Election, struggle with ‘fiscal cliff’ starkly contrast two major parties
The past election and the ensuing struggle over the “fiscal cliff” offer a stark perspective on the difference in values and goals between the two major parties. Most in the Republican Party were willing to shut down the government and risk forcing the country back into recession. They were willing to wrack havoc on the nation’s economy to protect the wealthiest from even a small increase in taxes.
This provides proof of the extent to which the extreme right has taken control of the Republican Party. It is the logical result of the ideology that has come to dominate the GOP since the time of Ronald Reagan. The aim is to dismantle the reforms of the New Deal and the Great Society. These programs had succeeded between 1947 and 1983 in producing growing prosperity while greatly reducing income inequality. One New Deal reform, the Wagner Act, aided in the organization of labor unions, and this in turn raised most of the working class into the middle class.
In 1981, Reagan began his attack on the programs of the New Deal and the Great Society that had achieved the economic and political successes mentioned.
The Reagan plan consisted of lower taxes for the rich, removal of regulations on corporations and financial markets, and cheap labor, which meant attacking unions.
The result of these measures are many: In the past 30 years, income for the wealthiest 1 percent has increased 480 percent, while that of middle-income families has risen only 21 percent; the richest 400 families now have greater combined wealth than the bottom 150 million; 46 million now live below the poverty level; from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of all economic gains went to the richest 1 percent of the population.
Reagan famously said, “Government is not the answer, government is the problem.” Nonetheless he did not immediately attack the defining programs of the New Deal and the Great Society, although he did attack the unions. But Reagan’s heirs are not at all hesitant to do so.
Two-thirds of the cuts in Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap to Prosperity” are to programs that benefit the economically lowest two-thirds of the population. At the same time, Ryan would cut taxes on the rich. This is a gross example of what Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was referring to when he said “much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others. … The riches accruing to the top have come at the expense of those down below.”
In other words, class warfare, plain and simple.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We may have a democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” The Republicans’ answer is akin to that of Marie Antoinette who, upon being told that the people of Paris had no bread, allegedly said “Let them eat cake.”
Ted Kinnaman is vice chairman for elections of the Rock County Democratic Party. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.