Economic Fairness Will Be On The Table Next Year
You heard a lot of pundits tell us over the last week that the newly elected Democrats in the House and Senate were way more conservative than their liberal committee chairs in each house, and as such the Democratic caucuses would be pie fights that won’t get anything done due to internal division. I have bought into some of this myself, as I took note that some of those who got elected last week were social conservatives and more hawkish on national security than many others in the Democratic Party. What I overlooked was that these new members were economically enlightened as to the problems and concerns of middle and working class America. Sherrod Brown is the best known example of a successful candidate who won last week with a progressive economic message that overwhelmed the GOP’s standard “taxes and terrorism” smear and fear campaign. North Carolina’s Heath Shuler won his House race with an economically progressive message that focused on middle class erosion and the loss of jobs in this country to outsourcing.
Take a look at this piece in the Wall Street Journal and you will see that it is one of the most pointed critiques you will see of the class warfare that the GOP has waged on the working and middle classes with Clinton-era help, all under the veneer of adjusting to and accepting globalization. However, the author of this piece is not an easy-to-caricature far left progressive, but the newly elected Democratic Senator from Virginia and former Reagan Administration appointee Jim Webb.
The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.
In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.
Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate "reorganization." And workers' ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants.
The politics of the Karl Rove era were designed to distract and divide the very people who would ordinarily be rebelling against the deterioration of their way of life. Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of "God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag" while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet. But this election cycle showed an electorate that intends to hold government leaders accountable for allowing every American a fair opportunity to succeed.
With this new Congress, and heading into an important presidential election in 2008, American workers have a chance to be heard in ways that have eluded them for more than a decade. Nothing is more important for the health of our society than to grant them the validity of their concerns. And our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.
No, Webb doesn’t offer solutions yet to this problemnor does he have to yet, but then neither have the GOP or even the Beltway Democratic Party of the last two decades either. At least there are Democrats now inside the Beltway like Sherrod Brown, Heath Shuler, and Jim Webb who want economic fairness on the table for discussion next year, and that is a good start.
Hat tip to Kos