I read the other day that the 400 richest Americans possess more wealth than the poorest 140 million.This seems like a good moment to remind people about the cabal of conservatives who in 1969 dubbed themselves “The Famous Five” and created “The Plan” that would lead to the conservative ascendency of the past four decades. Herewith a link to a piece I wrote a few years ago about this little-known history. I still have the papers referred to in this essay, and I suppose that one day I’ll get around to publishing a book on this topic. Meanwhile, here are some fragments of the amazing story:
In these times that try men’s souls, I call on all Blue State citizens to surrender to the Tea Party.
I likewise call on all progressive Democrats in the Blue States and on their representatives in Congress to lay down their arms. To meet with the Tea Party at Appomattox and accede to their demands immediately. Agree to cut federal taxes. Agree to cut federal spending. Agree to Starve the Beast!
Then go home and quietly raise Blue State state taxes to make up the difference. And spend that state tax money at home, in the Blue States.
Within a few months, the rattlesnakes of the Red States will come crawling back and beg us to raise federal taxes again. In doing so, they’ll be begging to be readmitted to the United States of America.
For the fact is that the great majority of the Red States are helplessly dependent on the federal tax dollars they drain — yes, like Zombies — from the throats of the Blue States. Even as they rail against federal taxes and the federal government, they benefit from these far more than their neighbors in the Blue States. Without the flow of Blue State dollars into their Red State coffers, they would have to raise their own state taxes to stratospheric levels – and then watch as a stampede of businesses and upper-income citizens fled for the Blue States.
All of the 6 wealthiest states that give the most tax dollars to poorer states are Blue.
Of the remaining 19 wealthy states that give more tax dollars than they take, 13 are Blue.
Of the 31 poorer states that take more federal tax dollars than they give, 2/3s are Red.
All of these claims substantiated here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_taxation_and_spending_by_state
Of the 135 politicians (Congressmen, Senators, Governors, etc.) affiliated with the Tea Party: 75 are from “taker” states, 40 are from “giver” states. That is, “takers” outnumber “givers” nearly 2-1.
Of the 49 Congressmen in the Tea Party Caucus of the 112th-113th Congress: 24 come from 7 “giver” states and 25 from 14 “taker” states. (What somewhat softens these numbers is the very high proportion of Tea Party members from Texas, a “giver” state.)
These claims are substantiated here:
So, what if the Blue State “givers” agreed with the Red State “takers” to reduce federal taxes and basically stopped giving their federal tax dollars to the Red States?
Well … one awful consequence would be that the poorest citizens of those Red states would suffer terribly. But would they then make common cause with each other – across racial lines – as racial animosities melted away in recognition of a common plight? It’s hard to say.
One thing is sure. Right now many Red State politicians get to have things both ways: they can loudly fight for lower taxes while quietly benefitting from their disproportionate share of federal tax disbursements. Would they continue to shrill against “Big Government” if the flow of Blue State dollars fertilizing their economies slowed to a trickle and dried up?
What we’re seeing here is a fiscal equivalent of the notorious 3/5ths clause of the Constitution. That, too, allowed many southern (now Red) states to have it both ways: to count their slaves populations for purposes of proportional representation in Congress but to deny those very slaves citizenship, enfranchisement, and even personhood.
The fact that the Red States depend on a revenue flow of Blue State dollars may also explain one of those mysteries Republicans never want to talk about: why since 1980, the federal budget deficit soars when a Republican is president and dips when a Democrat is in office. (Obama is the exception because he inherited a recession and the War in Iraq from Bush.)
This claim is substantiated here:
Republican politicians love to talk to talk. Shout the shout, I should say. But they know that if they actually walked the walk, their constituencies would suddenly find themselves with no money to pave roads, no money to build schools and sidewalks, no money to run county hospitals, no money to build enormous new sports stadiums, and the list goes on and on ….
Maybe it’s time for Democrats and progressives in the Blue States to call them out – by surrendering to them.
Hang your heads radical progressives! The Republican insurgency that has just achieved a second shutdown of the U.S. government should embarrass every self-styled radical on our side of the political spectrum.
Ted Cruz and his confederates have radicalized their party to a degree that the left has not ever come close to. Imagine, if you can:
– Bernie Sanders and a handful of other Congressmen bringing down the government because their demands for a radically progressive income tax have not been met.
– the Black Congressional Caucus and its allies bringing business as usual to a halt because their demands for equality of educational opportunity have been ignored.
– a cadre of Congressmen concerned about global warning shutting down the federal government until meaningful climate-change legislation has been passed and signed into law.
Why are these scenarios so hard to imagine? Why, indeed, are they so …. laughable?
All week long, these words kept echoing in my mind:
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
But now it’s not Mario Savio speaking them – it’s Ted Cruz. And that squishy sound in the background? That House Republicans throwing their bodies on the gears…
Seriously: Aren’t we ashamed that there’s no radical wing of the Democratic Party pushing everyone leftward as forcefully at the Tea Party has pushed Republicans to the right?
What riles me is that almost no one is even asking this question. Instead, we join the holy choir of sanctimonious censuring. In our tones I hear my grandmother’s voice when she complained about “those dirty hippies with long hair. Why can’t they shave and get a job!”
Now it’s –
“Those nasty old Tea Party Republicans! They’re so narrow-minded they won’t compromise! How mean of them to hold the government ‘hostage’ as a way to block legislation that has been enacted and signed into law! That’s so unfair!”
These are good points. Fair points. But they’re debaters’ points. I can’t speak them any more. They sitteth in my mouth like unto soggy breakfast cereal.
Meanwhile, the other side is breathing fire and brimstone.
Sure, we should keep trying to corral the Tea Party back inside the fences of conventional politics marked by reason and compromise.
But we should also identify weak Democratic candidates in strongly Democratic Congressional districts, mobilize our radical troops to vote in those primaries, and push those candidates to the left – hard.
“But we can’t do it without the Koch brothers!” I hear someone say.
They’d sure like you to believe that, wouldn’t they?
I am starting to think that US democracy has a dignity deficit. We talk endlessly about freedom, we talk a lot about equality, but we almost never talk about dignity. Why not?
The answer has a lot to do with the way we imagine the meaning of “equality.” But before I explain why, I want to spend a moment establishing the premise – that democracy has a great deal to do with dignity whether we talk about it or not.
If we imagine a democracy functioning effectively, don’t we assume that its citizens will have dignity? Conversely, if we try to imagine a democracy in which most citizens lack a sense of dignity, don’t we immediately feel a self-contradiction? Why should all persons be free and equal if they are not all worth something? Why would each of us care about our own personal freedom and equality if we did not feel that we – each of us – had value? Conversely, if we took a deeply cynical view of humans and human nature, wouldn’t we be indifferent to the matter of how people are governed?
So, if democracy is bound up with the idea of dignity (as I think it is) why do we hardly ever talk about it?
The answer is that we take dignity for granted. And the main reason we do so is that we suppose it comes along automatically with freedom and equality – but especially, I would argue, with equality. For we can imagine a free people refusing to concede each other’s dignity. But it’s much harder to imagine a people who have agreed to see themselves as equal not agreeing also to consider themselves being equal in dignity.
Equality seems to entail dignity. But for that very reason we are tempted to assume that equality guarantees dignity. And that’s a mistake.
Many marriage vows are imbued with the belief that marriage has a lot to do with love. But we know (after a while) that those vows don’t guarantee love. Likewise (a subtler analogy here), most of us imagine that “justice” also means “fairness.” But in actual practice, justice is not always fair. And as legal philosophers know, some systems of justice are much more explicitly and deliberately concerned with fairness than others.
So if you want your marriage to nurture and be nurtured by love, you have to work to make it do so. If you want a just system of justice to produce fairness, you have to work to make it do so.
And if we – “we the people” — really want democratic equality to produce democratic dignity, we have to do something. But what?
The answer will have everything to do with what we take “equality” and “dignity” to mean. And that’s a long conversation. But for the moment it’s fair to say that we should simply talk more about dignity when we talk about democracy. Look at the contemporary political scene: isn’t one of our main problems that we frame policy issues exclusively in terms of freedom and equality? What if the debates over health care were explicitly about citizens’ and patients’ dignity? What if the debates over Voter ID laws were not just about equality and freedom, but about the ways such laws jeopardize citizens’ dignity? What if the debates over wealth inequality hinged not just on the tension between equality and freedom but on an agreed commitment to value each others’ dignity?
Personally, I think this is a word progressives in general, and the Democratic Party in particular, need to grab hold of and “own” – now.
Meanwhile, we should at least spend some time thinking about dignity and its relation to equality in democracy. I’ll take these matter up in later blog postings, and any thoughts and comments you might have would be most welcome. (See “Leave a Comment” below.)
On this 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington, it is time to recognize that the activists, artists, and common citizens who demanded fairness for black Americans were also creating democracy for all Americans. The meaning of their struggle lives not in the past, but in the present.
Of course, as we commemorate that hot summer afternoon of August 28, 1963, we can’t help seeing the March as an old faded photograph and hearing the speech as a crackly old recording. These moments are past. We remember them and memorialize them. They happened then, and we live now.
But if this is all we do, we are failing the vision of democracy King and many other African American activists have shared. For them, the past must be remembered but also overcome. For Americans too often assume that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution settled our political problems long ago. All we have to do now is sit back and let these documents fulfill their promise.
But as King pointed out, “Progress does not roll in on wheels of inevitability.” Democracy demands continuous action in the present.
This is why Frederick Douglass spoke often of “the ever-present now” and even claimed that “we have to do with the past only as it is of use to the present.” This is why James Baldwin wrote that, “The time is always now,” and why King himself exhorted Americans to heed “the fierce urgency of now.”
The Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn the crucial section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 perfectly exemplifies the harm a mistaken emphasis on the past can do. While the majority’s reasoning seemed to criticize the law for being outdated, it actually did the opposite. It complacently praised past accomplishments and overlooked deep threats to equality in the present.
The Court observed that in 1965, the white voter registration rate in southern states was around 69 percent, the black rate only 19 percent. By 2004, the gap had shrunk to about 74 percent for whites and 73 percent for blacks by 2004.
“There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act,” Chief Justice Roberts concluded. “The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.”
On this basis, he drew the further conclusion that the past has solved our present problems. Section 4’s work is over and done with. We don’t need it anymore.
But this reasoning ignores the fact that after 1965 Congress had to invoke Section 4 repeatedly to ensure that minority voting rights continued to be honored. It ignores too that Republican-dominated state legislatures are at this moment passing new laws to widen the gap that the Act’s continuing enforcement had narrowed.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg carefully documented these points.
It’s no wonder, then, that Douglass and King were so wary of the past.
This is why the best way to honor King’s great speech is not to remember it but to act on it. Indeed, his familiar words pull us so powerfully into the past that we might do better to forget about it – to recall a different speech delivered that very afternoon. John Lewis’s.
Today a Congressman, then a young civil rights activist, Lewis declared: “I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete. We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution.”
I think King would agree that the best way to honor August 28, 1963 is to understand democracy as he and Lewis did: it is always uncompleted, and we must continue to act on its behalf. Now.
As the new school year approaches, it’s time to act on what so many of us already know:
Millions of students are getting screwed.
Not just by by predatory lenders, and not just by for-profit universities, but by the federal government and by the whole system of higher education in the US.
Matt Taibbi makes this all so clear in a brilliant piece in Rolling Stone: “Ripping Off Young Americans: The College Loan Scandal.” (16 August 13) The whole article is essential reading. Here are a few excerpts:
Lenders Are Happy!
“Not only has Congress almost completely stripped students of their right to disgorge their debts through bankruptcy (amazing, when one considers that even gamblers can declare bankruptcy!), it has also restricted the students’ ability to refinance loans. Even Truth in Lending Act requirements – which normally require lenders to fully disclose future costs to would-be customers – don’t cover certain student loans.”
The Federal Government Is Happy!
“While it’s not commonly discussed on the Hill, the government actually stands to make an enormous profit on the president’s new federal student-loan system, an estimated $184 billion over 10 years…”
Colleges and Universities Keep Hiking Tuition!
“Between 1950 and 1970, sending a kid to a public university cost about four percent of an American family’s annual income. Forty years later, in 2010, it accounted for 11 percent. Moody’s released statistics showing tuition and fees rising 300 percent versus the Consumer Price Index between 1990 and 2011.”
For-Profit Schools Are Thrilled!
“Fly-by-night, for-profit schools can be some of the most aggressive in
lobbying for the raising of federal-loan limits. The reason is simple
– some of them subsist almost entirely on federal loans. There’s
actually a law prohibiting these schools from having more than 90
percent of their tuition income come from federally backed loans.”
Students Are Paying the Price!
“Having passed credit cards to became the largest pile of owed money in America outside of the real-estate market, outstanding student debt topped $1 trillion by the end of 2011. Last November, the New York Fed reported an amazing statistic: During just the third quarter of 2012, non-real-estate household debt rose nationally by 2.3 percent, or a staggering $62 billion. And an equally staggering $42 billion of that was student-loan debt.”
What Can You Do?
Here’s what they are about:
“We are a grass roots group seeking the swift return of standard bankruptcy protections and other consumer protections to all student loans in the U.S. If you are a distressed borrower of any age, please use this site to tell your story, learn about the problem, meet others with similar situations, and above all, to take the actions necessary to compel Congress to serve the interests of the students and their families, at long last, and restore fairness to what has become a state-sponsored predatory, and inflationary lending system.”
With cold fury, Lewis Gordon analyzes the “injustice of justice” in the Zimmerman verdict.