Endangered: The American Middle Class

I know, I know.  Some of you will  be bored by this long post on”political stuff.”  But, I feel this is important.

If you’ve heard it already, please forgive me.  If not, I hope you will be enlightened.

Oh, by the way.  As a shameless trick, I have included a really cute picture of Island Boy at the end to entice you into reading the entire post.

I’m sure none of you will skip over these important words to get to the photo.

You would expect liberal/progressive commentators like Rachel Maddow to state it.  But, when Fox News anchor, Shepard Smith, says the same thing, I think we can believe it.

Shepard Smith

Here’s what Shep said on air:

On Wednesday’s “Studio B,” Shepard Smith said the battle over union rights in Wisconsin was all about busting unions and securing Republican political power, not about the state’s budget deficit.

It was a take that placed Smith squarely in agreement with people such as Rachel Maddow, who has repeatedly argued essentially the same thing on her show.

Speaking to a mostly-in-agreement Juan Williams, Smith said the fight was “100 percent politics.”

“There is no budget crisis in Wisconsin,” he said, adding that the unions “[have] given concessions.” The real point of the fight, Smith said, could be found in the list of the top ten donors to political campaigns. Seven out of the ten donated to Republicans; the other three were unions donating to Democrats.

“Bust the unions, and it’s over,” Smith said. He then brought up the Koch brothers, the billionaires who have bankrolled much of the anti-union pushback in Wisconsin. The fight, Smith said, “started” with the Kochs, who he said were trying to get a return on the money they donated to Walker’s campaign.

“I’m not taking a side on this, I’m just telling you what’s going on…to pretend this is about a fiscal crisis in the state of Wisconsin is malarkey,” Smith said.

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, as well as the Republican governors of Michigan and Indiana, are striving to take away the collective bargaining rights of all public employee unions.

They want them dead, in the ground, no last rights.

The really sinister part of their plan is that they have convinced some hard-working middle class people like you and me that all unions are evil and need to be eliminated.

Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, recently wrote that unions are the only bulwark left to ensure that America does not become a complete oligarchy.

I know that’s a big fancy word — but oligarchy is useful here.  It means a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes (Merriam-Webster.com).

Paul Krugman

I’m nowhere near as smart as Krugman.  I’ll give you his words:

For what’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.


In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.

Krugman’s point about billionaires having unequal influence on government is important.  Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission decision.  In that opinion, the highest court in the land ruled that corporations are indeed “persons” under the law, and therefore are not subject to restrictions on how much they can contribute to broadcasts in support of political candidates.

The fallacy of the Supreme Court’s decision is that corporations are, in fact, not people too.  They exist solely for one purpose — to maximize profits for their shareholders.  If all oxygen-breathing people were motivated only by the acquisition of capital, we would be a nation of sociopaths who act without regard for anyone but themselves.

Crazy, huh?  But, this is now the law of the land.

The practical result was that, like Niagara Falls, corporations poured money in support of the candidates who were favorable to them during the 2010 elections.  You can figure out for yourselves which party the majority of those candidates belong to.

Hendrick Hertzberg

Hendrick Hertzberg of The New Yorker recently offered the image of the Citizens United decision and the attack on public unions as a combined “pincer movement” designed to finish off the American middle class once and for all.

Another difficult term.  For those of you who are not familiar with military maneuvers, a pincer movement or (as when I studied it in officers’ school in the Army) a “double envelopment” is a military operation in which both sides or flanks of an opposing force are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion.  Its goal is to cut off and strangle the enemy’s forces.

I’ll admit that I’m a fan of Rick Hertzberg.  As usual, he is right on the money.  Believe it or not, there are ultra-rich people in America who resent the fact that there is a middle class.  They want things to go back to as they were during the days of the robber barons.

In essence, the U.S.A. would become a sort of super banana republic in which we have only the very rich and the very poor.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourselves what was behind the change in American bankruptcy laws in 2005.  At that point, Congress (both Repubs and Dems) made it more difficult for middle class people to escape their debt — particularly credit card debt.

Now, as I said before, the really sneaky part is that the forces at work here have convinced many middle class people that wiping out unions is a good thing.  They get them to drink tea and express anger at how good government workers have it, while telling them that we need to reduce the federal deficit in the midst of a severe economic recession.

It’s a big wopper of a lie.

The question that I leave you with is → Will you swallow it?

— The Major

You thought I forgot.  Here’s the cute Island Boy photo:

In the future, will there be a middle class available for this newly-minted American to join?


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rich Adams on February 27, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    News of the death of the middle class is premature.

    News that 85% of Wisconsin citizens object to their unionized municipal employees maintaining negotiating power they will never have is current.

    Let the balance be restored, and then we will see who is able to succeed in a meritocracy. Not just the top 1%, I hope.

    Topic for a ride up the hill?



  2. Posted by Gail on February 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I’d be interested to hear where that statistic came from and how the question was worded when the survey was taken. Statistical results can be manipulated by the way a survey is worded. I’ve heard opposite results that are quite the opposite stated in Rich’s comment from a variety of different sources.


    • Rich is on a roll, Gail.
      Let him have this one.
      He is post-surgical, and it is obvious that his doozy painkillers are affecting his judgment.

      Right, Rich? 🙂



      • Rich,

        As much as I hate to quote Fox News twice in one post, Dick Morris’ poll shows that Wisconsin citizens opposing limiting collective bargaining rights on wage & benefit issues 54% to 41%.

  3. The idea of meritocracy would be good, if the field upon which such a contest is held wasn’t so skewed to those already doing well.


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