Let 'em Eat Cake (Part II)
Politics and the Income Gap
by Gilles d'Aymery
October 10, 1999
We need not look further than The New York Times to ascertain the crux of the income gap crucible.
A Washington public policy organization, Democracy 21, upon studying Federal Election Commission data, has estimated that the money raised for the 2000 federal elections will exceed $3 billion. (NYT - Article by Don Van Natta Jr., 10/3/99)
According to Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity, "96 percent of Americans do not contribute any money at all, 'not a dime', to politicians at the Federal level." (NYT - Op-Ed by Bob Herbert, 10/7/99)
That leaves 4 percent of Americans who contribute. There is a $1,000 limit on personal contributions to a presidential candidate. Of course, since it's a personal contribution, a family of, say, four people, can legally give four times $1,000...
According to Larry Makinson of the Center for Responsive Politics, "less than one-tenth of 1 percent contribute that kind of money to a candidate or party." (NYT - Op-Ed by Bob Herbert, 10/7/99)
George W. Bush Jr. has raised almost $60 million in less than a year. His friend and chief fund-raiser, Donald L. Evans, considers the contributions to the Bush's campaign to be a message of hope for America, not a political calculation. "Behind every check, there is a willing heart." To Mr. Evans, "it's not a check, it's a person, someone who cares about this great country." (NYT - Article by David Firestone, 07/5/99)
Justice David Souter said on October 5, during the second day devoted by the Supreme Court to campaign financing that, "Most people assume, and I do, certainly, that someone making an extraordinarily large contribution gets something extraordinary in return." (NYT - Editorial, 10/6/99)
Frank Levy, an economist at M.I.T., explains that the concentration of income growth at the top results largely from rules set by Congress. "Markets are obviously very important in the economy but they are surrounded by a lot of rules -- rules about how easy it is to organize unions and how free trade is - and those rules right now are shaped by money" donated to political candidates. (NYT - article by David Cay Johnston, 09/5/99)
Hmmm! And who donates money to political candidates?
Our elected bureaucrats, in their large majority, serve our plutocrats. Indeed, the President's salary is nothing more than a stipend for his good services rendered to the elite. Viewed thus, such compensation is well deserved. Our presidents, from both parties, have masterly been executing all the policies favoring the top 1 to 5 percent of the citizenry for at least 20 years (some would contend that it's been going on from the day European settlers reached this shore. Ask Native Americans...) with the everlasting belief that the absence of government interference, a.k.a. deregulation, brings freedom to innovate and innovation creates wealth that through the miracle of free-market theories will lift up the entire society -- or the world for that matter.
Meantime, over 34 million Americans live below the poverty line, almost one fifth of American children live in poverty and close to 45 million people do not carry any health insurance. And these appalling numbers exist in the midst of a much-heralded prosperity.
And 1 billion people, that is 1,000,000,000 people, one-sixth of the world population live below or at the poverty line as defined by the United Nations.
It simply is not working.
Wisconsin Representative David R. Obey sums up the present situation: "They [Congress] pass meaningless resolutions that praise God, motherhood and country but don't do anything. They stick it to little people, because little people don't have access to information and can't fight back. They rely on a huge tab of money that flows into their party coffers to drown out objections. They have a huge juggernaut of private foundation money organized by the right-wing economic elite and they pour money into these so-called think tanks to pretend that independent research verifies their world view." (NYT - article by Tim Wiener, 10/4/99).
Disraeli, the British Prime Minister in the late 1800's, understood the negative impact of greed during the period of industrial capitalism. He would talk of "two nations" within one country--the rich and the poor. 2000 years ago, Aristotle asserted that democracy could not function if there were extremes of wealth (thanks to Douglas Mattern of San Francisco to bring this old fact to attention in his letter to the NYT, 10/6/99).
Such disparities of income breed social instability. And social instability breeds resentment and disfranchisement that, in turn, attract populist demagoguery. Examples abound, from Ross Perot to Patrick Buchanan and Jesse Ventura.
Time and again the facts contradict the faith in unbridled capitalism, both at home and abroad. The vast new prosperous world economy is a figment of the imagination, except for the merchants of death. The economic militarization of the world is a direct consequence of income disparities and the hold on power and wealth by the very few.
And, as far as one can see, the institutional response to these deepening disparities promises to remain more of the same policies, more faith in the self-regulating market economy, more flexible labor markets, more expenditures on defense, simply repackaged under the banner of "compassionate conservatism"!
Take George W. Bush and his vision of the future in which true conservative ideals will lead to "greater justice, less suffering, more opportunity" for all Americans. Listen to the rhetoric of his early stump speeches distancing himself from his fellow Republicans in Congress, accusing them of balancing the budget "on the backs of the poor," or denouncing his party for confusing "the need for limited government with a disdain for government itself." Then look at his record in Texas. Houston has a poverty rate of 28.1 percent; the highest in the nation's cities. Almost 25 percent of the population in Texas lacks health insurance; again, the highest rate of all the states in the country. Texas' education program is in shambles, near the bottom of all states.
Mr. Bush, if elected, will increase defense expenditures, take money from Federal aid programs in education to finance charter schools and vouchers for private tuition and, of course, favor more privatization and free markets here and abroad. This should please his financial backers who "care so much for this great country" as these policies incrementally sap the relevance of Government and transfer power to corporations.
In conclusion, there is little new under the sky. Whether you look at the Democratic or the Republican candidates what you are seeing is the two faces of the same coin, financed by the corporate interests of the wealthy few.
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