[I was asked to contribute a piece to Huffington Post on the decline of the middle class. This is what I came up with. It can also be accessed via my Huffington Post author page.]
Conservatives routinely paint Barack Obama as a socialist looking to redistribute wealth in the United States. (Or worse, as Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) reported that tea party leaders, during a meeting, espoused paranoid delusions of a totalitarian takeover of the U.S. by Obama.) This charge is cynical and outrageous, not just because it is false and a naked attempt to use fear mongering to drum up votes, but because there is actually a group of Americans actively engaged in wealth redistribution, and they have been for quite some time.
Who are these people looking to move massive amounts of assets from one subsection of Americans to another? The conservatives themselves.
Beginning with the Reagan administration, and reaching its fullest realization during the presidency of George W. Bush, conservatives have systematically been acting to redistribute wealth from the middle class upward. The result has been the steady decay of the middle class, and it's all a result of conservative policies, specifically involving taxes and deregulation.
Bush successfully pushed through accelerated deregulation and massive tax cuts for the highest earners. The result was that while the wealthiest Americans saw substantial income gains, real income for the middle class was static (and far below the robust growth of the middle class during the Clinton administration). And when, in the absence of regulation, Wall Street's reckless bets nearly brought ruin to the financial industry, the result was a massive recession that severely hit the lower, working and middle classes.
As I lamented last month, middle and working class Americans have every right to be angry now, but that anger shouldn't be directed at the Democrats in November, but at the Republicans, whose policies created the economic mess the country finds itself in. Which is why I was so happy to see Paul Krugman's annihilation of the economic plan advanced by the so-called "intellectual" star of the Republican party, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Krugman exposed Ryan's plan for what it is, a replay of the Bush economic policies, only this time on steroids: A massive tax break for the wealthiest five percent of Americans that would cost the country $4 trillion over the next ten years, a tax increase for the other 95 percent of Americans, and monumental cuts in government spending that would cause catastrophic pain for the lower, working and middle classes (while having little effect on the wealthy, the primary beneficiaries of Ryan's plan). Oh, and Ryan's plan would add to the deficit, pushing it far beyond the current projections for 2020. (Of course, Ryan is touting the savings of his spending cuts without accounting for the costs of his tax cuts for the rich.)
I thought Krugman's exposure of the realities of the Ryan plan provided a solid summing up of current Republican ideology. On the surface, Ryan appears more reasonable than the more vocal leaders of his party. He tends to avoid the outrageous pronouncements of his fellow conservatives (think Sarah Palin, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and his talk of "velvet revolution," Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) and House Minority Leader John Boehner, not to mention the lies and vitriol spouted by pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, as well as the consistent national security fear-mongering of Newt Gingrich, and the out-and-out insanity on parade daily in the media, like the recent charge by Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes that his Democratic opponent encouraged bike use as mayor of Denver as part of a plan to convert the city into a "United Nations community," not to mention the possible Queen of the wackos, Nevada GOP senate candidate Sharron Angle, including her claim that the press should ask the questions she wants to answer.).
Ryan is the young, normal-looking and sounding face Republicans would like to send out in front of the public, but, as Krugman comprehensively laid out, his policies are no more mainstream or plausible than those of his more obviously extreme colleagues. No, Ryan, just like the others, is completely dedicated to policies that empower corporations and transfer wealth upward, at the expense of the middle class.
In short, Ryan and the rest of the conservatives are at war with lower, working and middle class Americans.
The Republicans would like to frame the November midterm elections as a matchup between a socialist party looking to redistribute wealth and engineer a government takeover of the private sector (the Democrats) v. a party defending traditional American values of free market, capitalist economics (the Republicans). Such a framing of the two parties is a Republican fantasy, as accurate as the charge that President Obama was not born in the United States (which, according to a recent CNN poll, nearly two in five Republicans believe to be true).
But one look at the reality of the Bush years and the behavior of Republicans during the Obama administration paints a very different picture. On issue after issue, the Republicans have sided against the middle class, whether it was opposing financial regulation (even after GOP-touted deregulation resulted in the near financial collapse that plunged the country into deep recession), pushing for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, opposing any kind of job-creating stimulus (that didn't involve more tax cuts for the rich), opposing and delaying the extension of unemployment benefits to those out of work (and painting the unemployed as lazy), opposing state aid that would preserve the jobs of teachers, police officers and firefighters (even though it would decrease the deficit), opposing health care reform (except to protect private insurance companies), and even opposing aid to workers sickened by the toxic fumes at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks.
The smoking gun of GOP dedication to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class (and the revelation that the party's supposed fanatical opposition to deficits is a facade) came when one Republican after another lined up to back Sen. John Kyl's position that it was okay to add to the deficit for tax cuts for high earners (something even conservative stalwart Alan Greenspan could not support).
The GOP record of the last ten years demonstrates that, in reality, the election in November will pose a choice between Democrats who support a free market capitalist economy, but with protections to prevent against its excesses (thus protecting lower, working and middle class Americans), and Republicans at war with the middle class, advocating policies that further their suffering while benefiting Wall Street, corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Conservatives are right when they say that there are those in Washington looking to redistribute wealth. It's just that it's their party that is all for the redistributing.