The Populist Mirage

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from The Gray Area:

I never thought I would be able to put a Joe Klein article in the “center” of this website. But here it is. A fairly presented piece on both parties rhetoric around income inequality vs its true causes and possible solutions.

My suspicious side says it must be an example of how much President Obama’s star has been tarnished if one of his biggest cheerleaders would begin to introduce balance into his articles. Or, that the since President wants the issue to be front and center in 2014, his army of media robots must begin writing about it now.

While it would be easy to nitpick Mr. Klein’s motivations or his hyping a “new left populism” represented by Bill DeBasio in New York City, I won’t. Better to just take the good sense in the article as a much appreciated attempt to recognize that “there is more that unites us than divides us” if you just look at a situation realistically.

By Joe Klein,

from TIME Magazine,

Income inequality would be easier to fix if both parties stopped coddling their core voters.

It is no secret that income inequality and its faithful sidekick, middle-class stagnation, will be at the top of both parties’ domestic agenda in 2014.

We will ask the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day, universal pre-K and after-school programs,” said de Blasio, announcing his signature proposal. “Those earning between $500,000 and $1 million … would see their taxes increase by an average of $973 a year. That’s less than three bucks a day–about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks.”

Sounds reasonable enough, despite the Starbucks dig. I would imagine most New Yorkers earning more than $500,000 would gleefully toss $973 into the pot if they thought that universal pre-K would actually help the poor. The greater likelihood, though, is that the money will fall down a very dark hole into the city’s sclerotic, union-paralyzed bureaucracy. If Democrats want to make government the agency of opportunity for the poor, they’re going to have to run it better.

If the Democrats want to be serious about income disparity, they’re going to have to address the problems not just at the top of the social spectrum but also at the bottom–the explosion of single-parent families and out-of-wedlock births that have caused the bottom to drop out of working-class-family incomes.

If the Republicans want to be serious about middle-class stagnation, they’re going to have to address the plutocratic clot at the top. They’re going to have to address the subtle, almost surreptitious regulatory and tax-code tilt toward the financial sector over the past 40 years–especially its gamier casino aspects. In fairness, this has been a bipartisan excess. Bill Clinton’s ugliest hour came with the deregulation of Wall Street, which made the Great Recession inevitable. If Hillary runs for President, she will have to find a way to detach herself from her husband’s famous funders. She’ll certainly have to do more than attach herself to the populist rhetoric of the moment.

The dual problem of income disparity and middle-class stagnation may be the most important we face now. Both have roots in globalization and technological advance. But they also involve questions of social morality. Twenty-two years ago, Bill Clinton traveled through New Hampshire in a bus plastered with the words opportunity, responsibility and community. It was pure political genius, the most succinct description of the values inherent in a middle-class democracy. Clinton didn’t quite live up to it, especially in his policies toward Wall Street. But the values endure. They should form the parameters for a new conversation, conducted without rancor, about the true nature of civic equality.

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