Post by Joseph M -
President Obama finally did it: he ended Tuesday evening's debate by calling out Governor Romney (to his face!) over the 47% comment. Romney set himself up for it; he answered the last question by declaring that he cares about 100% of America. This proved a temptation too great to for even Obama to resist, and Obama responded by referencing the behind-closed-doors 47% comment.
But on one point, Romney is correct: the Obama campaign has painted a picture of Romney as out of touch with the poor and the middle-class. But Romney has also done a lot of this to himself; when he attempts to be candid, he invariable says too much, and this ultimately signals open season on the fields of (class?) warfare. Romney's wealth, elitism, and disconnect from ordinary Americans have become his most salient features, and therefore this image of privilege has supplanted the real man.
And it seems that conservatives are getting rather testy about all this negative talk of Governor Romney's wealth - and also of rich people in general. This also is the case with some members of the church as well, and I'm not sure when the shift began; it used to be that we were concerned about not speaking ill of the poor, but now the super-wealthy seem to be deserving of our charity and sympathetic glances.
Two examples: some months back, our Elder's Quorum lesson devolved into the semi-annual discussion of how should we respond to "pan-handlers" on the street; one comment from the group asserted that we should be cautious because homeless people are often hyped-up on meth and might kill you. And then the next Sunday, another good brother commented on how there's such hostility towards wealthy individuals these days, and that he was surprised by the poor opinions that many people have of the rich. (Yes, he used "poor" and "rich" in the same sentence as if to say, "those poor rich people.")
In an extreme case of political-correctness-hijacking, the wealthy are no longer referred to as "the rich," but now they are part of the protected class of "job creators," "entrepreneurs," and "innovators." I'm guessing that congress might even enact laws shielding them from hate crimes. This is necessary because all of them own small businesses and hire lots of people to do lots of things; money trickles down from these wealthy folks like water flowing towards a floor drain after a long shower at the gym.
In a recent column, David Brooks extolled the virtues of a wonderfully ambitious job creator, Elon Musk, one of the minds behind PayPal. He writes, "Government can influence growth, but it's people like Musk who create it...A few ridiculously ambitious people can change an economy more than any president." Romney reiterated this when he reverted to his high school cheerleading days and attempted to lead a chant towards the end of Tuesday's debate, "Government does not create jobs! Government does not create jobs!"
So if David Brooks is correct, we shouldn't be looking to tear down Romney and his financial success - even if he did eliminate jobs in order to make companies profitable and more efficient. The goal of a business is to make money; when a company makes money, its workers will benefit - the company can hire more workers. (Wait, is that what Romney meant when he said 'corporations are people?')
So this just begs the question: why all of this class warfare anyway? and when did this feeling of animosity towards the wealthy begin? and who decided that it was okay to criticize someone just because of their riches?
Well, let's start here:
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:23-24)"
Or Matthew 6:24: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days (James 5:1-3)."
The Book of Mormon is also rife with admonitions as well; I'll just give the first one I found:
"Wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are set upon their treasures; wherefore , their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also (2 Nephi 9:30)."
So I guess when people ask where all this rich-bashing came from, I'll just say, "well, it's Biblical."
Of course, being "rich" is relative; with the advent of the middle class, most people would not think of themselves as "rich," but might feel like they're somewhere in the middle. However, I wonder what wealth looked like during the time of Christ, a time when money changers were cast from the temple? And for the young man who received Jesus' condemnation, what made him rich? We are told that he had "great possessions," (but so do many of us, and we are clearly in the middle class.)
These questions are particularly hard for many of the super rich, who tend to view their "great possessions" with a sense of pride. Chrystia Freeland, the author of Plutocrat: the Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Downfall of Everyone Else, said on NPR on Monday that "in America we have equated personal business success with public virtue. And to a certain extent, your moral and civic virtue could be measured by the size of your bank account."
Freeland goes on to say that the "super rich" are angry because President Obama is pushing the idea that "what is good for the guys at the very top is not necessarily good for the people in the middle." They see this as an "existential threat," because people don't just want to be wealthy and successful, they want to be good. Therefore, any suggestion from progressive thinkers, Obama, or Jesus to the contrary is met with disappointment: "Wow, I'm not as full of virtue and goodness as I thought I was?"
Freeland notes that the numbers of plutocrats has increased, and the gap between them and everyone else is huge; ultimately, they can be expected to "rig the rules in their own favor," while convincing themselves that what is good for them is in the interest of everybody else, (i.e., cut entitlements and shrink the national debt, while reducing taxes for the wealthy.)
However, I am not interested in pointing fingers at Romney - or to imply that any church members with several fancy cars and a horse are not going to heaven until they learn to thread a needle. I guess I am more interested in understanding America's relationship with money. Capitalism has become our national pastime - and I am not sure what this says about us. But alas, that is also another post.
I think our prophet Brigham Young's fears for the Church and the Saints is of particular note:
"The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth."
What did President Young see of our future when he said this? The implications for America (or even for me and my own life) will make my head hurt if I think on it too long. Clearly this is a truth that is hard for all of us (including the rich) to take in. The pursuit of wealth is truly a moral conundrum; for what is so powerfully connected with self-worth in the American context is defined as a burden that drags one to hell in the scriptural sphere.
So I will end this for now. I have the new episode of The Walking Dead saved on my DVR, and I am really excited to watch it on my 48-inch flat-screen LED TV with my Bose speakers! (And my TV is a Samsung, because everyone knows that is the brand second to none when it comes to flat-screens!)
Post by Eric R -
In recent weeks I have been part of several discussions with conservative Mormons about how the proper role of government should intersect with Christ’s commandment to take care of one another. A common point that keeps coming up is “free agency”. More precisely, my friends object to the federal government requiring citizens to contribute to social programs, as they feel that it is a violation of their free agency to choose how they will (or will not) contribute to the temporal wellbeing of their brothers and sisters in need. Yes, we need to help take care of the sick and afflicted, they agree, but the government shouldn’t force us to do it, rather it should be a matter of individual initiative and obligation.
What I found most frustrating was the fact that I knew these people support the government restricting our individual agency in hundreds of other ways each and every day, because they recognize that it is for the public good, and often in support of a larger moral imperative. Speed limits, bans on indoor smoking, age limits for alcohol consumption, mandatory education for minors, and the list goes on and on (much to Ron Paul’s dismay, I’m sure). Most Republicans support these types of common-sense regulations that all have one thing in common: they restrict individuals’ free agency in the name of the common greater good.
And then there are more controversial restrictions of individual free agency that many conservative Mormons support: a ban on same-sex marriage; public decency laws limiting the display of pornography; keeping personal drug use illegal; and changing current law to make abortion illegal even in the case of “legitimate” rape. ‘Yes, these are restrictions to free agency,’ conservatives would agree, ‘but they are necessary on moral grounds!’
I understand the ‘moral imperative’ argument, and unlike many other liberals, I do believe that it is appropriate to acknowledge the role of personal morals when discussing public policy. What I cannot understand, however, is why so many conservative Mormons fail to see poverty, hunger and homelessness as being worthy of morally-anchored government action. For some reason many conservatives believe that it is appropriate to arrest an individual for using drugs in their own home (requiring tax payers to pay for their incarceration), but it is not appropriate to require citizens to contribute to poverty alleviation programs that address hunger and homelessness.
This selective defense of free agency by conservative Mormons is particularly baffling given what I know of our common faith. The scriptures commanding us to take care of one another are too numerous to mention. So why is taking care of each other less worthy of a government mandate than, say, not allowing two men to get married? Both are issues with a moral component, both are relevant to our larger society, both include an element of the government deciding what individuals may or may not do. It seems like many conservatives are only concerned about the government limiting our freedom to choose when it has to do with their wallets.
Do the freedoms that Republicans hold so dear include the freedom to pursue an education if you were brought to this country by your parents illegally as a child? Not so much. The freedom to have safe drinking water if you live in coal mining or natural gas country? Well, maybe not that. The freedom to worship in a mosque without being spied on by law enforcement, when no illegal behavior was ever detected, or even alleged? Now that is going too far!
The hypocrisy and selective nature of the freedoms and rights that Conservatives choose to idealize is mystifying. But alas, none of this is new, as the GOP has been at it for decades. It is just disheartening to see Romney and other conservative Mormons, with whom I share a common gospel centered on loving your neighbor, buying into it so wholeheartedly.
I realize that a posting on class warfare may seem about 6 months behind the times. Accusations of “Class Warfare” reached a fever pitch some months back amidst calls for a “millionaires tax,” the headline-grabbing “we are the 99%!” cry of the Occupy movement and Warren Buffet’s disclosure that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. The best synthesis of the discourse that I saw was provided, of course, by Jon Stewart .
The topic was brought to mind again recently when I read a NY Times article on the increasing number of conservative, middle-class Americans who receive some sort of government assistance .
In the article I learned that not only does the lowest income quintile receive 36% of all forms of government aid (down from 54% in 1980), but also that the top quintile actually took home about 12% of all aid. Additionally, a survey referenced in the article found that a plurality of respondents incorrectly named “programs for the poor” as the fastest-growing benefits program in the U.S.
I bring up these two points specifically because they are important in the larger context of the national debate surrounding topics like income inequality, budgets for social programs and class. The article illustrates what all poor people already know, which is that the answers to questions like who gets what from the government, and where should we be looking to make cuts, are seriously obscured by misinformation.
When imagery of animals digging through garbage, and terms like “welfare queen” and “parasite” are used on national television to describe those receiving government assistance (watch the Stewart clip!), it is clear that there is actually a concerted effort by some on the right to frame the debate in falsehoods.
While the right would have you believe that those receiving government assistance are lazy, greedy, black single mothers of 6, the numbers tell a different story. First, the large majority of all recipients of social programs are either children or the elderly. In FY 2011 nearly 75% of those receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits were children . Medicare and Social Security, which together make up the government’s largest expenditure, are both only available to the elderly.
Okay, so most aid money goes to children and the poor (not counting the billions in tax breaks for big companies), but I bet the rest of them are just lazy, right? As mentioned above, almost 65% of all government aid goes to those above the lowest income quintile. Believe it or not rich folks, you can work hard and still have trouble making ends meet.
The TANF program, for example, contains employment requirements . And there are millions of working Americans who have seen their real wages decrease for decades, making government assistance necessary for things like health care, education, energy and housing. The price tags for these necessities have all skyrocketed, especially compared to most consumer goods, making the Heritage Foundation’s attacks on the poor for having televisions and microwaves seem particularly disgusting .
From 1970 to 2010 real wages for American workers declined by 28%, while national GDP nearly doubled . So who saw the gains from the growth in GDP? Over the same time period the top 0.1% of earners saw their share of national income rise by 385% !
The dishonest discourse fomented by the right has very serious consequences for all of us, and particularly the most vulnerable in our society. When the millionaires in Washington DC decide to ignore our woefully underfunded schools, choose to prioritize prisons over housing, and do nothing to fix healthcare, there are serious consequences. Over 46 million Americans live below the poverty line, the highest rate in the 52 years that the Census Bureau has published statistics on it , the U.S., with over 2.3 million people in prison, has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world , and an estimated 45,000 premature deaths occur each year because of lack of access to health care .
But despite reality, the right continues to ignore these problems and dismiss those who raise issue of equality as 'divisive'. Rick Santorum (a millionaire) even criticized Mitt Romney (a multi-millionaire) for using the term “middle class,” because he believes it is a Democratic term used to divide society . Which society is he is living in that he doesn’t see how very much divided we already are?
Yes, there is certainly a Class War raging, and I’ll give you one guess as to who is winning it.
The 28% figure takes into account the (non)wages received from the unemployed as well. Real wages over this period for only employed individuals dropped by a smaller, but still alarming, amount.