Universal Translator

Thursday, November 10, 2011

“How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich”


No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!!

That’s a bad Tim Dickinson!  Bad!!  That is not how it is done!

Via Hunter, I see that Tim Dickinson has a great article in this month’s Rolling Stone titled “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich,” which you can read by clicking on the link.  And you really should click on the link, the article is very, very good.  I hope to be able to put together a more substantive post about it later today, but for now I just wanted to quickly get down this Minor Rant in the Key of Aggrieved.

Dickinson basically describes how the Republican Party has evolved to the point that its only guiding principle is the funneling of ever increasing amounts of money to the uber-wealthy in the form of tax cuts.  But Dickinson’s title, and the theme to which he returns time and again in the article, presents this fact in precisely the wrong way.  And what is most maddening is that the phrase he should have used throughout is one he actually does use at one point.  The point isn’t that the GOP has become the party of “the rich,” the point is that the GOP has become “the Party of the One Percent.”

It makes a difference. 

Americans don’t like to see “the rich” demonized.  To begin with, the term is so vague that most of us believe that we personally know someone else who is “rich,” even if we don’t personally consider ourselves to be rich.

Moreover, popular and low-brow American culture respects “the rich” just because they are rich.  When she threw her name into the California gubernatorial race after Gray Davis was recalled, porn star Mary Carey explained that she was running as a Republican because they are “the party of the rich” and she wanted to be rich too.  Millions of Americans voluntarily tune in to a faux reality show to watch the ever odious Donald Trump fire losers . . . and a lot of those viewers do so because they identify with and/or idolize Trump.  (Yeah, I know . . . I don’t get that either.)

Finally, a lot of Americans believe they will eventually be rich too.  According to this poll more than one-half of all Americans between 18 and 29 think they are going to get rich in their lifetime, and about one-third of the entire American population believe they are likely personally to end up rich.

But of course, all of these perceptions turn on what it is people mean when they think of the word “rich.”  According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income in America is a little over $50,000.  For a two-income, working class family with two children making $50,000 a year, I’ll bet a family making $250,000 a year seems “rich.”

But even people making a quarter of a million dollars a year are not the “rich people” with whom the GOP is concerned.  The GOP is concerned almost exclusively with the uber-wealthy who make up the 1%, or even the super-uber-wealthy who make up the top fraction that one percent.  Consider these facts from Dickinson’s article:

·         Since 1997, the average annual income of the wealthiest 400 individuals has more than tripled . . . while their share of the tax burden has plunged by 40%;
·         Under the tax cut plan enacted by the Newt Gingrich-led GOP in 1994, 62% of all those tax cuts benefited only the top 1%;
·         Under Bush II’s first round of tax cuts, the bottom 20% of wage earners could expect to save about $744 over 10 years – the top 1% saved about $340,000;
·         Under Bush II’s second round of tax cuts, more than half of all those tax cuts benefited only the top 1%, and people making $10 million or more pocketed an extra $1 million every year;
·         When Obama cut his deal last year extending the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a single year’s worth of further unemployment benefits, the GOP also insisted on altering the estate tax so that the heirs of the richest 0.25 percent of estates – the top quarter of one percent – pocketed an additional $23 billion dollars.

As Dickinson puts it, "[r]arely in Ameican history has a tax [scheme] so effectively targeted the top one percent."

This isn’t about “the rich” getting richer – this is about the top 1% draining as much as they can of all American prosperity down their own greedy gullets.

* * *

The American people might sympathize with and even identify with “the rich,” but I’d be willing to bet good money that they don’t sympathize or identify with “the 1%.”  It’s easy for a young person graduating college to imagine that he or she will eventually end up with a satisfying job earning a six figure salary and living comfortably.  It’s much more difficult for that same graduate to seriously entertain the belief that he or she might become richer than 99% of everybody else in the country.

Most people have only a hazy notion of what it means to be “rich” but we all understand what it means to be in the top 1%, if only because so many of us have taken a standardized test at one time or another.  Being “rich” means you got an “A” on your Econ 101 mid-term, and maybe you expect to be able to pull that off.  But landing in the top 1% means you got a perfect score on your financial SATs . . . and almost nobody aces their SATs.

One of the greatest, most immediate benefits already to have come out of the Occupy Wall Street movement is the coining of the term “the 1%.”  It is great shorthand.  It instantly conjures images of an elite group of which neither you nor anybody you know is a member acting for their own selfish purposes.  By stressing how small a group this is, the term almost automatically offends Americans’ reflexive belief in democratic principles and the rule of the majority, and triggers our distaste for people who take more than their fair share. 

And – best of all – it is an accurate description of the cabal that has seized power in this country, a description and charge easily defended.  Complaining about “the rich” opens oneself up to being dismissed with charges of “class warfare”; complaining about “the 1%” just provides an opportunity to cite figures and facts like the ones in Dickinson’s article demonstrating how much this small group of highly-monied people benefits from their control of our government. 

And that, in turn, provides a platform to discuss how our great wealth and income gaps aren’t the result of “the free market,” or “globalization,” or “the technological revolution,” but instead are policy outcomes that have been consciously designed by the few, for the benefit of the few, at the expense of the many.

“The 1%” is a great concept, easily grasped and extremely helpful in advancing arguments in support of enacting tax and spending policies to help flatten America’s overwhelming inequalities.  Forget about raising taxes on “the wealthy,” forget about disparaging the GOP as the party of “the rich” – the foe almost all Americans can be easily persuaded to rally against is “the 1%.”

That is the only term we should be using when describing this institutionalized embezzlement.

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