Monday, September 20, 2010

William Jennings Bryan and Paul Krugman

I'm not going to add much commentary here. Simply providing two brief excerpts will make my point so clearly that any additional analysis would be superfluous.

First, an excerpt from a speech delivered by William Jennings Bryan's during his legendary presidential campaign in 1896:

There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

Now an excerpt from an editorial published today by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. In it, he exposes the economic ideas preached by the modern right-wing (and particularly by the Tea Party movement and its supporters in Congress) as fraudulent in its claims of egalitarianism:

Tax-cut advocates used to pretend that they were mainly concerned about helping typical American families. Even tax breaks for the rich were justified in terms of trickle-down economics, the claim that lower taxes at the top would make the economy stronger for everyone.

These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case... Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet...

The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world’s luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.

You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.

And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.

But when they say “we,” they mean “you.” Sacrifice is for the little people.

This is very similar to an observation I made three weeks ago about why I have so little respect for the grievances of the Tea Party protesters and their champions on the right... and not just on economic matters. Rather than rewrite that piece, I'll just cite the pertinent paragraphs as a means of closing this article (for some reason I can't get the text to not be blue... sorry about that):

Although Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement, and the rest of the radical right loves to claim that they are persecuted, in danger of losing their freedoms, and engaging in valiant campaigns comparable to those waged by the founding fathers and other great American patriots, the reality is that none of them are in any real danger when they engage in their protest movements. No one is ordering law enforcement personnel to drag them off to prison or threatening violence against them (which is more than can be said of how they treat their various targets); no one is jotting their names down on lists to be used to prevent them from getting a job or buying a home, and no government agents are wiretapping their phones or investigating their personal lives in order to find ways of smearing and thereby discrediting them. Their claims of being victims and martyrs notwithstanding, neither the leaders nor the grassroots followers of these movements have ever incurred any real risk as a result of their self-expression.

What's more, none of them are fighting for causes that actually involve their sacred rights and liberties. Some of the evils against which they fight WOULD be very serious if they were real - see the death panels in the health care reform bill, the advent of an Obama-led dictatorship, or the plan to indoctrinate children with Socialist ideas via a presidential back-to-school speech - but invariably their claims are either exaggerated beyond all proportion or fabricated entirely. What few real-life battles are then left in their crusade involve outrage over matters that are remarkable in their pettiness and lack of perspective, like whey they fulminate about having to pay tax increases to help the unemployed and poor because they are in a higher income bracket (and yes, surveys have found that Tea Partiers tend to be more affluent than average Americans) or when they rant because they feel too many Latinos are immigrating to this country and too many people choose secular lifestyles and too many homosexuals are thinking about getting married, raising children, and joining the military.

Now compare all of this with the historic freedom fights with which right-wingers often juxtapose their own silly missions (and in this case I feel deeming them "silly" is pretty objective):

The American Revolution, from which they get so much of their rhetoric and symbolism. The real American revolutionaries were men and women who, if they were lucky, only risked dishonor and disgrace at being forever branded as treasonous rebels; if they were unlucky, the penalty was death on the battlefield or at the end of a hangman's noose. They fought for the cause of democracy and the right to self-rule (not just over higher taxes, as some believe; that was the catalyst, not the cause).

The Civil Rights Movement, including the famous March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King which Beck and his supporters pretended to emulate from their safe perch of historical retrospect and lilywhite affluence. Of course, that wasn't the only battle fought for civil rights - there were countless other protests at diner counters and school courtyards, on buses in Selma and at voting booths in Mississippi. These were people, white and black, who were fighting to end segregation, job and housing discrimination, voter intimidation, laws that prevented black people from marrying whites or from serving in public office, and the countless other manifestations of systemic racism that caused unequal treatment for African Americans. In the name of this cause they risked (and often suffered) death, serious bodily injury, the loss of their livelihoods and homes, and the destruction of their personal reputations.

Now you can see why it's so hard for me to respect the Becks, Limbaughs, Palins, and Tea Partiers of this country. In a way they are incapable of understanding, they don't even respect themselves.

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