McCain Banking on a Confederacy of Dunces

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.

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