Bill Fletcher, Jr.
I have to confess to you that it was very difficult for me to follow the Republican Convention. Talk about a combination of a lack of racial and ethnic diversity along with a constant stream of lies, half-truths, and a denial of reality.
There was something that came out of the Republican Convention that struck me, however. There is an attempt by the Republicans to portray Mitt Romney as a shrewd businessman who knows how to make money and that the Democrats are attacking him for becoming rich. After all, everyone wants to become rich, right?
The flaunting of wealth by the Republicans reminds me of stories I would read about European royalty riding through the streets of their towns, surrounded by the desperate poor. The royalty thought nothing of their wealth; well, they did think about it and they thought that it was God-given. The fact that their wealth was connected to the keeping of the majority poor was something that did not merit discussion, at least until there was a rebellion or revolution.
Today, the situation is not altogether different. The wealth that has been accumulated by the likes of Romney comes, in more ways than one, from the fact that most of this country is nowhere near wealthy…and will never be. I am not speaking about what Romney did or did not do with Bain capital. Instead I mean that since the 1950s, the tax burden on the wealthy has decreased while the burden on the rest of us has increased. It is not just taxes, however. There are fees that regular people have to pay that, for the post part, the rich do not. We used to have a lot more free parks, for instance, but now you have to pay. School bus rides used to be free; now in many districts you have to pay. The list goes on and on.
On top of this, it is rare that people come out of nowhere and end up wealthy. Wealth tends to transcend generations. A famous example of this is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. Gates was not running the streets of East St. Louis and, presto, rose to prominence. He was from a well-to-do family and he had greater access to computers at an earlier stage in life than most people. This is what class is all about.
The issue, then, is not whether someone is wealthy. What we have a right to know is how people have become wealthy and what the impact is on everyone else. When the tax burden increasingly finds itself on the shoulders of middle income people, there is a problem. When the wealthy can live in isolated and very protected lives, yet the infrastructure of our society is crumbling, there is a problem. When they get rich through government contracts and special deals, yet speak out against government intervention in the economy, there is a problem.
The Republicans were not talking about the reality of today’s economy. All they did, in their bubble environment in Tampa, was to applaud the suggestion that we need new economic policies…which, by the way, are not new—but instead recycled—and benefitted the rich when they were first tried.
As someone concerned about the environment, I am all in favor of recycling, but I am not in favor of recycling failed, biased economic policies. The time has arrived for an ambitious, pro-working people economic agenda.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty other myths about unions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.