Friday, December 7, 2012

Brinksmanship at the Fiscal Cliff

Obama wants to raise taxes on families making more than $250 million a year. The Republicans are adamantly opposed to that.
One sort of argument in favor of not taxing the very rich more is known as “supply-side economics” which no respectable economist subscribes to.
To be sure those very rich shelled out a lot of money to get Mitt Romney elected. But Obama hauled in tidy sums himself. You do not need to cater to the superrich to win an election. In fact, experience shows that the money of the superrich was not quite enough to get Mitt into the White House.
So what is this fight about?
While Obama won, Romney did get 48% of the popular vote. Most of those folks were not superrich. Why did they vote for Romney? It is hard to believe that they cast their vote as they did out of concern for a possible tax increase for the superrich. We know that about 60% - 70% of voters support such a tax increase. At least about 12% - 22% of those voters must have been Republicans.
But perhaps asking what Republican voters were for is asking the wrong question. What were they against? That's pretty clear. The Republican agenda is not only looking to help the superrich get even richer but it is going to balance the budget by cutting back on government programs to support the unemployed, the poor and the elderly – all of them members of the 47% whom Romney accused of not being willing to get their life together but waiting, instead, for government handouts.
What's wrong with being poor except, of course, that it's a pretty miserable life: you work hard all week and have very little to show for all your effort.
Another interesting statistic may help us understand this: 88% of the vote for Romney was from white folks. White people – at least where I live – would be reluctant to be openly racist. That's not really acceptable anymore. But a lot of white people who think that they are open-minded, tolerant and dedicated to equal opportunities and rights for all, also believe that black people are the majority of those who receive unemployment insurance, who get some government aid to allow them to feed their children, in short, the 47% that Romney professed not to care about. These whites also tend to believe that black welfare clients could make a living if they were not so lazy or shiftless. Many whites believe that sort of thing without any evidence about the lives of the poor. The beliefs of many whites about welfare recipients are clearly prejudices.
The vote for Romney had a strong racial component. It was not in favor of African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, of women from all different backgrounds. It made no effort to appeal to African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and women.
The fight about raising taxes for the superrich is symbolic. It is really about support for the poor, the sick, and the elderly. That fight is confused by an often unspoken racist and sexist background.
We may congratulate ourselves for having reelected a black man for president for a second term. But the price of this victory is renewed virulence of the disease of racism that we Americans have suffered from for the last 400 years.
The disease may not be quite as powerful as it was. But we are still very sick.
It may well push us over the fiscal cliff.