Sunday, September 9, 2012

Republicans as Defenders of the Poor and Middle Class—a Bit of Hokum

Mitt Romney had this to say in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa (

“In the richest country in the history of the world, this Obama economy has crushed the middle class. Family income has fallen by $4,000, but health insurance premiums are higher, food prices are higher, utility bills are higher, and gasoline prices have doubled. Today more Americans wake up in poverty than ever before. Nearly one out of six Americans is living in poverty. Look around you. These are not strangers. These are our brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans.”

This passage raises the question—exactly how  dumb do Republicans think the American voters are? They must think we are really dumb to raise the issue of how well the poor and middle class have been doing in recent years, and then imagining that somehow that observation will rebound to their credit.

Let’s do a little fact checking here. Just when in recent American history did the middle class start to stall out in advancing its income, and when did the poor start falling farther and farther behind everyone else? The answer, as I explain in The Golden Calf in more detail, was that all this began around 1980 with the Reagan Revolution. The main tools that derailed the advance in the income and lifestyles of the middle-class and poor in America were so-called trickle-down economics and massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

The Reagan policies in turn led to unregulated financial speculation pushing aside what used to be a reasonable business model of actually making goods and providing services—as also explained in The Golden Calf, and as recently brilliantly summarized in Matt Taibbi’s piece in Rolling Stone (“Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital,” Rolling Stone, Sept. 13, 2012; subscribers only). This model led us to the Great Recession of 2008, which in turn made things even worse for the poor and middle-class—the tail end of the story that Romney recounts above, without telling us the whole story of how it all started and for how long it’s been going on. Of course, Romney’s rich friends made out all right after the recession, except perhaps that the value of their $20 million mansions shrunk to a mere $12 million.

So—do Romney and the Republicans really want this election to be about how the poor and middle class have fared under Republican administrations since 1980? Apparently it’s a safe bet for them so long as they continue to get the mostly free ride afforded them by the press—which may have something to do with how few wealthy corporations today own almost all of the media outlets.

In The Golden Calf I reprint a graph from the excellent book, The Spirit Level by Roger Wilkinson and Kate Pickett ( The graph depicts the income gap between the richest and poorest 10 percent of Americans between the years 1975-2004. The gap started to increase during the late 1970s and then took off like crazy. There was only one period of time during these decades that the gap stopped getting wider, and actually began to narrow by a slight degree. You guessed it—it was during the Clinton administration.

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