Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Can You Spare A Paradigm?

As I re-read the posts of the past two days, I realized that there's an element to my thinking that needs more exploring in order to successfully launch my "Actor212 Not For President" campaign.


"Class" is one of those nebulous terms that the Republicans have successfully turned into a third rail of politics, while the Democrats have sputtered and spewed trying to catch up to expose what should be apparent to anyone who's actually paid attention these past twenty years: people vote against their best interests because they've been taught to ignore their best interests.

The Republican platform, as I pointed out yesterday, is "lower taxes, smaller government," a platform they have been woefully inept and inartful at achieving. Tax revenues have spiked upwards except when there's been a recession, which is itself an uniquely Republcian phenomenon.

The mantra is that lower taxes will bring more economic investment and that Americans, particularly small-businessmen, know better how to spend their money than the government does.

Believe it or not, I actually buy some of that. It is true, to an extent. The tax cuts of the Kennedy administration fostered the greatest economic activity in American history until the Clinton tax hike (and there's your clue that taxes are in fact too low). There is a center point around which taxes and economic activity bear some inverse relation to each other.

The proposed rationale that Republicans put forth is essentially, "We'll cut taxes on the rich and maybe they'll employ more of you!"

Well, there's an acknowledgement of the American dream if I've ever heard one! Horatio Alger, look out! There's a whole crop of proletariats just gearing up to do mindless drone work, day in and day out, for the betterment of an elite class of owners!

Meanwhile, the Republicans will talk about class in terms of social structure, in particular "middle class values".

Middle class socially differs from middle class economically. Economically, middle class means, well, people in the middle: those who make between $25,000 and say $100,000 (for a family of four). Below that, you are working class. Much above that, you are upper class.

Socially, middle class means having shared American values like "hard work will provide a path to wealth" or other mainstreamed bromides that provide a rationale for getting up each morning and providing someone else with wealth while struggling in your own life. Religion may be the opiate of the masses, but values are the six packs of beer they consume to get to the five o'clock whistle.

It is this dynamic that I think is about ready to change, as people sit amidst a pile of debt and an economy falling around their ears, wondering how come ExxonMobil is still making money hand over fist and John McCain is proposing yet another tax incentive for Big Oil.

Republicans raise the spectre of "class warfare" (Charles Rangel had the best rebuttal to this: "Yes, but you declared it on us!"), and it's true: the line between economic and social classes has been carefully blurred such that about the only class that ever gets talked about is the middle class, so much so that you'd almost think that everyone is middle class, much like all the children in Lake Woebegone are above average.

By raising the spectre of class warfare, the Republicans are really saying, "Pay no attention to the fact that there really are classes in this country, that channels like Style and Fine Living exist not for the 3 million or so families who are uberwealthy, but for the hundreds of millions who wish they were, but never will be."

That has to change. The question is, how to change it? How to raise the issue of class in this country so that a) one doesn't get accused of being classist unjustly, and b) one doesn't get tarred with being both elitist AND an anarchist?

I think the way to tie this discussion together in a package that no Republican could ever critique without treading very dangerous ground is to tie it into affirmative action and in particular, racial dialogues.

Here, of course, Barack Obama could be the better man to do it than I would. He has a natural advantage.

But in truth, a careful analysis reveals that what many of us take for granted-- good jobs, a retirement plan, opportunity-- has been taken away from first minorities (in truth, many never even had these) and then from working class Americans, with blindness to the color of their skins.

A single mother in Alabama, struggling to put food on the table at her $20,000 a year job packing sausages could be black, could be white. It doesn't matter to the food bank. The thing is, neither does it matter to the guy who owns the factory. All he or she knows is, he's making money off her sweat.

Sounds vaguely socialist, I know. And perhaps that's the way it ought to sound, because capitalism, democracy and Christian "values" are incompatible in the extreme.

There's a trick to this idea that has to be carefully navigated, but like the Republicans' nifty trick of de-coupling "values" and those who hold them dear with their policies, which are anthema to those very values, it can be done.

In this instance, we have to recouple the issues of fairness economically with social fairness. Not justice, because that has a heavy-handed "enforced" air about it.

What I think we should have established in this country is a whole new ideal that society is ready to stop taking differences for either granted OR as inconsequential. No more "affirmative action," but no more "color-blind (pick one) admissions policy/hiring policy/whathaveyou" way of conservatives ducking their responsibilities to the masses of a different class.

What we need to do is to expand opportunities for everyone, and let everyone have a stake in the future of this nation. Societal constructs will blow by in the wake of a thriving economy that sees true entrepreneurs, small (and I don't mean rich white guys owning a vineyard on the side, but people trying to provide a needed service or good in the future) businessmen revitalizing the notion that markets are free and that's a good thing so long as markets remain free and not closed to competition by people, Democrat and Republican, who pay lip service to Adam Smith.

Adam Smith himself believed in government regulation of the markets to a degree, because Adam Smith himself said that an unregulated market would tend to create business combinations that would defeat the purposes of a free competition. I won't bore you with the details of his reasoning. Suffice it to say he recognized that people would conspire to restrain trade in their own industries to protect their business interests.

We need to get back to the notion that people matter, that a "class blind society" is not consistent with industries that can pay hundreds of millions dollars in what effectively bribes in order to protect their interests. That people matter. That families matter.

That democracy matters.