Pick Your Poison: America's Election-Year Politics

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CommonDreams.org

Pick Your Poison: America's Election-Year Politics

I was at a party at my brother's house last weekend when I got into a conversation with a woman who I knew to be a moderate Republican.

"A lot of my friends in the Midwest are firmly convinced Obama is a socialist," she told me earnestly.

"Really," I replied. "I've always found him rather moderate. Can you give me an example of why they feel that way?"

"Well, no," she replied. "But my friends have lots and lots of evidence."

So goes the disconnect called politics in the United States today. It's impossible to argue with a phantom, to provide contrary evidence to "proof" that's no more than a proclamation.

I've occasionally engaged in "discourse" with birthers online whose "proof" that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen is that they have never seen his birth certificate.  Forget that the state of Hawaii has posted verification of his birth in that state online. I'm guessing they want to see a paper copy, distributed by hand to 300 million Americans (at which point they'd cry forgery).

Americans say they hate the stimulus, too. But scratch the surface and you realize they don't know what it is. They really hate TARP, the bailout of the banks, which was passed on George W. Bush's watch. Americans hate what the Republicans call Obamacare and want to repeal it. But ask them if they believe people should be able to get health insurance even with a pre-exising illness, and they will resoundingly answer, "Yes."  Of course, such protection of people with "pre-existing" conditions is one of the key elements of Obama's health care plan.

We are a distracted and thus often ignorant people, the perfect population for a Republican Party that preys on fear and wields propaganda like a surgeon's scalpel.

But perhaps I give the Republicans too much credit. Their foil, of course, is the Democratic Party, whose frequent mantra is "turn and run like hell."  Maybe we could buy its leaders skeletons with backbones for Halloween.

The latest example is the Bush tax cuts. Barack Obama wants to extend them for all Americans earning less than $250,000 a year.  Republicans want to make them permanent for everyone, which would (a) increase the deficit by $700 billion and (b) reward the rich in a country in which the top 1 percent of earners already take in roughly a quarter of the payroll each year.

Just how skewed wealth in this country has become can be measured in several other ways.

1. Take Social Security. American pay a Social Security tax on the first $106,800 of their income. That means if you earn $106,800 a year you will pay an identical Social Security tax to that CEO earning $10 million.  His $9.9 million of protected income is one reason the system is going broke.

2. Take tax breaks for homes. Truly middle class and lower-middle-class Americans who can't afford homes get a pittance of a renter's tax break. But homeowners?  They can write off the interest on their mortgages -- and the wealthier the individual, the bigger their mortgage writeoffs and the bigger their tax break.

3. Take income taxes. Congress lowered them again under George W. Bush, pushing up the deficit, and capping the top tax bracket at 35 percent.  Today, when Republicans scream that Democrats want to raise taxes, what they really mean is the president would allow the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans -- those earning more than $250,000 -- return to the same 39 percent rate they paid in the 1990s (this is still a pittance of the top rates in the 1970s).

If you still feel this the rich's pain, keep in mind that this is the same group getting a big break on Social Security taxes. The same ones getting the biggest mortgage writeoffs. The same ones earning one quarter of American salaries.  The same one that's lobbied for lower inheritance taxes and capital gains taxes. The same one complaining about welfare "handouts" to the poor.

Democrats should be having a field day with the disparity of wealth in American, not swallowing a goldfish and hiding in the bathroom.

I'm no economist. But I understand the precepts of fairness. And I believe the American people do, too. Polls have consistently showed a majority behind President Obama's call to end the Bush-era tax cuts for wealthiest Americans.

So what have Democrats in Congress done? They've cancelled a vote on tax cuts until after the election. Yes, it's pathetic.

The alternative, of course, would have been to face a Republican filibuster. But who cares?  The Democrats could have turned that filibuster against Republicans. They could have proven to all those Americans who are feeling lackluster and who may well leave this election to the wing nuts of the far right, that they stand for something -- make that, something other than getting re-elected. They could have shredded Republican arguments that the wealthy will create fewer jobs if they have to pay more taxes. ("Oh really. And where were all those jobs created when Republicans had the tax cuts under George Bush?)

But no.  When Republicans said, "boo," the Democrats ran away.

Come election day, I will still hold my nose and vote Democratic.  Like the hobgoblins of Halloween, what hangs in the balance is too scary -- a Republican Party dedicated to making the rich richer, the rest of us more frightened and hateful of Muslims and immigrants and really anyone who isn't white, and a government more paralyzed and increasingly in debt. But if large numbers of Americans sit this election out for spite, the Democrats will have earned their drubbing.

Being less mean and a bit less beholding to the fat-cat lobbyists is not a policy initiative.

Jerry Lanson

Jerry Lanson is an associate professor of journalism at Emerson College in Boston.  His third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves: Telling Stories in an Age of Blogging" will be published by Rowman & Littlefield this fall. His blog can be found at jerrylanson.wordpress.com

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