The war of the wealthy on the middle class and poor
Paul Krugman has an excellent column, but read it in the light of this column in Salon by Joan Walsh:
On Wednesday I finished my piece on Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens boasting that President Obama “only” won the votes of Americans who earn less than $50,000 – that’s most people, by the way – and rushed to MSNBC’s “Hardball” to discuss the GOP’s diversity problems with supposedly moderate former Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia.
It was a calm, respectful conversation, until Davis volunteered that Romney lost because of Obama’s voter turnout operation – specifically, his ability to turnout “underclass minorities” and “particularly those who orient toward the city” who were “pulled out of the apartments.” Since we had been talking about the GOP’s problems with women and people of color, I respectfully offered Davis some “free advice” – that it might be time to retire the term “underclass.” It got worse.
Davis mumbled about the term not being “politically correct,” and when I referenced Stevens’s slur against people who make less than $50,000 a year, many of whom are actually middle class, Davis jumped in: “That’s not where the voter turnout came, if you know your voter stats, it was really people who were making even less than that, pulled out of the apartments…groups that traditionally haven’t voted.” (Yes, I caught the condescending “if you know your voter stats.”)
Davis’s “underclass minorities” remark has gotten a lot of attention – Salon flagged it and posted the video here – but I want to spend a moment on his concern about “groups that traditionally haven’t voted.” To be fair, Davis wasn’t accusing Democrats of voter fraud, the way other Republicans have. But he still seemed unsettled by the fact that the president turned out people who “traditionally haven’t voted” – who were “pulled out of the apartments” even! Yes, there are all sorts of hoary racial stereotypes jumbled up in those words, and class stereotypes as well.
Republicans don’t know what to do when “groups that traditionally haven’t voted” turn up at the polls. . .
There’s a lot to think about in that column. For example, Davis sounds very much as if he’s actually opposed to people voting—or, at the very least, to people voting for Democrats. It’s as if he thinks people have a right to vote only if they have previously voted, or only if they vote for conservative candidates. It’s hard to understand his complaint otherwise.
Perhaps he thinks people are wrong to vote for candidates whose positions promise to improve their well-being, but certainly the wealthy supporters of Romney thought his positions would benefit them. That seems to be okay, so why wouldn’t it be okay on the other end of the economic spectrum?
Now to Krugman’s column in the NY Times:
On Election Day, The Boston Globe reported, Logan International Airport in Boston was running short of parking spaces. Not for cars — for private jets. Big donors were flooding into the city to attend Mitt Romney’s victory party.
They were, it turned out, misinformed about political reality. But the disappointed plutocrats weren’t wrong about who was on their side. This was very much an election pitting the interests of the very rich against those of the middle class and the poor.
And the Obama campaign won largely by disregarding the warnings of squeamish “centrists” and embracing that reality, stressing the class-war aspect of the confrontation. This ensured not only that President Obama won by huge margins among lower-income voters, but that those voters turned out in large numbers, sealing his victory.
The important thing to understand now is that while the election is over, the class war isn’t. The same people who bet big on Mr. Romney, and lost, are now trying to win by stealth — in the name of fiscal responsibility — the ground they failed to gain in an open election.
Before I get there, a word about the actual vote. Obviously, narrow economic self-interest doesn’t explain everything about how individuals, or even broad demographic groups, cast their ballots. Asian-Americans are a relatively affluent group, yet they went for President Obama by 3 to 1. Whites in Mississippi, on the other hand, aren’t especially well off, yet Mr. Obama received only 10 percent of their votes.
These anomalies, however, weren’t enough to change the overall pattern. Meanwhile, Democrats seem to have neutralized the traditional G.O.P. advantage on social issues, so that the election really was a referendum on economic policy. And what voters said, clearly, was no to tax cuts for the rich, no to benefit cuts for the middle class and the poor. So what’s a top-down class warrior to do?
The answer, as I have already suggested, is to rely on stealth — to smuggle in plutocrat-friendly policies under the pretense that they’re just sensible responses to the budget deficit.
Consider, as a prime example, the push to raise the retirement age, the age of eligibility for Medicare, or both. This is only reasonable, we’re told — after all, life expectancy has risen, so shouldn’t we all retire later? In reality, however, it would be a hugely regressive policy change, imposing severe burdens on lower- and middle-income Americans while barely affecting the wealthy. Why? First of all, the increase in life expectancy is concentrated among the affluent; why should janitors have to retire later because lawyers are living longer? Second, both Social Security and Medicare are much more important, relative to income, to less-affluent Americans, so delaying their availability would be a far more severe hit to ordinary families than to the top 1 percent.
Or take a subtler example, the insistence that . . .
Continue reading. It should be noted that the increase in life expectancy for people aged 65 (the time at which Social Security used to kick in) is extremely small. The fact that newborns have longer life expectancy is irrelevant to Social Security payouts: those occur only for people age 65 and older, that that life expectancy has increased very little—and certainly less than the proposed increases in retirement age. Moreover, many of lesser income work at physically demanding jobs, and an extended work life is harmful if not impossible.