by Jeremy Leaming
Slowly the economy continues to recover, with jobs being added over the past 26 months, but that progress is amazing in an atmosphere where one of the two major political parties is concerned only with advancing the outlandish interests of the nation’s super wealthy.
The Great Recession, underway before the Obama administration was in existence, has shoved millions into poverty and the gap between the nation’s top 1 percent and everyone else is the widest since the 1920s. Last fall, the Census Bureau reported that the number of people in poverty is at its highest in more than 50 years. As noted earlier this week the super wealthy are increasingly out-of-touch, indeed one retired multimillionaire is pushing a book that calls for more economic inequality.
But how did the country arrive at this point where the middle class is shrinking, the poor is growing and a tiny group of people are amassing most of the wealth? Because, according to some, the nation’s conservative party has been bought by the out-of-touch super wealthy.
The mainstream media, in the name of objectivity, will continue to blame both parties for gridlock in Washington, but a growing number of economists, academics, lawyers, activists, and others concerned about the well-being of all people are pushing back against that tired line.
Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, who have studied Congress for several decades, say the Republican Party is to blame for pushing fantastical policy and refusing to budge from it, therefore creating an atmosphere where progress or change is difficult to foster.
“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics, Mann and Ornstein write for The Washington Post. “It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
One of the group’s to blame for the Republican Party’s unmovable concern about the nation’s super wealthy is Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which pushes conservative lawmakers to sign a pledge against raising any taxes. Norquist (pictured) is all about policy that starves the federal government of revenues, so policies to help the less fortunate dwindle, because those are not the people Norquist or the Republican Party are concerned with.
In his May 4 column for The New York Times, economist Paul Krugman notes the work of Mann and Ornstein, writing, “Specifically money buys power, and the increasing wealth of a tiny minority has effectively bought the allegiance of one of our two major political parties, in the process destroying any prospect for cooperation.”
“And the takeover of half our political spectrum by the 0.01 percent is, I’d argue, also responsible for the degradation of our economic discourse, which has made any sensible discussion of what we should doing impossible,” Krugman continued.
In a piece last year for Rolling Stone Tim Dickinson, said the party of Ronald Reagan has “undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us.”
The Republican-led House of Representatives for instance has pushed policy after policy aimed at shredding the nation’s already tattered safety net. It has proposed draconian cuts to legal services for the poor and is currently fighting a Senate reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it includes extension of services.
Some Democratic lawmakers have joined the growing number of commentators willing to call the right-wing party out for its obsession with advancing policy catering to the super wealthy.
Sen. Patty Murray late last year said Republicans were “operating under the backwards economic principles that only tax cuts for the richest Americans and biggest corporations are worth fighting for.” But Murray said those policies “failed the middle class – and that allowed the wealthiest Americans to amass record fortunes paying the lowest tax rates in decades.”
President Obama has also fought back, saying last year in a speech in Osawatomie, Kan. that the Party’s desire to cut corporate regulations and taxes for the wealthiest is harmful to the country. “It doesn’t work,” he said. “It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ‘50s and ‘60s. And it didn’t work when tried during the last decade.”
But the super wealthy, as Joseph Stiglitz has noted, is not concerned about economic fairness. They like things just the way they are. “The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security – they can buy all these things for themselves,” he wrote. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.”
And a group of billionaires, as Frank Rich reports for New York Magazine, is funneling boatloads of money into the forthcoming general election to ensure that right-wing economic policy continues to prosper.
“Whatever else happens in 2012, it will go down as the Year of the Sugar Daddy,” he writes. “Inflamed by Obama-hatred, awash in self-pity, and empowered by myriad indulgent court and Federal Election Commission rulings, an outsize posse of superrich white men will spend whatever it takes to have its way with the body politic and, if victorious, with the country itself. Given the advanced age of most of this cohort, 2012 may be seen as the election in which the geezer empire stuck back.”
One of the court opinions Frank references is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC, which gave corporations unfettered ability to funnel their expenditures into campaigns. The opinion was forged by the high court’s right-wing majority, which has also issued a string of decisions making if far more difficult for individuals to access the courts to challenge corporate malfeasance.
[image via Gage Skidmore]