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Yeah, I know. Everybody and his dog has a plan for saving the Democratic Party. For 48% of the population, it's something of a national pastime. So excuse me if I join in. I mean, after all, I only promised this article a month ago, it's the long-lost 3rd piece of my exit-polling analysis.

Voter Party ID:Percent

Voter Ideology: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?

Poll #399437 Is America a Meritocracy?

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:
  1. For Liberals from an Ex-Conservative: The First Principle of Conservativism
  2. What Conservatives Don't Grasp about Liberal Economics
  3. For Conservatives: The 1st Principle of Lifestyle Liberalism
To vastly oversimplify three long essays: Conservatives are the party that oppose any form of hedonism, any distraction, any opposition to the Puritan way of life because it's the way of life that's been shown to make individuals and a nation wealthy. Liberals know, however, that there are certain services that if society doesn't provide them for everyone (like education, roads, public health) then someone will be tempted to go without them to save a buck, and we'll all suffer for their decision. Liberals also are unwilling to sacrifice the lives and potential of those who can't live a Puritan lifestyle or who wouldn't be allowed to live a Puritan lifestyle just to make an example out of them to scare the people who're undecided.

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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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%.
If we phrase this as "they don't deserve to keep that money," then we're declaring that we're against winners and for losers, the Loser Party. If, instead, we say that "they deserve to keep that money, but if they don't spend it on taxes now they won't have it anyway when the whole economy collapses around them in another Great Depression," then we're the party of grown-up responsibility.

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.


( 44 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 8th, 2004 03:30 am (UTC)
It really seems to me like the "poor shouldn't be given any money" meme applies to payment for services rendered too. "I'm rich, why should I have to let any of that wealth go?" Which makes climbing out of poverty a catch-22, and forces money upwards. Rich get richer. poor get poorer. Ultimately it's got to break down, but where is that event horizon, when the money's completely at the top, or as close to that as possible?
Dec. 8th, 2004 04:15 am (UTC)
part of the puzzle?
You've helped a bit with the Democratic Party puzzle, but I was taken by the notion there was also an appearance of simple hypocracy.....

From the start of the campaign most of the 'movers and shakers' and candidates were very wealthy white folks. Not one (that I could find) took significant money out of their own pockets to directly aid the poor. Sure some have foundations and the sort, but imagine to impact of a Kerry or Edwards et.al. who took a few million and funded a few free clinics in Appalachia. I mean DIRECTLY and publicly.

Offering something like "I'm doing what I can, you do what YOU can." as a slogan.

How many votes would would that buy (in a good way) in some of the red states?

anyway, good read, as usual.
Dec. 8th, 2004 06:12 am (UTC)
Re: part of the puzzle?
"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Gee, wasn't it a Democrat that said those words? Where the HELL has that kind of attitude gone? (Then again, look what they did to him for saying it...)
Dec. 8th, 2004 02:02 pm (UTC)
Re: part of the puzzle?
George Soros. He lives a quiet, upper-middle-class lifestyle in Texas even though he is rich as sin. He runs a school for underprivledged kids. He tracks those kids through their entire stay at his school and ensures a college education for every kid that graduates. He offers financial and social help to the families of the kids there is little hope of success because without stabalizing the families.

Sure, many despise him for the gigantic contibutions made to the Democrats. When Republicans talk of money and influence, he is the name they use to demonize the left. But you can't say he doesn't help the poor.

Oh yeah, and Bill Gates gave $5 billion to the UN to help copmbat malaria. When he asked how that affected the total funding, he was told it brings the total to $5 billion and change.
yeah, but - ponsdorf - Dec. 8th, 2004 02:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 8th, 2004 04:40 am (UTC)
As a matter of historical record tax revenues have not exceeded 21% of GDP, independent of tax rates! The data goes back all the way to 1934.

Therefore, to pay down the public debt, the Congress must restrain all spending to within that percentage of GDP, and spending on anything other than debt service will have to be yet less.
Dec. 8th, 2004 06:17 am (UTC)
I'll belabor this point again in a later essay, I'm sure, but for now, let me keep this simple. Oppose new taxes, even on those who can afford to pay? Then find me $400 billion (with a "b," American billion, four hundred thousand millions of dollars) that you want to cut from the federal budget. Otherwise you're just blowing smoke.
(no subject) - sierra_nevada - Dec. 8th, 2004 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 8th, 2004 09:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sierra_nevada - Dec. 10th, 2004 12:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 10th, 2004 12:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sierra_nevada - Dec. 10th, 2004 02:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 10th, 2004 03:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kenshi - Dec. 14th, 2004 08:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 14th, 2004 09:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kenshi - Dec. 15th, 2004 08:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 15th, 2004 09:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kenshi - Dec. 15th, 2004 12:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 15th, 2004 01:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kenshi - Dec. 15th, 2004 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 15th, 2004 03:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kenshi - Dec. 15th, 2004 04:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mercyorbemoaned - Dec. 17th, 2004 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 8th, 2004 06:08 am (UTC)
I didn't answer your poll because a moment's thought showed that I didn't have the answer. I've been scarred for life by General Semantics.

There's another argument (though not, I think, a Republican argument) against giving the government lots of money--the government won't necessarily spend the money on what you want it to. As you say, the Great Society was gutted. Afaik, the taxes didn't go down much (at all?). What we've got is a horrendously expensive and useless war on drugs and a dubious-at-best actual war which can be reasonably expected to impovrish many of the US soldiers in it.
Dec. 8th, 2004 06:10 am (UTC)
>Liberals know, however, that there are certain services that if society doesn't provide them for everyone (like education, roads, public health) then someone will be tempted to go without them to save a buck, and we'll all suffer for their decision

Some of us also realize an historical truth that the New Deal folks knew through experience but the "greed is good" folks keep forgetting: If you impoverish large portions of the population while fatting yourself, and refuse to take care of your fellow citizens to at least a subsistence degree, they will rebel and kill you. It's been a long time since we had food riots in this country, but it can and will happen again if things don't change soon.

That being said, We The People also need to realize that tricked-out cars, big TV's, video games and "bling" are not staples of life. I've lived in enough low-income neighborhoods (white and ethnic) to know that poor people try to purchase self-respect through flashy toys (or numbness through intoxication). This is a vicious circle perpetrated by our advertising industry, which hammers us with the idea that YOU NEED [FILL IN THE BLANK] IN ORDER TO BE A REAL PERSON. This corrosive idea has eaten through fiscal responsibility on all social levels, but it seems especially devastating in poor communities. The Puritan ideal takes things to far, but really, where the fuck did the idea of saving money go?

(Oh, yeah, that's right - it's un-American. We all need to spend more money to fuel economic growth. How silly of me to forget...)

The first thing Democrats and/or "liberals" need to do in order to escape this quagmire is drop the suffix "ism" from their lexicon and replace it with "responsibility." That's right - environmental responsibility. Social responsibility. Female responsibility. Multicultural responsibility. And so forth. That small yet significant change not only removes the talk-show stigma, it presents the double-edged nature of progressive change. Yes, society at large DOES have the RESPONSIBILITY to take care of the environment, of its disempowered members, of gender inequalities. We DO have to recognize that there are valid cultures beyond the Great White Hemogency. These are realities that any RESPONSIBLE person or society must recognize and deal with... or suffer the consequences.

That beings said, it also emphasizes the REALITY that people need to take responsibility for their own lives and actions. Being young/ disadvantaged/ non-Anglo-ethnic/ whatever does NOT automatically guarantee you a free lunch. You have to take care of your own shit - society will HELP you (and should not hinder you), but will not PROVIDE EVERYTHING for you. You will still need to work toward society's good somehow, or your benefits will go away. In our post-liberalism world, the idea of WORK AND CONSEQUENCES is one that lots of folks from across the spectrum can people support. More importantly, though, it forces people to realize that nothing happens without effort. You give, you get; you get, you give.

Naturally, there will be resistance on all fronts to this idea. Neither "liberal" nor "conservative" Americans like to be held accountable for their actions - as any scandal shows. Again, as a nation we are raised to believe that society/ the government/ our parents/ whatever OWES us something. (Hello, Dubya you fat leech son of privilege, yes I'm talking about you.) This attitude of entitlement - among rich, poor and middle-class alike - is eating America to the bone. A tonal shift of "ism" to "responsibility" may sound like semantics, but words are power. And few words are more powerful than ones that, like "response-ibility", declare action, not adherence.
Dec. 8th, 2004 08:09 am (UTC)
If you impoverish large portions of the population while fatting yourself, and refuse to take care of your fellow citizens to at least a subsistence degree, they will rebel and kill you.

On a less lethal level, remember why Henry Ford paid his workers a living wage, when he didn't really have to -- he wanted them to buy his cars. In the future economy that the Repubs seem to be trying to build, who'll buy the products that the megacorps are selling?

The only megacorp that seems to make sense is Walmart -- the more Walmart tears down the economy of the rural US, the only place rural people can afford to shop is Walmart.
Almost - inner_linbo - Dec. 8th, 2004 08:19 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Almost - drewkitty - Dec. 8th, 2004 12:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Almost - inner_linbo - Dec. 8th, 2004 12:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
There it is - ponsdorf - Dec. 8th, 2004 11:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
a problem - ponsdorf - Dec. 8th, 2004 06:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mari_who - Dec. 8th, 2004 10:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 8th, 2004 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - satyrblade - Dec. 9th, 2004 06:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - satyrblade - Dec. 9th, 2004 06:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benndragon - Dec. 14th, 2004 02:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mercyorbemoaned - Dec. 17th, 2004 09:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 8th, 2004 06:14 am (UTC)
I don't know how true the first one is. but I think it's fairly true . . .
Dec. 8th, 2004 09:15 am (UTC)
thanks for the effort into these essays

For Liberals from an Ex-Conservative: The First Principle of Conservativism is the Tawney-Weber hypothesis, discredited both sociologically and historically.

you ought to read Lakoff, see his Moral Politics

Dec. 8th, 2004 09:53 am (UTC)
Actually, I'm talking more about American exceptionalism (itself an unpopular idea on the left, I grant) ala de Toqueville than I am Tawney or Weber.
Dec. 8th, 2004 11:58 am (UTC)
One way to turn it around is to point out that rich people rob the poor to pay for services only the rich need.

This is about as popular as pointing out that illegal immigrants pay more taxes (through the sales tax) than most millionaires.

Waiting for the Democratic Party to save us is like expecting the getaway driver to come into the bank and keep you from being shot by his partner.

Last but not least, consider how such frivolities as public schooling, unemployment and food stamps were sold in this country.

1) public subsidy for business: public schools benefit employers (when they work); unemployment puts employers on an even footing and allows people to be fired more easily; food stamps subsidizes grocery stores and farmers

2) riot insurance: an educated populace is less likely to vote themselves bread and circuses, or revolt in less useful ways

Unfortunately, the Republicans have discovered that propaganda is much cheaper than both 1) and 2). Sucks to be us.
Dec. 17th, 2004 09:04 pm (UTC)
In no case does any adult in America get money just for being poor.

Maybe not from the feds, but you can get money and services and funny little coupons just for being poor from the states and the cities, if you pick the right ones.

California's state income tax is monstrous, but California's public services, other than the schools, aren't that bad. There's subsidized health care, there's housing assistance, and if you are really lowdown, there's cash grants. (Excuse me, there's a check from which you get to hand a significant chuck over to the check cashing guy.)
Aug. 5th, 2006 01:20 am (UTC)
I disagree
You say California's public services aren't bad. My sister was on disability (she wanted to go back to work but they told her, "No, never.") and she got a $300 voucher for rent and $11 for food and everything else. Each month. She was expected to live on that in the most expensive area in the US. And to get that much she had to have the knowledge of an expert to make her way through the system (luckily she's good at that.) and it took more than six months to get it started. She lived off of her friends before that.
Oddly enough she's now back at work -- she found a chiropractor who fixed her unfixable problem. (It was not an imaginary problem -- she has broken her back twice.)
Anyway, if it's not enough to live on, how can it be considered good? Even if they housed people in barracks and fed them in a dining hall, wouldn't that be better than the kinds of things that happen when people literally have to live on $11 dollars a month in an area where a studio apartment rent starts at $1100?
Anyway, most people on assistance are on it only temporarily, despite what opponants opine. Most people hate it, and would rather support themselves.
Re: I disagree - mercyorbemoaned - Aug. 5th, 2006 01:54 am (UTC) - Expand
( 44 comments — Leave a comment )