Public Citizen - Larry Barnett


The politics of have-not

As income inequality continues to grow in America, with millionaires and billionaires increasing their record-setting ownership of the nation’s wealth, the sharp divide between haves and have-nots played-out in the reelection of Barack Obama. Despite record-setting expenditures, the haves were unable to purchase the presidency; the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and “The Donald” came face-to-face with the inconvenient truth of one-person, one-vote democracy. I suspect they are not happy.

The wealthy upper class may have succeeded in appropriating most of the disposable assets of the middle and lower classes, but the effect has ironically been to diminish, not improve, upper-class electoral prospects. Plutocrat plans for reducing or eliminating taxes on stock dividends and capital gains has won few fans among working-class Americans who can barely keep up with their utility bills, and has clearly alienated a majority of the voting public.

While the haves do in fact have more in assets than ever before, there are fewer haves in proportion to the rest of American society; campaign efforts to convince Americans that becoming a have is possible for everyone just won’t work anymore. After years of trickle-down economic baloney a disenfranchised electorate understands that our economy is a rigged game.

Despite the alternate reality of the right wing, the haves are mostly older white men — a group which is also shrinking in proportion to the electorate. Minorities, women, and the young are voting Democratic and abandoning the Republican Party. It may well be, like the now extinct Whig Party, the Republican Party is headed towards marginal influence and may even disappear altogether over time.

In a Parliamentary multi-party system, control of governmental requires coalition building; the head of government goes to an experienced leader of a party from within Parliament and the election cycle is fast, often no more than six weeks long. In our two-party system, a take-no-prisoners winner-takes-all approach is used, candidates emerge from anywhere (business, entertainment, congress) and unlimited finances fuel a very lengthy campaign. Both governing systems are democratic, but currently our American system is bloated, fickle, and unpredictable.

When a U.S. political party gains majority control in congress, the tendency is to punish the minority, vote as a block, and use rules of order (like the filibuster) to block initiatives, stonewall and obstruct. This may make good theater, but makes lousy governance, and the ordinary American suffers. Any president can only do so much and cannot rule by decree. Collaboration between the executive and congressional branches is essential if the work of government is to proceed, but it remains unclear if Republicans are prepared to compromise. If they continue to solely advocate for cutting taxes for the  haves, they will continue to lose elections. Tax cuts don’t mean anything to people who already earn too little to make ends meet.

It’s worth recalling that our founding fathers granted the right to vote to white men who owned property only; voting was permitted solely to the haves. As a system, capitalism need not be accompanied by democracy (as in today’s China), but does require haves and have-nots; it’s how the haves get rich. This year the haves cried “voter fraud” and attempted to prevent the have-nots from voting, but this cynical effort also failed as an election strategy.

For the haves, it’s time to go back to the drawing board, or start waving bye-bye.

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