|Voter Party ID:||Percent|
Note that I have trimmed off the columns that report what candidates the liberals, moderates, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents voted for, because that's not the point of this essay. The point of this essay is ...
Conclusion #5 (Final): Democrats have lost the war of ideas.
Take the following poll. In your opinion, are the following statements true, or false?
Most wealthy people in America earned their wealth through their own work, talents, and/or other virtues.
Most poor people in America are poor because of their own choices, because they are or were unwilling to do what it takes to make an honest living.
What these questions really boil down to is, is America a meritocracy? Every social studies textbook in America says that it is. Almost every parent tells their children that they can be anything they want if they work at it hard enough. If America is a pure meritocracy, then there is no such thing as luck; we must assume that if Bill Gates hadn't just happened to be the guy whose dialect of BASIC IBM wanted to buy for their PC division and hadn't just happened to have had a meeting with some other people who had an operating system for sale, and if the IBM managers in the room hadn't happened to be the dumbest people in the history of the computer industry, and if the family money that had kept Micro Soft in business when other early microcomputer software companies were folding hadn't been there, then he would have become the richest man in the world through some other means involving hard work and/or other virtues. (Which would be a pretty remarkable thing to say. I've used AppleSoft BASIC aka Cassette BASIC, the only commercial software Bill Gates ever wrote in his life, and I have to tell you it was bug-infested to an extent I've seldom seen since and missing absolutely essential features.) We would have to assume that some 14-year-old orphan in southern Appalachia dying of an easily treatable disease like dysentery because she's too weak to try to find a ride the 50 miles to the nearest emergency room could have worked her way out of poverty somehow.
In short, we'd have to believe that there is no such thing as luck, and we'd have to believe that there is no such thing as social class. However, we as Americans have had over a hundred years of propaganda that says just that, and I dare say that nearly everybody believes it. $7 an hour clerks at Wal-Mart living in their parent's basement (or an "extended stay hotel" or a homeless shelter) think of themselves as middle class. $400,000 a year families think of themselves as middle class. Heck, George freakin' Bush thinks of himself as middle class! We're all middle class, we all have the same opportunities, and all of us are exactly as wealthy or as poor as we deserve to be. Which means more than anything else that anybody who has money deserves that money and shouldn't have it taken away from them! Equally specifically, it means that anybody who doesn't have money doesn't deserve any money, and shouldn't have the rich people's money given to them!
But that's what "liberal" means to most people, now. Never mind that the New Deal was completely eliminated decades ago. Never mind that there are no actual wealth-transfer programs to give money directly to healthy adults. (Sick or crippled people get pensions, but only if they've worked at least once in their lives. Children get money through their parents, because nobody blames the kid quite exactly, but even then we punish the kid now by taking the money away if we don't think the parent is doing enough to deserve it. That's called "welfare reform." Healthy unemployed people get cash, but it comes out of their own insurance premiums, paid out of their salary through a mandatory program. In no case does any adult in America get money just for being poor. Just in case somebody told you otherwise. Grrrr.) When most people here the word liberal, though, what they hear in their mind is somebody who'd say this:
"Rich people don't deserve all that money. Poor people deserve more money than they have. We should take away the rich people's money and give it to the poor people!"
Can you imagine anything more un-American than to specifically punish people for winning and reward people for losing? And yet whenever a Democrat talks about aiding the poor, or talks about meeting the needs of the unfortunate, or about racial justice or social justice or justice for minorities, or about taking care of the needs of the working poor, that's exactly what roughly 79% of the public hears - they want to take money away from the deserving to give it to the undeserving. As far as the vast majority of the American public is concerned, letting wealthy people keep all of their money is social justice. So far as I can tell, all of those memes, all of those messages, have become toxic. If you say any of those things, you're what Ayn Rand called a looter -- and it's no accident that our long-lasting Chairman of the Federal Reserve was a close disciple of Ayn Rand. The Randroids won the war of ideas.
That's why I spent almost the entire election season talking about anything but those ideas. Yes, I know that there is such a thing as social class in America. I've written extensively on the subject. But I also know that barring unusually bad luck, if you carefully follow the rules, your children can move up at least one social class per generation, and often as much as two (on a seven-level scale: underclass, working class, middle class, professional, wealthy, celebrity, ruling class). I also know that unless you have extraordinarily bad luck and/or work really hard at screwing up, it's almost impossible in America to fall below the class you were born in. Further, I've read The Millionaire Next Door, which debunks some popular myths. Yes, there are a lot of people with big salaries because of their social class ... and they're in debt up to their eyeballs and two missed paychecks away from bankruptcy. Your average American with a high net worth, who's actually wealthy, is someone raised working class or middle class who invested in their own business that has steady income, low overhead, no need to put up an expensive front, and who pinched pennies their whole life. So in point of fact, the American people aren't entirely wrong in believing that the poor should be spending less time demanding "economic justice" and more time making money, even a pittance if that's all they can get, and not spending any of it except to get their kids a better education.
This would be a good time for those of you who're new to my writing to go back and re-read what I think are the three best essays I've written in all my time on LiveJournal:
- For Liberals from an Ex-Conservative: The First Principle of Conservativism
- What Conservatives Don't Grasp about Liberal Economics
- For Conservatives: The 1st Principle of Lifestyle Liberalism
The last four years have ripped the mask off of the Republican Party, and the next four years are going to do so even more. Eventually people are going to have to see that the Republican Party's "Laffer curve" doesn't work, that it really is the "voodoo economics" that George Bush the Elder called it when he was running against Ronald Reagan. The Republicans, not the Democrats, have become the true "Santa Claus" party that promises everything, but doesn't think that anybody should have to pay for it. That they promise to only give the benefits to the "deserving" doesn't make their refusal to ask anyone to pay for it any more responsible.
No, I think that there are two themes on which the Republican policies are vulnerable, and these two points need to be hammered home at every opportunity - and no subtlety or nuance, people, we're playing for real here, with real dollars, with the real economic future of this country:
- Rich people and comfortable middle class people need to be shown that it hurts them when everybody in this country doesn't get minimal health care and a decent education. They need to see that that's why their insurance premiums are going up. They need to see that that's why American jobs are going overseas. They need to be reminded that cheap goods won't make it to their stores if the highway bridges collapse from neglect. They need to see that no retreat into a gated community with good schools is going to save them if the whole country's economy goes down the tubes.
- Rich people and the comfortable middle class have got to be asked who's going to pay for this stuff? Who's going to pay even for the stuff the government is doing now, never mind the things that need to be done? We've borrowed so much money now that just making the minimum interest payments on the national debt is eating up almost 40% of the money that gets sent to Washington. Every new dollar we borrow drives that percentage up. The longer we wait, the worse the crash is going to be. It needs to be compared to living on maxed-out credit cards, because they'll relate to that, and after the credit-extension binge of the 1980s (and resulting bank collapses and personal bankruptcies), everybody knows someobody who flushed their life down the toilet that way. Republicans have been promising us that their policies would result in economic growth that would pay for all of this ... and it's time to rub people's noses in the fact that they're wrong. Somebody has to start paying down that debt, somebody has to start paying the bills as they come due. Poor people don't have any more money to pay. The middle class, by which I mean everybody earning less than the wealthiest 5% of the country, can't afford to pay any more. The only people who can afford to pay more are those 5%.
Kerry's pledge to only raise taxes on people making over $200,000 a year, the wealthiest 3% of all families in America, and only to pay down debt and for things that we are all in trouble if the government doesn't do it like securing our borders and our ports, was powerful stuff. Or it would have been if people had believed him. Too bad, as I've pointed out before, that after all those years in the Senate he's become one of those guys who sounds like he's lying even when he's telling the truth. We should lose the fast-talking city-slickers, and distance ourselves from the income-redistribution leftists, but keep that part. Oh, wait, I forgot, we had a candidate like that, a straight-talking DLC moderate governor. Gee, what happened to him? Oh yeah, I remember ... Al Sharpton took Republican money and Republican volunteer help and used it to tear that guy down in the Iowa debates, and then the news media smeared him as an angry guy. Too bad. We could have used a guy like him.