Monday, February 23, 2015

How the Koch Brothers Hijacked the Middle Class Revolt and How To Take It Back

I often have asked myself why, given the huge income inequality that exists in the US, the wage stagnation that has left most middle-class workers with a much lower standard of living than they had 40 years ago, the increased unemployment among middle-age, middle-class men since the recession, the foreclosure crisis, and a host of other economic-related problems … why hasn’t the American middle class risen up in revolt, either by taking their anger to the streets, to the ballot box, or through some other means.

Recently though I realized that they have revolted, just not in the direction I would have thought given their issues and problems.  Instead of rising up against the financial and big business interests that control our government and society, and that caused the recent recession, they have instead risen up against government and Democrats.

Why?  Because they have been convinced by slick Tea Party propaganda that the government is controlled by liberals (e.g. Democrats) and has no interest in their welfare.  That the government is spending too much money helping the poor rather than helping them.  And who has largely financed the Tea Party movement?  The Koch brothers.  

So the Koch Brothers, the ultimate conservative, corporate, environmental and economic aggressors, who represent almost everything that is wrong with American society and politics today, have convinced the victims of their actions and philosophy that the cause of the victims’ woe are the very forces that actually seek to protect the middle class at least to some extent, but which are the foe of the Koch brothers and which they seek to destroy.  If ever there was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they are it.

I would agree in many ways that the force the middle class should protest against is government.  But not for the reasons put forth by the Tea Party.  The problem is not that the government is too liberal, the problem is that the government and the political parties, both Republican and Democratic, are controlled by the money and forces of industry and finance.  And so, most of what is done by government either directly benefits these forces rather than the average American, or limits the impact on these forces of measures meant to protect the average American and the public good.

The purpose of government, according to the Declaration of Independence, is to enable citizens to fulfill their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It is not to make a privileged group rich.  Lincoln’s motto was “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” not “government of the people, by industry, and for industry.”

President Eisenhower, a Republican, warned in his farewell speech that “ we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”  That proved to be a wise and unfortunately unheeded warning.  If he were to give that speech today, he would certainly add the financial sector to his list.

So what should the middle class do to improve their economic situation?  At a minimum, they should vote Democratic and not Republican.  While Democrats are also too beholden to the money of industry and finance, they at least push measures that help the middle class, the average American, and the public good.  

However, I would argue that the middle class should go further.  They should protest in the most visible way, en masse, the influence that the big business and finance sectors have on government, both in the legislative and executive branches.  

President Obama when he campaigned in 2008, said he would limit the power and access of corporate lobbyists.  That didn’t happen.  In staffing his economic team to deal with the recession and see that its causes were fixed, he brought in finance insiders who were present before and during the financial collapse and did nothing to prevent it.  He has pushed for authority to enter into more free trade area agreements of the type that have increased globalization and brought its negative impact squarely down on the shoulders of the middle class while benefitting primarily multinational corporate owners.  He has done nothing to push federal financing of campaigns.

This is not an area where one can seek a middle ground and expect to come out with anything meaningful.  Big business and finance interests should know without question that they are and will continue to be considered of vital importance to the health of the American economy and the welfare of the American people.   And government should support them as appropriate. 

But they must also know that in the future, those very two interests … what I would refer to as the public good … will always trump the narrow financial interests of the corporation and its shareholders.  Corporations are creations of the law and they should be allowed to exist primarily because of the benefit they provide to the greater good, not to their own interests.

Somehow, the Democrats need to find a way to get the middle class to understand that they are the party who has the interests of the middle class more at heart; that Republicans only protect the interests of  big business and the finance sector, both of which are major donors to their campaigns.

But beyond that, some leadership needs to rise up from within the middle class to arouse their compatriots to engage in a united, visible, powerful, and ongoing protest against the influence of the big business and financial sectors.