed is good, was released in 1987. But politicians, intimidated by cries of “class warfare,” have shied away from making a major issue out of the ever-growing gap between the rich and the rest.

That may, however, be changing. We can argue about the significance of Bill de Blasio’s victory in the New York mayoral race or of Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement of Social Security expansion. And we have yet to see whether President Obama’s declaration that inequality is “the defining challenge of our age” will translate into policy changes. Still, the discussion has shifted enough to produce a backlash from pundits arguing that inequality isn’t that big a deal.

They’re wrong.

The best argument for putting inequality on the back burner is the depressed state of the economy. Isn’t it more important to restore economic growth than to worry about how the gains from growth are distributed?

Well, no. First of all, even if you look only at the direct impact of rising inequality on middle-class Americans, it is indeed a very big deal. Beyond that, inequality probably played an important role in creating our economic mess, and has played a crucial role in our failure to clean it up.

Start with the numbers. On average, Americans remain a lot poorer today than they were before the economic crisis. For the bottom 90 percent of families, this impoverishment reflects both a shrinking economic pie and a declining share of that pie. Which mattered more? The answer, amazingly, is that they’re more or less comparable — that is, inequality is rising so fast that over the past six years it has been as big a drag on ordinary American incomes as poor economic performance, even though those years include the worst economic slump since the 1930s.

And if you take a longer perspective, rising inequality becomes by far the most important single factor behind lagging middle-class incomes.

Beyond that, when you try to understand both the Great Recession and the not-so-great recovery that followed, the economic and above all political impacts of inequality loom large.

It’s now widely accepted that rising household debt helped set the stage for our economic crisis; this debt surge coincided with rising inequality, and the two are probably related (although the case isn’t ironclad). After the crisis struck, the continuing shift of income away from the middle class toward a small elite was a drag on consumer demand, so that inequality is linked to both the economic crisis and the weakness of the recovery that followed.

In my view, however, the really crucial role of inequality in economic calamity has been political.

In the years before the crisis, there was a remarkable bipartisan consensus in Washington in favor of financial deregulation — a consensus justified by neither theory nor history. When crisis struck, there was a rush to rescue the banks. But as soon as that was done, a new consensus emerged, one that involved turning away from job creation and focusing on the alleged threat from budget deficits.

What do the pre- and postcrisis consensuses have in common? Both were economically destructive: Deregulation helped make the crisis possible, and the premature turn to fiscal austerity has done more than anything else to hobble recovery. Both consensuses, however, corresponded to the interests and prejudices of an economic elite whose political influence had surged along with its wealth.

This is especially clear if we try to understand why Washington, in the midst of a continuing jobs crisis, somehow became obsessed with the supposed need for cuts in Social Security and Medicare. This obsession never made economic sense: In a depressed economy with record low interest rates, the government should be spending more, not less, and an era of mass unemployment is no time to be focusing on potential fiscal problems decades in the future. Nor did the attack on these programs reflect public demands.

Surveys of the very wealthy have, however, shown that they — unlike the general public — consider budget deficits a crucial issue and favor big cuts in safety-net programs. And sure enough, those elite priorities took over our policy discourse.

Which brings me to my final point. Underlying some of the backlash against inequality talk, I believe, is the desire of some pundits to depoliticize our economic discourse, to make it technocratic and nonpartisan. But that’s a pipe dream. Even on what may look like purely technocratic issues, class and inequality end up shaping — and distorting — the debate.

So the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time. Will we do anything to meet that challenge?

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, December 15, 2013

December 16, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Economy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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