Friday, October 29, 2010

Do you know who your real political friends are? by Andy Schmookler

 Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday

I’ve often heard liberals criticize average people who vote Republican because they are voting against their economic interests. They seem to assume it’s folly to vote on the basis of social values –on issues like abortion or gay rights—instead of their pocketbooks.

But that’s bogus criticism. These liberals – generally middle class professionals – also vote against their pocketbooks when they support programs like food stamps and Head Start – programs they and their families will never need but that they have to pay for with their taxes.

The issue is not whether people vote their economic interests. It is, rather, whether they know how their vote relates to their economic interests.

In my radio work in the Shenandoah Valley, I’ve often had conservatives protest when I’ve declared that the Republican Party is, and has historically been, the main party of America’s big moneyed interests.

The historic basis for this proposition is vast, but I’d like to call the attention of my conservative neighbors to some new evidence.

This is the first election cycle since the Supreme Court decided, in the Citizens United case – a decision made, incidentally, by five Republican-appointed justices – to allow groups and individuals to channel unlimited amounts of money into our election campaigns – and to do so anonymously.
The money has been pouring in, and where has this avalanche of funds gone in this first unregulated election in recent times? Into a huge preponderance of ads intended to defeat Democrats and elect Republicans. (Like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pouring money into Virginia's 5th District here to defeat Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello.) The reports indicate that nationally the big anonymous money favors the Republicans by a large ratio.

What does that tell you about what party big money believes will best serve its interests?

Do you think that the billionaires and corporations that are funneling this money into the election are doing so for altruistic reasons?

Isn’t it clear that the people putting up millions to influence the outcome of the election are trying to get a government that will look out for their interests?

Do you imagine that the interests of the very rich and of giant corporations don’t differ in important ways from the interests of you and your family? Do you imagine that the moneyed powers will restrain their pursuit of what they want out of concern for average folk?

In America in recent years, the gap between the very rich and everyone else has grown enormously. It’s now greater than it has ever been in living memory. While the proportion of our national wealth in the hands of the richest one percent has TRIPLED, the median wage for average Americans has actually declined.

This didn’t just happen. This widening gap is specifically an American phenomenon; it’s not the pattern in other advanced societies. Do we really need to put even more power over our government in the hands of those who have already been stacking the deck in their favor?

Sure, you can vote your values. But don’t misjudge who your real friends are.

                     --Andy Schmookler lives in the Shenandoah Valley. His writings can be found on his website.

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