Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Biting the Hand (link)

Several observers have noted that in the recent election, the drift of wealthy/high-income/rich people away from the Republicans picked up steam. David Brooks, among others, bemoans the GOP's practiced ability to alienate the professional classes, noting that even bankers contributed to Obama vs. McCain by over 2:1. It took genius, as Brooks points out, to achieve that.

As the country debates whether this election was a cry for change from a center-right country, or a mandate for a more leftward course, there has been a rise in volume from the traditional populists, who, even with the election won, are stepping up the rhetoric of vengeance against everyone making $250,000 or more, the number which Obama has arbitrarily defined as the boundary between "wealth" and non-wealth.

I am not against hard measures against individuals who committed malfeasance. There are many Wall Streeters who deserve to be put out on the street. These are people who harvested in a few years much of what this country took 200 years to build, mainly through clever tricks of financial manipulation and the purchase of a number of congressmen. They deserve punishment they are unlikely to receive. As we contemplate the bailout of the auto companies, we ignore the very real betrayals by a generation of executives, who willfully refused to adopt modern management methods to run their companies. All the blame being placed on the unions would be moot if those companies had kept making cars that people want. Many of those executives deserve time at hard labor for sheer negligence.

But to demonize everyone making $250,000 or more, most of whom actually contributed to Obama, is an early step toward destroying the still new and fragile coalition that has reversed the past decade's slide into the Rove-ian abyss. We have voted against our immediate financial self-interest, in part out of revulsion at the kind of conservatism that has taken over the Republican party, and in part in the conviction that our long-term interests ARE best served by a fairer, more tolerant and more stable society.

There is, however, a limit. Very few of the so-called "rich" are actually so rich as not to have to care about their tax bill. Most people in the educated/professional classes have a number at which they feel their own livelihoods threatened. Reach that number, and they will move back into the GOP column.

Leaving aside the need for short-term government spending to dig us out of the current crisis, there are many progressive goals that do not require still further increases in government spending, but simply require a change of policy. Environmental responsibility, equality under the law, respect for privacy and habeas corpus, reproductive rights, teaching science instead of religion in schools, and not launching wars of choice--all of these are things that would not require more money, or would in fact be LESS costly than current procedure. The new administration would do well to focus on some of these goals and be careful about too much "spreading the wealth". A safety net is one thing, and is essential, but it should not depend on pulling the net out from others.


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