Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I the People, You the People -- Them, I'm Not So Sure About

A right-wing blogger has started a site called "We Are the 53 Percent", to which people are encouraged to post their stories of hard work, and to denounce the Occupy movement as a bunch of lazy whiners. The site looks like astroturf, like the Tea Party before it: started by a well-to-do right wing operative, working with right-wing foundations that probably enjoy corporate funding and a taxpayers' subsidy as a nonprofit.

The "53 percent" refers to the number of Americans who pay Federal income taxes, and right away I recognized Tea Party arithmetic at work again. Remember how, right after Obama was elected, the Republican right-wing fringe began claiming to be "we the people" and demanding that Obama govern "the way the people want," claiming that "300 million Americans" opposed public health insurance. "The people" they had in mind were those like themselves, who had voted against Obama and seen their candidates go down to a humiliating defeat, but they still believed that they should call the shots.

The remarkable thing to me is that almost no one called them on this, and the same thing seems to be happening with the 53 Percenters. The people posting to that tumblr may well be taxpayers (though given the general lack of basic honesty on the Right, I wouldn't take it for granted), but they aren't all taxpayers, and certainly don't speak for all taxpayers. But once again, the educated liberal Democrats who made me aware of the 53 Percent site to begin with seem to accept them as somehow representative of the mass of taxpaying Americans.

To begin with, they don't represent me. I worked full-time for forty years or so, paying taxes as I went. Now that I'm retired, I'll still be paying taxes, since pension and Social Security income is taxable at least in part. So I'm part of the 53 percent, yet I support Occupy Wall Street.

I'm also one of the 68 percent who, according to a new Washington Post - Bloomberg poll, favor raising taxes on households with incomes of more than $250,000 a year -- the 1 percent. According to that poll, 54 percent of those "leaning GOP" also favor such tax hikes for the rich.

I'm also one of the 79 percent who oppose raising taxes on the "middle classes."

I'm one of the 83 percent who oppose reducing Social Security benefits, and one of the 82 percent who oppose reducing Medicare benefits.

I'm one of the 51 percent who favor reducing military spending. And so on. Polls show consistently that most Americans put jobs above the deficit as the problem that ought to concern the government most, and that they favor taking care of the poor and sick. Even Republicans agree. I oppose the Right's war on public education, and most of my fellow citizens agree with me, though I don't have any numbers to hand at the moment; I do know that voucher programs, which are meant to drain money away from public schools and give it to private ones, are usually defeated when put to a vote.

I feel bad for some of the people who've posted at "We Are the 53 Percent": no one should have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. That's not a fact of nature, though: it's the result of policies that are the work of the 1 Percent and their servants in government -- most of whom are part of the 1 Percent anyway. They can tell themselves they are the masters of their destiny, but they aren't, as they'll find out the next time they get downsized, or foreclosed, or have to go into massive debt when they or a child gets sick and they have no health insurance.

It's not surprising that the corporate media and Washington political elites prefer to ignore these facts. What does surprise me is the number of liberals and progressives who embrace this party line, and wring their hands over the strange willingness of Joe Sixpack to go against their interests and let Social Security and other social programs collapse, who (as Christopher Hitchens put it, and was quoted by Roy Edroso) "sometimes think Americans want to live dangerously. They think this wouldn’t be America if you had health coverage." But it's not Joe Sixpack who opposes government-insured or government-run healthcare for all; it's a rather small minority of people who either can afford private insurance or who are getting it through the government anyway. (There are also those who don't realize that Medicare is a government program.)

So, Jon Schwarz goes worra worra worra over how to deal with these strange people, the 53 Percenters. I agree that it's important to try to talk to people who hold differing, even opposing views. It's one of the great benefits of the Internet, to my mind, that it has made it easier to do just that; I've been doing it for about twenty-five years now, and one of the things I've learned is that I wouldn't always have foreseen who would agree with me, and who would disagree. It helps too that I grew up in rural Indiana and didn't (unlike Jon) attend an Ivy League college, an experience which tends to warp one's perspective no matter how enlightened one seeks to be.

But the starting point, it seems to me, is to exhibit a solid skepticism about the 53 Percenters, as with the Tea Party, when they claim to be speaking for a majority of Americans. I am equally skeptical about the Occupy Movement, but they have a much better claim, given the polling data (including Obama's dropping numbers and the even lower approval rating of the Republicans), to be speaking for most of us. I don't believe I'm obligated to accept the 53 Percenters' claim to be The World. If it's disrespectful, well, I am only obligated to respect their (or anyone's right) to hold an opinion, not to respect their opinions themselves.