***SPOILER ALERT*** I’ll be voting again for Barack Obama this November. I was critical of his earlier decisions to delay the EPA’s clean air regulations and to not push for Medicare for all, and I was appalled when it appeared that he and the Dems in Congress were giving in to the Right by allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to remain. But make no mistake, he’s been a good president, and would undoubtedly be a better president for almost all Americans than would Mitt Romney.
I am particularly pleased with his recent labeling of Governor Romney as “Robin Hood in Reverse.” I was just saying a week ago that he and his surrogates have got to do a better job of exposing Mr. Romney’s plan as one to increase poverty; not one of “trickle down,” but rather of deluging up, from the working and middle classes to the wealthy.
At the heart of this debate, of course, is philosophy. You either believe government is innately bad and should be curtailed–except for when it comes to defense and things with which your religion agrees, such as stopping gay marriage and giving women the right to choose (in those instances big government is fine). Or you believe government is the most viable force for creating and ensuring equality, opportunity, corporate responsibility, legal and social justice, environmental protection, etc., and you want people in office who know that their role is to fight for those things.
Given that I support the latter, here is my response during a polite debate with a conservative friend who contended that government waste, not too little taxes on the wealthy, was the greater fiscal culprit:
“Well… We agree on the problems of government waste. As you mentioned, there may be no better example of waste than in education, where we constantly spend untold sums of money on unproven, untested products.
Aside from that, we should consider (a) evidence, (b) the notion that government waste is worse than corporate excess, (c) the notion that billionaires are such because of “entrepreneurial drive,” and (d) the notion that endorsing a tax specifically on wealthier Americans is prejudiced.
In terms of evidence, I see direct evidence that the liberal, progressive ideology (note the focus on “liberal” and “progressive,” not “Democratic” or “Republican”) I believe in today has paid dividends over time through the government’s ending of slavery, passing of minimum wage and 40-hour work week laws, giving women the right to vote, making college affordable and largely free (until recent years), creating the EPA to protect our air and water, passing the New Deal, passing the Civil Rights Act, attempting to regulate Wall Street, and passing the Affordable Care Act. Much of that was done with our tax dollars; all of it made our lives better. In fact, I’d willingly pay more taxes if we could have even stricter regulations against air and water polluters and big corporations, cheaper tuition, a living wage, etc. Unfortunately, these things are fought hard against by others in government who seek to enrich themselves and their corporate friends, not to elevate the people.
Then there’s the notion that government waste is worse than corporate greed and excess. We need evidence here as well. I’ll point to Collins and Yeskel’s (2000) book “Economic Apartheid in America.” Given that CEOs earn almost 250Xs what the average worker makes, their pay has risen exponentially while worker pay has been flat for 30 years, and government welfare to corporations and the wealthy far surpasses welfare to the impoverished, I’d say most of our government’s waste is to people and corporations who need it the least. It’s definitely time they pay their fair share.
That wealthy people are such because they work and try harder than everyone else is the notion of meritocracy—that you rise or fall strictly on your own merits and talents. I’ve always disagreed with this. Sure, work ethic and effort matter, but in America, they haven’t historically mattered more than other variables, such as generational wealth, connections, power, race, gender, and class. Plus, if we’re going to extol the philanthropic good that wealthy people do, then we must also highlight the exploitation and theft many of them have engaged in historically to make their money. I’d estimate that of America’s 400 billionaires, 350 of them either have generational ties to slavery money, current ties to offshore sweatshop/slave-like labor, or both. In fact, and pardon the reference, but it is probably harder for someone to earn a morally and ethically “clean” $5 billion than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
As for proposing a tax on one group over another being prejudiced, you may have a point. But so did John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, FDR, Eisenhower, and others who’ve historically argued that too much wealth and property lead to inequality, undue influence on government and democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, and the literal death of nations, such as Rome. Going back to evidence, are there any modern thinkers on the right who can quote a bloc of Founding Fathers—and they were all very wealthy White men, many of whom owned enslaved Africans—supporting vast, generational concentrations of wealth and estates? This seems to be one of the places where the modern GOP has broken off from historical precedent. It’s a message that’s much more strongly represented by liberals and progressives today than others.”