During the health insurance reform madness of last summer, I had an interesting conversation with a long time friend of mine (we've known one another since we were 12). He expressed his concerns that health insurance reform in almost any iteration would be a kick in the teeth of the middle class, which is a rational concern. Fine. He then went on to say that he was tired of his tax dollars going to help lazy poor people. After a little cross examination from me, he wanted to make it clear that he was not talking about the working poor. He had in mind the classic avatar for the poor: a welfare check receiving, public housing living, food stamp using, work averse poor person. He felt that those people didn't deserve the largess that "Obamacare" might provide.
When he was done, I asked him why he seemed more angry with poor people than with the leaders of the health insurance/pharmaceutical industry who have been driving up the costs of health care for decades. At first, he didn't really have an answer, but after a while, I suggested that perhaps it's because most people know that you can't get to them. Those at the top in the various industries are almost completely out of reach. The poor, regardless of working or lazy, are much easier targets. After a few more rounds, we both conceded some points. He agreed that politicians definitely listen to those at the top long before they would listen to folks in the middle class, and I conceded that indeed there are people who abuse the welfare programs that we have in this country.
That anecdote came to mind as I read about the rise in the country's overall poverty rate, and remembered that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, and then walked back, that small business owners who create jobs were "the hardest hit by this recession." When I added to my list an opinion piece by Bruce Bartlett on the lack of impact the Bush tax cuts had on our economy, I decided to write this post.
As I was reading the Bartlett piece, I was struck by the various people he cited or quoted who were convinced that supply-side economics was the way to go. These people are convinced that if you provide rich people with virtually any tax break or elimination (income, capital gains, estate), then someone with the spirit of noblesse oblige will rise with a mighty cry among the landed gentry, and they will provide their happy tenants with some of the basic means necessary for survival. Though they may not like the analogy, I think that many of my friends on the right would be in lock step with this economic agenda. Naturally, I think it's a bullshit agenda. Perhaps if I were in the business of developing private planes and yachts, or selling fine jewels, then I might see a real uptick in my income. But I suppose that lot would feel that it was my fault that I didn't go that route, and therefore the rewards flow accordingly.
All I am saying is that there is no doubt in my mind that the lowest among us on the economic scale are despised by those in the middle (those at the top could care less I think), because they cannot vent properly against the people who really are holding them back, retarding their advancement, and putting their futures in jeopardy. Last time I checked, the poor do not have that kind of power and clout. So why not direct that rage, tea party people, against the trick asses on Wall Street who were responsible for the single most devastating loss of assets in the modern era? Why do I still hear about the evils of the Community Reinvestment Act, or Fannie and Freddie? Why point only to the things that a) weren't as responsible for the mess as you claim, and b) seem to help those who need help?
Are you too afraid to direct your real (and sometimes legitimate) anger at your economic betters? They are the ones who pay for lobbyists to assure their needs are met. They are the ones that politicians of all parties are in the pockets of. Why not go after them? Oh well, I suppose it's just easier to kick someone when they are already down.
UPDATE: I thought I would make it clear with this update that that contempt for the poor and/or disaffected isn't just a GOP phenomenon. Take it away Sen. Bayh (never liked your politics anyway).