Is John McCain stupid, or does he believe we are? That's the question as he criticizes Barack Obama for allegedly trying to "redistribute the wealth" with a plan to lower taxes on the middle class and raise them on the super-rich.
Of course, the Democrat's proposal would merely slow down (not fully halt) the less-talked-about redistribution whereby Washington sends middle-class money up the income ladder. Either McCain doesn't know about this kleptocracy and is the dumbest presidential candidate in history, or he thinks America is too ignorant to recognize theft. Which is it?
I'm guessing the latter, since the evidence is so overwhelming.
In the last eight years, we the little people have been forced to provide more and more of the taxes fueling America's redistribution machine. As the Congressional Budget Office reports, the $715 billion in tax breaks that President Bush gave to those making more than $342,000 a year began dramatically shifting the overall tax burden from the rich onto the rest of us. Meanwhile, because of lobbyist-crafted loopholes, most corporations pay zero federal income taxes, according to the Government Accountability Office. The result is what Warren Buffett admits: When counting all taxes (income, payroll, property, etc.), billionaires and Big Business often pay lower effective tax rates than their employees.
The output of the redistribution machine is becoming just as regressive. In the age of Halliburton fraud and ExxonMobil subsidies, our government spends $93 billion a year on corporate welfare. (For comparison, that's roughly three times what it spends on a traditional welfare program like food stamps.) That doesn't include the recent bailout giving $700 billion to the same banks currently doling out $70 billion in executive pay and bonuses -- a scheme the Financial Times says "amounts to a large transfer of resources from lower to higher income earners."
Thanks to these redistributive policies -- policies McCain championed in Congress -- the richest 1 percent today owns a larger share of America's wealth than at any time since before the Great Depression.
The Republican standard-bearer probably knows all this, but his fetish is fact-free fairy tales -- the kind presenting seven houses, a beer-industry fortune and lockstep conservatism as mavericky Joe-the-Plumber populism. When it comes to economics, McCain is banking on Americans believing similarly inane myths -- specifically, those portraying obscene affluence as the commonplace achievement under royalist rule.
During the indigence and socioeconomic immobility of the 19th century's Gilded Age, this meme flourished through Horatio Alger stories. Today, one in five American children live in poverty, and authorities from The Economist magazine to The Wall Street Journal note that our country exhibits the least amount of upward economic mobility in the industrialized world -- less than even Europe's supposedly sclerotic socialisms. In light of that, sustaining the "American dream" narrative requires updated rags-to-riches fantasies like "MTV Cribs," HBO's "Entourage" -- and now McCain '08.
The Arizona senator's pulp fiction packs an extra-nationalistic punch, however. We are not only expected to support regressive redistribution, but also to believe that stopping such robbery is subversive. McCain implies Obama is backing Soviet conquest by proposing to finance tax cuts for 95 percent of American workers with tax increases on the richest 5 percent. When Joe Biden said it is "patriotic" for millionaires to pay their fair share of taxes, Republicans waved the bloody shirt of Reaganism and attacked him -- as if Al Capone-style tax evasion is how aristocrats display their true love of country.
The GOP campaign, in short, is a brew of Red-baiting and free-market zealotry, a concoction with a poisonous purpose: resurrecting the everyone-for-themselves pathologies that perpetuate the status quo. And if we revert to selfish form during this economic crisis, then McCain's cynical calculation is correct: America is a confederacy of dunces.