Will Barack Obama keep the promise he made today and oppose extending the Bush tax cuts next time? Will it even matter when the Republicans are finished screwing around with the tax code?
The ugly truth is that Obama and the Congressional Dems fled the field in advance of the main budget battle and are only skirmishing to save face at this point. Meanwhile, outrageous tax breaks for the richest one percent remain in place and quality of life for most people in this country continues to decline. As Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote in Vanity Fair:
… America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead. None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.
Stiglitz was one of the first economists to clearly spell out the catastrophic long-range costs of the Iraq war — the first, I believe, to point out that the costs will exceed $3 trillion when care for badly injured veterans is figured in. He was more or less ignored on this issue, just as he’s being ignored on the catastrophic long-term costs of income inequality.
How often do Stiglitz’ common-sense conclusions about excessive wealth in the hands of a few come up in debates about the federal budget? The talk is all about spending cuts. Serious discussion in the White House, Congress and the mainstream media regarding the correlation between drastic cuts in taxes on the rich and the soaring national debt is non-existent.
Tax rates for the richest have been cut in half since the 1950s. Instead of working to reverse this, many D.C. Democrats — the very people we elected to protect our interests against the rapacity of the rich — are on the verge of voting to cut spending for the neediest and not even making the case that excessive tax breaks for the rich is one of the main drivers of the deficit.
We know where Republicans stand. It wasn’t until this year that we found out Dems in high places stand for the same thing: the prevention of fair taxation of the rich, even though this directly undermines the funding of education, jobs creation, infrastructure repair, environmental protection and other expenditures that would benefit the many rather than the few.
A plague on both your houses, Mercutio would say. Actually, it’s the same house — the house of the Republicrats. The only questions are 1) whether there exists a qualified Democrat or independent with the guts to oppose Barack Obama and take a shot at tearing down this house, 2) whether we can elect enough true Congressional progressives to make an actual difference when it comes time to rebuild.